‘ROUNDING THE GLOBE’: Critical analysis of the Boston Globe education coverage
‘The Cartel’ Cometh
Today, the Sunday Globe gave a barrel of ink over to a new film, “The Cartel,” which will open soon in Boston. Filmmaker Bob Bowdon takes aim at teacher unions-a favorite Globe villain-and holds them responsible for what he considers the greatest crisis we face: the sabotaging of the American educational system and the future of our country and kids. Administrators also come in for a drubbing. (The movie focuses mainly on teachers, unions, and students in three New Jersey cities). Brian McQuarrie wrote the article, which is really a pre-screening interview with Bowdon. Neither he nor I have seen the film as yet.
A man named Jim Horn has already posted an interesting response to the film. It can be found at SchoolMatters, so I won’t repeat the excellent points he made. I urge you to read his piece.
I would like to make some comments and offer a few basic facts about unions in general and teachers unions in particular.
1) Anyone who forgets why unions were very organized should review the history of American industrialization. Check out Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” for starters.
2) From the get-go, employers were offended by the very notion that workers should have anything to say about their working conditions, whether pay, hours, benefits, or safety. Just hours before writing this sentence, I watched President Obama eulogize 29 West Virginia miners who were killed in an unsafe mine. I am reminded of Faulkner’s great quote: “The Past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
3) Many sacrifices were made and lives lost to organize unions. During the New Deal, the right to organize was finally recognized under the Wagner Act. Still, employers fought unions tooth and nail. The high water mark of unionization came in the 1950s when about 35% of the workforce was unionized. I write as someone who parents and grandparents were able to live in dignity because of unions.
4) In the 1920’s, some industries ran away to the “right-to-work” South to escape unions. In a few cases, unions caught up with them. But with the globalization of the economy beginning in the 1970s, American capitalism began to oursource. Many of the victories won by unions were lost along with jobs and whole industries, as the global race-to-the-bottom began. Our great patriotic entrepreneurs went where the unions weren’t and hired desperately poor people worked for a pittance. Remember those sweatshops that you read about as part of our dark past? Suddenly they were back. Now the present appeared in past tense.
5) Presently only 12% of the workforce is unionized. American society has grown ever more unequal. The war against unions and our right of free association continues and has intensified.
6) The “cartel” we most need to be worried about is currently being investigated: Wall St. Others can be found in the media and banking for starters. Their money and power are used to help frame how we see the world-which includes how we see unions.
1) Before teachers started unionizing in the 50s and 60s, they were taken advantage of. Their lot was low pay, large classes, and total job insecurity. These are the conditions that explain the rise of teachers unions.
2) I haven’t seen the “The Cartel” nor have I heard a response from the Jersey unions. I don’t discount the possibility of corruption and selfishness. After all, I see it every day in our largest corporations, government, banks, brokerage companies, and, yes, charter school companies. All I can say is that I worked as union teacher. I was proud of our contract, which was absolutely consistent with the best traditions of progressive education. As for tenure, I ask you readers: do you think financially hard-pressed school districts might be tempted to lay off expensive veteran teachers in favor of cheaper rookies? I think so.
3) By the way, here’s a fact that the Globe has steadfastly ignored and that Mr. Bowdon might not know: there are hundreds of different teacher union contracts, not one malevolent master contract in the various states. I belonged to MTA, but I am still waiting for the Globe to detail its beef with the BTU contract. When will the Globe get off its butt, investigate, and stop make generalizations about teacher unions. And please, Globe, while you are at it, how about substantiating the generalizations you do make.
4) For all the badmouthing of teacher unions, did you know that only about 40% of teachers are unionized? Do non-union charters fare better academically? Not in general. How about the non-union public schools? Globe get busy ad tell us what you find. The union teachers in Massachusetts seem to have created the most high achieving schools in the country, according to the Globe’s own mishugana standards. And that was true even before MCAS.
5) State law requires that teachers in Massachusetts be evaluated. Unfortunately, many administrators either don’t have the inclination to do this or haven’t been trained to do so. Quite a few weren’t very successful teachers themselves. Perhaps the “reformers” realize this and have therefore debased the very meaning of education in order to replace genuine evaluation with a simple numbers game. Enter the bean counters. Exit the master teachers.
6) Who is responsible for the deep inequalities in our society, for the fact that our people live in different worlds in the same country? Who is to blame for the dis-investment in our inner cities? Teacher unions?
Someone is laughing all the way to the bank. It isn’t teachers.
Just some musings before I have the opportunity to see the film and listen to one of Mr. Bowdon’s interviewees tell us that this “Cartel” poses a greater danger to the country than terrorism.