What is it good for? Well, war has been around for an awfully long time, and sometimes if you can create the right war, you wag the dog, and no one even needs to win.
If you’re Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein, you find one of the last remnants of vibrant unionism in the center of your fiefdom and ask, “Why should we put up with such nonsense? Unions? We don’t need no stinking unions!” After all, most charter schools don’t have unions, and you can fire teachers simply for telling their colleagues how much UFT teachers earn. You can fire them for hanging Picasso paintings in the classroom.
So, how do you start this war? Well, a good start is to seek out some nervous and wacky senator facing an uncertain future. If he’s desperate enough for your support, maybe you can persuade him to propose an uphill bill demanding an end to reverse-seniority layoffs. You will demand this only for teachers, not for firefighters, police, or anyone else. After all, you haven’t invested years into sliming them. Also, you’ll insist this bill be restricted to New York City, where you have mayoral control and a fake board of education that votes for absolutely everything the mayor wants. If they don’t, they’re fired on the spot, and teachers should be fired on the spot too, goshdarn it!
By some remarkable coincidence, the very same week you unveil this brainstorm, two young teachers appear out of nowhere with a very professional-looking website and also demand an end to reverse-seniority layoffs. And the ensuing buzz is this — the system’s good, the system’s no good, the senior teachers are better, the junior teachers are better, the better teachers are me, the worse teachers are you, and no one is quite happy at all.
They’re not really supposed to be. It’s tough to fight 80,000 teachers. But maybe, if you can get 40,000 teachers to spend their time fighting with the other 40,000, you can divert them from what you’re doing, and you can sneak in your real agenda without anyone being the wiser. After all, you just ran a campaign ostensibly based on jobs, you fired 500 DC37 employees right in the middle of it (just after their union happened to endorse your opponent), and no one really saw any problem.
Did anyone notice when you took hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce class sizes, and then class sizes went up anyway? Only a few random crazy people, the NAACP, and oh, that awful UFT. Man, those unionized teachers are a pain in the butt.
And who really cared when you held public hearings to close 19 schools? True, every single speaker got up and condemned your plan. Sure, your statistics were nonsense. But you ignored the speakers and had your rubber-stamp education board, the Panel for Educational Policy, approve them anyway. What difference did it make that not a single member on the board could make an argument in defense of your actions? The papers ate it up and called you courageous.
But there are those uppity teachers again, ruining everything and demanding you follow the law! Outrageous! Where will it all end? Sure, you can pull a few more editorial writers out of your pocket, and have them scribble your demands for you. After the UFT Prez wins by a landslide, you can have them claim it’s a mandate for him to judge teachers by test scores. You can demand merit pay for the millionth time, and you can follow up by making sure the writers support your bill to end reverse seniority layoffs.
After all, those same editorial writers have been telling the world for years that bad teachers are everywhere. They’re in the classroom. They’re under your bed. They’re taking over the world! There’s that awful tenure system. So you preach from the rooftops that it awards tenure to far too many teachers.
The solution, your bill maintains, is to take the very same people you’ve ridiculed for awarding tenure to far too many teachers for no good reason, and allow them to decide which teachers have merit and which don’t. You can blunt that by setting up advisory committees and acting like you aren’t giving those administrators the final say. You can play it down in the papers and hope, as usual, that no one bothers to read the actual bill. The fact that you’ve repeatedly insinuated these administrators have the most abysmal judgment on earth, therefore, will be neither here nor there.
As long as you can pit the old against the young, the senior against the junior, teachers will argue in the comments at GothamSchools, duke it out in the hallways, stop speaking to one another, perhaps the UFT will take their troublesome eye off the ball, and then you can get back to the business of doing what you want, when you want, how you want, and with whom you want. Because that, after all, is how things are done at the PEP, and how things should be done everywhere.
This business of turning teachers into Willie Horton hasn’t worked out exactly as planned. Sure, it’s good when you can get the public to believe teachers need fewer benefits and less job protection. The media here are fantastic. In any other country, the public would demand more benefits and job protection for themselves, rather than scapegoating teachers.
But if you can get them focused on throwing stones at one another while you pursue your real agenda-well, that’s the ticket! Forget seniority. Let the public chew on that nonsense. There are bigger fish to fry. After all, you’ve failed miserably to improve test scores you can’t manipulate, your entire program is an abysmal failure, someone’s gotta take the blame for this, and it ain’t gonna be you!
And that, in the year 2010, is what you call “accountability.”
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.