Monday, October 29, 2018

BATs Board of Directors Stand Against Hate

The Badass Teachers Association condemns the last 72 hours of hate crimes in the United States. 
This includes the recent attack on the congregations of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a death toll that now stands at 11 people, the Anti-Defamation League has estimated that this is the deadliest attack on Jewish people in the United States in our history.
This also includes Wednesday when a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African-Americans, seemingly at random, at a Kentucky Kroger store following a failed attempt to barge into a black church.
This also includes the crimes of the so-called MAGA bomber who allegedly sent mail bombs to people who'd been criticized by the President -- a man who had railed against Democrats and minorities with hate-filled messages online.
BATs are teachers, parents, students, school directors, elected leaders, and people of conscience. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Squirrel Hill, Kentucky and elsewhere. Though we do not all necessarily share the same faith, cultures or political parties, we share a common humanity.
The almost 65,000 members of our organization stand for love and understanding between all peoples. We refuse to stand by silently as acts of hate are perpetrated against Jews, Muslims, people of color or anyone who is targeted by the worst of humanity. We want our students, our children, and our communities to know where we stand.
"As educators, we must teach our children that words matter. Words that normalize racism, hate, and violence must be challenged by all of us. Our students and their families deserve to feel safe in their places of worship. We must unite together to end the hate and heal ourselves and out communities that have been shattered by violence."Dr. Denisha Jones, Board of Directors.
“As public educators we must address the issue of hate in our classrooms. We must explain antisemitism, racism and sexism. We cannot be silent bystanders! We must model for our students how to stand up to injustice and hate in this world. It is our moral duty!” Jamy Brice-Hyde, BATS Co-Director of Quality of Workplace Steering Committee.
“This really hits me where I live. I know the Tree of Life congregation and the Squirrel Hill community. The victims just wanted to practice their faith. For that they were violently taken from us. This is not the America I want to live in. It is not the country I’m struggling to build for my daughter and my students,” Steven Singer, Co-Director of BATS Blogging and Research Committee.
We want our students, our children, and our communities to know where we stand. We stand against hate.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Catholic School Teachers of New York Fight For A Fair Contract From The ADNY by Brian Moore

Working without a contract, teachers for the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) are fighting for a fair wage increase and to protect what they have already earned. The offer made by the ADNY closes the umbrella of fair labor discussion and leaves teachers soaking in the rain.

A recurring problem with Archdiocesan leadership is their fixation on the sacrifice made by Catholic school teachers. In the ADNY, Catholic school teachers make anywhere from 10-50% less than their public school counterparts. Simply deciding to enter Catholic education as a teacher, or becoming a teachers in any system for that matter, requires charity. However, this sacrifice has become expected by leadership, and now it is being exploited. System leaders thank their teachers with empty words and little return when contracts expire, reinforcing that this is normal. They want Catholic school teachers to expect little in return. It has often worked. 

Predictably, this causes numerous problems. The most obvious is the toll it takes on teachers. Most teachers spend personal money on their students and their classrooms in an effort to brighten the days of our children with treats, games, decorations, or even just on necessities like paper and pencils. Some teachers go above and beyond to help families in need of a new backpack, or shoes. Teachers in Catholic schools frequently purchase uniform components for students who cannot afford to have them replaced, because they hate to see these kids suffer in any preventable way. Spending reduces an already diminished income that teachers have to deal with. Many teachers work second jobs in an effort to make ends meet, sometimes unsuccessfully. 

This is all time taken away from other parts of teacher’s lives. Families suffer, and students suffer as teachers are strained to find time to plan lessons and activities suitable for anywhere from 20-40 students per classroom. Now, ADNY Catholic school teachers must deal with a fight for a fair contract. A contract that features a zero percent raise, pension cutbacks, and additional work hours is taking the previously mentioned idea of teacher’s charity and strangling it. It is also hard not to notice the correlation between the current contract offer and the legal issues being faced by the Catholic Church. All of this makes one question whether the church is truly dedicated to education at all. Teachers, however, cannot pay for the sins of those men. 

One other difficulty in this, just as it has been in any number of fights between labor and management, is creating solidarity among workers. Teachers have a difficult time separating their loyalty to their students from the need to battle school leadership. Fortunately, despite the fact that the Federation of Catholic Teachers (FCT) is much smaller than the corresponding unions of local public school teachers, a positive message has been sent. On October 18th, approximately 100 teachers and supporters came together for the first protest during this contract dispute. The protest sends a strong collective message that teachers are willing to band together and support each other during any contract dispute. In fact, the labor fight in America is one that has often been led by teachers. Now, Catholic school teachers have to follow the strong examples set by educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and others places and continue to set the pace for labor relations in this country.

We are only as strong as the people to our left and right, and we depend on each and every colleague to support one another while we try to make way towards a fairer salary, as well as holding onto the small gains we have made in the past. The labor fight is never over, and we should not allow any officials to use our faith, our love for our students, or our loyalty to schools and each other as leverage to guilt us into anything less than a fair contract.

About the Author: Brian is a middle school educator from The Bronx. He is a second generation teacher, and the husband of a teacher, with a soon to be school aged daughter

The Pittsburgh Community is Stronger Than the Synagogue Shooter’s Hate by Steven Singer

There’s a popular yard sign in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

In bands of green and blue and yellow, it projects the same message in Spanish, English and Arabic:

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

If the community had a motto, I think that might be it.

Though known for its high concentration of Jewish residents, the Pennsylvania locale is a multicultural crossroads.

That may have made it a target today when a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Though the alleged culprit has been captured, details are still being uncovered. The death toll has yet to be tallied.

Unconfirmed reports state that he shouted “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.

But I don’t believe that the Jewish community was his only target.

Or more precisely – it wasn’t just the Jewish part – it was the community that had grown up around it.

I know Squirrel Hill well.

I live close by. I grew up on those streets. I’ve been to services at that synagogue. I have family who are members.

Thankfully it seems that no one related to me was there this morning. But when victims names are released, I probably will know who they are.

I know this community.

I am an extended part of it.

And that’s something of which I am proud.

Just walk along Murray Avenue and you’ll see Indian, Italian, Jewish, African, Chinese – every nationality imaginable – offering the fruits of their culture for friendly commerce.

You’ll see Hasidic Jews in dark hats and flowing tzitzit walking next to women in colorful saris next to trans and lesbians, kids with every color skin playing together in harmony.

Whenever I want a good corned beef sandwich or a quality lox and bagel, I go there. Whenever I want a spicy curry or the freshest sushi or an authentic macaroon, that’s the place. If I want to hear a string quartet or a lecture from a visiting dignitary or even if I want to swim in a public pool, membership to the Jewish Community Center is open to all.

It’s like a few blocks of cosmopolitan life tucked away in a city more known for segregation. We have many ethnic neighborhoods but few where one culture flows so easily into another.

Heck. Even the Tree of Life Synagogue, itself, doesn’t serve one congregation. It serves three who all had services going on at different parts of the building this morning.

There’s just something very special about this place.

It’s where you can go to be yourself – in fact, you’re encouraged to be who you are and not conform to any particular norm. Yet in doing so, you’re somehow demonstrating unity.

Paradoxically, being you makes you one of us.

It’s weird.

I think it may have been that sense of community that made Squirrel Hill, in general, and the Tree of Life Synagogue, in particular, a target.

The hate-filled person who attacked us today was terrified of that unity.

He was so frightened of disillusion, of losing his sense of self, that he had to end the lives of those who could do what he couldn’t.

It’s pathetic, really.

If your sense of self is only a negative, only opposition to someone else’s otherness, you really don’t have much self to lose.

If you define yourself by your hate, what are you?

Do you even really exist?

Most of us are very different.

We are complex assortments of personality – a family identity, a cultural heritage, a work persona, a spirituality, a sense of justice.

Communities like Squirrel Hill nurture this multifarious nature.

They welcome and celebrate difference.

I wish America was more like Squirrel Hill and not the other way around.

If this community’s normal was our national ideal, think of the country we would be living in!

Being different wouldn’t be an obstacle, it would be cherished.

When meeting someone with an unfamiliar name, a heritage of which you were ignorant, a sexuality or gender identity of which you had little knowledge – your response wouldn’t be fear or discomfort. It would be a thrill of excitement that you are lucky enough to broaden your understanding of the many ways there are to be human.

It would be a country where no one grew up so stunted and afraid that the only solution they could imagine would be the death of others.

That’s the America I want to live in.

Squirrel Hill is stronger than this synagogue shooters hate.

I hope our country is, too.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Want to Make a Difference? Canvass for Local Candidates You Believe In by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

Knock! Knock! Knock!

I stood there on the porch staring at my own knuckles in disbelief.

My 9-year-old daughter was looking up at me with a look like “What did you just do?”

But there was no time to say anything.

The door was opening.

An older gentleman stood in the entryway looking like he had just been stirred from sleep.

“Hello! Is this…” I began and Pam, who was standing next to me filled in the name.

“Yes,” he grumbled.

I introduced the three of us and told the man that we were canvassing his neighborhood for two local candidates running for state legislature.

And then I stopped because I wasn’t sure what to say next.

Luckily Pam jumped in and told him what our candidates stood for – education, healthcare and working families.

“Are these Democrats?” he groused. “I’m done with them. After what they did to that judge, I’m done.”

“You mean Kavanaugh?” I said.

He nodded.

My mouth opened to say something but what do you say?

Brett Kavanaugh was accused by multiple women of sexual assault but was saved from a thorough FBI investigation by his buddy, Donald Trump. He cried, whined and spouted partisan conspiracy theories yet still was confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Really, what was this guy’s problem? Did he think we shouldn’t investigate Supreme Court Justices when credible accusers hurl accusation of abuse? Did he think Kavanaugh’s chief accuser – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – made the whole thing up so that she could have her reputation forever tied to an attempted rape and her family displaced from their home and forced into hiding because of constant death threats? Did he think we should give privileged white guys lifetime judicial appointments based on what? Political affiliation? Skin tone?

Pam tried to bring up a few other topics – about how Republicans in our state of Pennsylvania are actively working to cut this man’s healthcare, calling this man’s generation “the greediest generation” and other topics.

But it did no good. Fox News had gotten there first.

So we handed him our campaign literature, thanked him and went on our way.

Sometimes that’s the best you can do.

And it’s not nothing.


If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re a lot like me.

A reality TV show clown is President of the United States of America. And all over this country, the conservative clown car is spitting out candidates for major office.

It’s enough to make one lose hope in the future.

As a father and a public school teacher, I can’t afford that despair.

There needs to be at least the slimmest glimmer of the possibility of a new day.

And I’m here to tell you, friends, it’s out there.

It starts with you.

If you want real progressive change, you have to go out there and make it – one day at a time.

But it will take more than one day.

It will take all of us, doing incremental good, every day we can.

So my suggestion is to make a commitment to voting this Nov. 6.

I know our electoral system is a mess. I know many people are being purged from the rolls and our districts are gerrymandered and the entire system is set up against us.

But if all of us try to vote, we can still win.

Find a candidate you can support and go out there and campaign for him or her.

I know there are a lot of phonies running for office. There are an awful lot of fake progressives who will talk nicely to your face and then sell you out to corporations and the wealthy at their first opportunity.

Just know that they’re not all like that.

Find yourself someone you can trust – probably someone new to the game coming on the scene to change things.

In the Pittsburgh area I found Lindsey Williams.

Lindsey Williams and Me

She’s an amazing lady with real conviction running for State Senate in the 38th District – that’s most of Northern Allegheny County from Franklin Park eastward, as well as Highland Park and sections of East Liberty in Pittsburgh.

Her number one priority is the same as mine – education.

That should come as no surprise from a candidate who’s also the communications director for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

But Williams actually lives her values.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, she was fired for union organizing at the National Whistleblowers Center. Ironically, she was working there to tell the story of people who were retaliated against for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, and found herself a target for attempting to organize a staff union. She eventually won the resulting case with the National Labor Relations Board.

When her campaign literature says she “won’t back down” fighting for working families. That’s what it means.

And her priorities – education, healthcare and labor – aren’t pie in the sky promises. She has a fiscally responsible plan to support them by creating a severance tax on natural-gas drilling and closing a loophole that allows businesses headquartered in other states to avoid state taxes. She wants to keep taxes low for homeowners while making sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.

Perhaps that’s why a conservative dark money organization aligned with her Republican challenger, Jeremy Shaffer, has created knockoff campaign signs that look just like Williams with the word “Socialist” emblazoned on them.

It’s a desperation tactic.

Shaffer is down in the polls. The district – once a Republican stronghold – went to Hillary Clinton in the last election.

Even Shaffer, a Ross Township supervisor, is a throwback – he’s a far right extremist who primaried incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) in May.

And his platform is nothing but tax cuts for the rich and school privatization for the rest of us. In effect, he’s a mini-Trump come to bring the circus to town.

So not only is Williams a candidate I can believe in, her race really matters to the overall state picture. If the Democrats only pick up her seat in November and don’t lose any others, we’ll crush the GOP’s veto-proof majority!


But I didn’t come out this weekend just for Williams.

I also was there to canvass for Betsy Monroe, a Fox Chapel medical professional at Highmark running for State House in the same North Hills area.

She noticed that state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) had run unopposed in the last two elections, so she decided to run against him, herself.

Monroe was particularly angered by English’s vote to criminalize abortions after 20 weeks for all women in the Commonwealth. (The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back before the GOP had a veto proof majority.) She thought it was unfair for lawmakers to decide what adult women can do with their own bodies.

However, there was one other woman I was there to support – my own daughter.

For someone in elementary school, she is incredibly interested in politics. I caught her on Saturday literally writing political stump speeches for her stuffed animals. Let me tell you, Eeyore the donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood has some mighty progressive views on women’s rights!

I wanted my little one to see real women in politics, fighting to make a difference.
The news is always so grim. I wanted her to see that there are people out there fighting for the good.

And you know what? It helped me, too.

At this point I need to pause and give a huge “Thank You” to two people – Pamela Harbin and Jodi Hirsch.

Me and Pamela Harbin

Jodi is an amazing organizer who put together the event in the first place.

I wanted to get more involved in the election and Jodi knew exactly how I could do that and which candidates I’d be most interested in.

I was new to this whole canvassing thing, so she agreed to go with my daughter and me to show us the ropes.

I couldn’t have done it without her.

Thankfully, not every door we knocked on went like the grumpy gentlemen described above.

Frankly, most people weren’t home or didn’t answer the door.

Some people – especially young folks – proudly responded that they don’t vote or have no idea what’s going on.

Others were energized by what was happening and were looking forward to going to the polls and being heard.

“You know I’ll be there!” said one gentleman. “I’m straight Dem. Right on down the line. I’ve had enough of this Trump crap.”

But more people than I’d expected took pride in their nonpartisanship.

They wouldn’t commit to anything – just took our literature, heard us out and said they’d decide at the polls.

I always wondered what an undecided voter looked like. I saw a lot of them this weekend.

But that’s why we were there – to help nudge the uncommitted.

Hopefully on Nov. 6 they’ll think of Pam, my daughter and me.

Maybe even the Fox News fan who thought Kavanaugh got a raw deal will have his resolved softened.

Maybe he’ll think of my daughter’s chubby cheeks and innocent eyes as he considers voting for people who’d gladly steal her future for the prospect of more tax cuts for the rich.

Then again, maybe not. But who knows?

We tried.

If you live in Pennsylvania and want to get involved, click HERE.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!