Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It May Be May Day, But My Students Trump All Else!

Today Fred Klonsky wrote, “It may be May Day, but I’ve got kids to teach.”

He admitted that he could have used a personal day to join the National General Strike called by OWS for today, but insisted that “I’ve got kids to teach.”

He admitted that he will take the day off later this week to go to Springfield to lobby on behalf of his union, but today he has 4th grade paper mâché projects.

I don’t begrudge Fred for blowing off the General Strike. After all, it was poorly conceived and organized and is unlikely to achieve any concrete demands for workers. As has become typical of the OWS movement, they glommed onto an idea and decided that all they had to do is put out a few Tweets and Facebook calls to get people to show up, without doing the time consuming and difficult one-on-one organizing that is usually required to accomplish such a grandiose goal as a nationwide General Strike (especially when the unions are terrified of being busted for violating Taft-Hartley).

On the other hand, this country needs strikes, lots of strikes, strikes on a daily basis, especially teacher strikes and especially General Strikes. The past few years have seen the fewest strikes of any time in the past 100 years. Strikes are one of the most effective ways for workers to improve their pay and working conditions, far more effective than lobbying. I truly hope that hundreds of thousands of people stayed home from work today if for no other reason than to put a little fear in the bosses’ hearts. If teachers really want to see an end to the wave of repressive “reforms” that have plagued the profession over the past decade (e.g., high stakes testing, NCLB, evaluation and pension “reform,” charter schools, privatization), they need to be willing to strike in large numbers and to participate in statewide and nationwide strikes.

Yet teachers often shun strikes and give reasons similar to Fred’s: “it hurts the children,” or “it takes away learning time,” or “it’s not fair to the students,” or “I’m a professional and I need to be in the classroom, with my students.”

While this may sound compassionate and professional, it actually is not. If teachers really want to be taken seriously as professionals, they cannot continue to accept every meritless “reform” shoved down their throats by non-education professionals, pundits, and corporate raiders. By doing so, they send the message that they are not professionals and do not take themselves seriously. If they really want to help their students, they need to take a principled stand on policies that negatively impact them and they need to back up that stand with effective actions. Lobbying against high stakes tests won’t make them go away, nor will complaining, letter-writing or voting. Refusing to comply with the tests or refusing to go to work during testing days, however, might.

Taking job actions might indeed harm students in the short term, just like nursing strikes temporarily reduce the quality of patient care. However, if nurses do not strike, they see increasing caseloads, which institutionalizes the harm to their patients. Likewise, when teachers accept larger class sizes, punitive testing regimes, or longer school days, they accept permanent long-term destruction of the quality of education, which is far worse for students than being without their teacher for the duration of a strike.

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