Sunday, November 6, 2011

Issue #32 November 6, 2011- Facts and Figures, The WI Idea and Teacher Unions

Issue #32- November 6, 2011
In this issue: A few facts, Walker vs. The Wisconsin Idea, Positive actions to take and Why we need educator unions

The Walker Economic Toll…
One family's "contribution" to help Scott Walker balance our budget. 
To date my family has lost $3,353.95 to his reforms.  This is money that won't go to small businesses  in Dane County and in other communities like Rhinelander (where we frequently vacation).

As always, my disclaimer goes something like this.  I understand that people in all areas are hurting due to our struggling economy.  I'm not whining about the lost money.  Of course I'm not happy about it, but I've always said I would pay more in taxes if it would make a difference in the quality of life for people in my community, state and nation.  However, the money my family has lost hasn't done anything to help anyone.  It's simply money lost to help fulfill a vendetta against unions led by our governor.    That's my complaint and I'm sticking with it.

Interesting Fact…
Did you know that in a recent poll the approval rating for Congress was 12.7% which is a little lower than the 70% approval rating that people gave their children's teachers?

The Wisconsin Idea…
Ever since February many Wisconsinites have been bemoaning the changes in our state.  A frequent refrain is the fact that what is happening isn't the "Wisconsin Idea".  This idea is that our state has traditions of civility, open government and progressive ideals.  The further we move into the Walker regime the farther we get from what Wisconsin has historically stood for.  We move away from over a century of reforms and regress to a lower set of standards. 

What is this more and more elusive Wisconsin Idea?  To quote from the Wisconsin Historical Society website (my emphasis added):
In the first quarter of the twentieth century, Wisconsin leaders began to seek new answers to problems caused by an increasingly industrial and technological society. To a people born and raised mostly on farms, the explosive growth of cities, rising importance of large-scale industry, transformation of the workforce by new immigrants and rigid class stratification, and the overall speed of daily life brought uncertainty and confusion. In other states social movements such as the Greenback Party and Populist Party tried to address these changes, but little was accomplished in Wisconsin until after the year 1900 when "Progressives" gained control of the Republican Party.
The Republicans were the party of Lincoln and the Union Army, and in the decades following the Civil War, they held a virtual monopoly on state government by organizing and satisfying the needs of Civil War veterans. Until the 1890s, a few party leaders tightly controlled Wisconsin's legislative agenda. At the same time, the rise of big business after 1870 had concentrated economic power in the hands of a few privileged individuals. These two groups, party leaders and business leaders, often overlapped, personally and pragmatically, as the interests and actions of government and business converged.
Progressive Republicans, in contrast, believed that the business of government was to serve the people. They sought to restrict the power of corporations when it interfered with the needs of individual citizens. The Progressive Movement appealed to citizens who wanted honest government and moderate economic reforms that would expand democracy and improve public morality. In their crusade for reform on a state and national level, Progressive Republicans were led by Robert La Follette, Wisconsin's governor from 1901 to 1906, and U.S. Senator from 1906 to 1925.
What did the Progressive Movement accomplish in Wisconsin? During James Davidson's terms as governor, from 1906 to 1911, considerable progressive legislation was enacted, including laws proving for state control of corporation stock issues, an extension of the power of the railroad commission to regulate transportation, a fixing of railroad fares, and stricter regulation of insurance companies. The most important and influential progressive legislation, however, was passed during the next (1911) session, under the governorship of Francis McGovern. The 1911 legislature created the nation's first effective workers' compensation program to protect people injured on the job. It passed laws to regulate factory safety, encouraged the formation of cooperatives, established a state income tax, formed a state life insurance fund, limited working hours for women and children, and passed forest and waterpower conservation acts.

Here we are, 100 years removed from that historic 1911 legislative session, facing near total destruction of what our ancestors worked so hard for.  What's at stake here?

Restrictions on the power of corporations: Over the past months it has become crystal clear that corporate money has the biggest voice in Wisconsin politics now.  Nearly all of the legislation that has been pushed through has benefitted corporations over people (real people that is, not corporate "persons").

Scot Ross: Walker's 'special-interest session' offers more corporate ...

Honest government: Allegations of impropriety swirl around the Walker regime like (insert colorful simile here).  While many are just allegations and have yet to be proven, the overall tone of this administration rivals that of some of the most historically corrupt governing bodies.  Starting with the sudden ending of collective bargaining rights for public workers (not campaigned on) using questionable means to achieve questionable objectives.  Continuing on through "Special Legislative sessions" and "Extraordinary Sessions" that don't focus on issues important to a majority of Wisconsin citizens.  Adding on the campaign finance issues and the running of "fake Democratic" candidates that increased the costs of the summer recalls.  Now, the phony recall effort to confuse voters.   

I was asked to try and find out more about the Barry/Mistele positions.  Shouldn't be too difficult to find out what two of our relatively expensive public servants are up to should it?  The positions are in the Department of Safety and Professional Services which oversee the regulation and licensing of many different professions.  These include nurses, pharmacists and private investigators.  Ms. Mistele and Mr. Barry's qualifications seem to be more politically oriented than not.  Both of them have been against government regulation, but don't seem to have a problem regulating others.  As to what they do to earn their salaries, I'm still looking.

Workers rights: Almost every action taken under Walker's leadership benefits management over labor.  With rights restricted and legal avenues for redressing grievances reduced, the stage is set for a return to the 1870's.  A time period when workers struggled to survive under draconian rules established by employers.

Environmental protection: Along with restricting rights for workers, Walker's administration has worked to weaken or eliminate environmental protections.  Clean air, clean water and a safe environment is not high on this administration's list of things that are important.  Profit over protection is a mantra for this year.

Expansion of democracy: Voter ID, enough said.

Improvement of public morality: Republicans have continually told us that they are the party of morality and will work to make our society better.  However, their views only represent a small percentage of what the general public feels.  For example, the attacks on Planned Parenthood are not widely supported by Wisconsin citizens.  The changes in sex-education requirements do little to make children safer and more responsible. 

I've argued before that the individualism promoted by conservatism actually undermines our society's values.  The idea that an individual can, through only their own efforts, rise through the social and economic class levels to get to the top is pure malarkey.  We all rely on each other in so many ways and to isolate us as individuals does nothing to further our growth as a nation economically, socially or spiritually.  The problem with the conservative ideology of individualism isn't the concept of responsibility for oneself, it's that no one is completely independent and therefore must rely on society for support in many areas.        

The concealed carry legislation is another example of just how low our culture is sinking.  The concept that I will be safer if my fellow citizens are allowed to carry weapons speaks volumes about where we are at as a state.  After watching two adults nearly fight at a U12 soccer game (where one "adult" spit in another's face) I shudder to think what could happen if they had been armed.  We seem to have such difficulty dealing with conflict in our nation and guns aren't going to help.    

We need more education and rational thought, not simply quick fixes of arming citizens.  We also need to have leadership that creates opportunity for people.  It seems that people who are happy, productive and able to support themselves by working reasonable hours at a living wage, would be people who are less likely to need a weapon.  The more people who are able to make a living in a positive career, the fewer criminal incidents we should have.

One way to judge a cultures "public morality" is by how they interact with those who have differing opinions.  We are clearly not progressing in this area during the Walker administration.  The divisive politics and draconian approach to dealing with dissent make for a more volatile environment.  We just completed a lesson on cyber-bullying in my classroom this week.  After school I went home, went online and read multiple examples of adults engaging in behavior we wouldn't tolerate from children.  So disappointing to read such ignorance and confrontational postings from people.       

Recall Information and Other Positive Actions to Take…
Ready to get things going on Saturday, November 19th?!?!

Knowing your Wisconsin Constitution never hurts (unless you carry it into our legislative chambers).

People continue to look for ways to spend, invest and otherwise use their money more "wisely".

Workers everywhere look to get involved in the struggle.  Some of the most dramatic actions are currently happening in Oakland.

Why We Need Teacher Unions…
 Unions are facing their biggest challenges in decades here in Wisconsin, and across the nation.  Recent legislation has so unbalanced the playing field that it is becoming more difficult for many people to see union membership as part of their future.  In fact, many unions are simply not going through the process of recertifying.  They recognize the costs are too great and the benefits are too small to justify asking members to go through the effort to officially recertify.  In fact, public employees can get larger raises if they don't belong to a certified union and can't negotiate benefits or other issues anyway.  It is true that workers can still act collectively without being an official state recognized union, and many labor organizations are moving in that direction.

As a teacher I'm going to be faced with the question of union membership or not in the near future.  Realistically, the overall labor conditions and public opinion will not make a total reversal in the next couple of years.  So my fellow teachers and I will be forced to make a difficult choice.  Should we officially dismantle the organization that has represented us for decades, or continue the struggle and stay organized and active.  If we choose not to certify our union, how will we maintain the cohesiveness and organization for the long term struggle to protect our profession?

Conservatives would have you believe that the unions only exist to protect teachers and other educators from working.  They argue that unions prevent reforms to education and act to maintain the status quo.  They would have you believe that without unions we truly would have "no child left behind".  They also argue that more of the "best and brightest" young people would want to be teachers if they could compete in a marketplace for the best positions without seniority rules and other union mandated restrictions.  The recent legislation in Wisconsin is clearly set up to undermine the power of the unions and make membership unpalatable.   

What a bunch of hooey!  I truly believe that teacher/educator unions are vital for the survival of our democracy.  Public education is one of the strongest defenses we have in preserving opportunity for all people.  Public education provides a place for every child, no matter their race, gender, income, disability, background, etc. to attend and receive instruction.  While there is no doubt we need to work hard to be innovative, creative and progressive in our educational efforts, the public school remains our best hope to make a difference in individual lives, family opportunity and society as a whole.

Teacher/educator unions allow for professionals to be protected from the ever changing whims of public opinion and the latest educational fad.  I've only been teaching for 16 years and I've already seen multiple programs to teach literacy and math.  Not to mention countless new "innovations" to improve behavior and school climate.  Without union protection I can be forced to implement these ideas that may not have educational merit and that may not even work for my classroom, students and families.  They also help protect important "non-academic" classes like art, music and physical education.  Endeavors that are among the first to be impacted or cut when budget woes hit. 

Teacher/educator unions negotiate to keep schools as positive work environments.  Without my union, elementary school teachers would have planning time from 8-8:30 many mornings.  This would mean that I would either not plan, or have to ignore my students who need help before school, ignore parent phone calls or questions and not be able to communicate with colleagues before school.  Unions help keep workloads and work hours manageable.  Having a say in your working conditions can only improve morale and make a school a more positive place for all.

Teacher/educator unions help promote the image of educators as professionals.  This is something that many conservatives don't appreciate.  They see educators as something less than true professionals.  We need to be told what to teach, when to teach and how to teach because for some reason our experience and education haven't provided us with knowledge of how to educate children.  Union membership gives us access to other professionals and allows us to improve our teaching and also promote our profession.

Teacher/educator unions also promote solidarity between different branches of the profession and different jobs within the field of education.  Once again the conservative ideology of individualism would have everyone competing for better conditions, better pay and other incentives.  Education is a cooperative field, it truly takes a "whole village to raise a child".  If I'm competing with my co-workers in an unregulated market my incentive to help with difficult students is diminished.

Teacher/educator unions help provide a voice for all students and families.  Students of higher socio-economic status have an advantage in our society.  Professional educators advocate for all students and look for ways to make the system work for everyone.  Collective solidarity among educators provides more of a voice for all families.

Teacher/educator unions provide incentives for teachers to be educated and to learn new strategies, techniques, skills and concepts.  In the field of education, an educator's education matters.  The more one knows, and the more experience one has the better equipped an educator is to deal with challenges in the school.  Union negotiated pay scales emphasize this level of achievement and compensate accordingly.  The pay scale and seniority eliminate the need to be popular and allows educators to focus on education. 

Notice what is last on my list of what unions provide, political power.  It is true that unions do provide an organized political force.  That is very clear here in Wisconsin and across the nation.  However, political action is only one aspect of union activities.  In fact, for many educators politics is one of the last aspects of unionism that they think of.  That is, until political actions by anti-education leadership directly attacks teaching and education in a widespread and monumental fashion, then watch out for the educators!!

With such a need for educator unions and organization, the next year will be vital in shaping what our public education system will look like in the future.  Unions are looking at ways to restructure and reorganize.  They are also looking for ways to build and use the energy/enthusiasm generated by the assaults on public education.  In order to achieve success several things must happen:

-Political power must be exercised.  The recalls of Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch are going to be an obvious measuring stick.  If the general public doesn't respond and vote against them it will severely undermine our movement and allow the extreme conservative agenda free rein in Wisconsin.

-Public opinion must be modified.   Currently, many citizens see educational reforms like testing and school choice as logical and even progressive.  Unions must share information about the efforts being made to educate all students and the dangers of the testing and widespread, unregulated school choice.  We can't continue to buy into the existing system, even if it means penalties for us.  One example of this is a local school that, in a communication to all families, stated that all students in 10th grade must take the WKCE or else they wouldn't be admitted to class.  This in direct contradiction to the reality that students can opt out of testing in grades 4, 8 and 10.  By making testing such an important thing, we validate it in the minds of the public. 

-Educators must promote themselves and education.  This isn't an easy thing for many of us to do.  Many of us are simply regular people who just do our jobs.  We don't always recognize our own importance and instead rely on others to speak up for us.  This isn't going to work in the current climate.  Educators need to speak up and make in known that we are creative, innovative and true professionals.  We need to remake our image and shape the way the public perceives us.    

-Educators must take back education.  Our schools are "failing" because of the "reforms" to education imposed on educators.  Look at the results of the past decades while we have implemented NCLB and other "improvements".  Students aren't motivated by the changes and teachers feel stifled.  One size fits all education doesn't work, but differentiation goes on in all schools.  Innovation and new approaches to education shouldn't be mandated out of public schools by directives on how to teach. 

We must also continue to emphasize that schools are "failing" because we are being told they are.  Schools are being measured as successes or failures based on data of questionable validity.  We know there are students who don't experience success in school.  Many of these same students are from populations that are experiencing generalized success in society as a whole.  This isn't a free pass for educators to deliver anything less than our best to all students, but it must be recognized that there are segments of our society that are not doing as well as others.   

If public education is supposed to remedy this situation we must be allowed to do our jobs as best we can under good conditions and with a supportive community.  Once again, the conservative ideal of individualism calls for each person to look out for their own.  However, these conservatives are among the first to complain about others shortcomings.  It is too much to assume a child can advocate for themselves in a system where adults struggle to make progress.  We must also support families who don't have the time, resources and knowledge to employ the system to their advantage.  In order for educators to support these children and families we must have some degree of influence in creating a system that will work for more people.  

In order for us to enjoy the benefits of organized public school employees all of us must act now.  Non of these benefits exist without the action of all educators.  This can't be the efforts of just a few dedicated individuals supported quietly by their peers.  All of us must mobilize and act, before it is too late and public education becomes part of history and not a way to shape the future.     

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