"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."- Frederick Douglass
After my last post I started to think more about teachers/administration in comparison to a traditional worker/management “fight.” Workers have pretty much always been painted as the selfish ones, thinking only about themselves and not about the greater good. In almost all cases this is a pretty insidious label but has been used with varying levels of success. Of course if it can be used successfully against the organizing and support of the workers in a widget factory, then even whispers of it are bound to be successful against the teachers in our school system.
The only reason anyone wants widgets made is to make money, it’s equally true of the workers and management. In the school system the “product” is the education of our children. This gives management an overwhelming advantage in the messaging of any fight over teacher pay (or any other issue under debate with teacher contracts). The result of ANY action taken by teachers in response to their treatment will easily be painted as having a detrimental effect on the kids.
While I could make a compelling argument that the detrimental effect is a direct result of management treating their workers disrespectfully and not the response by the workers, the reality is everyone will connect the impact to the actions of the teachers. Truth be told, teachers also make that connection which is why there is such poor participation numbers in actions like work-to-rule. Paraphrasing from one teacher I heard from back at the last work-to-rule action “I refuse to tell a kid I have taught for four years that I will not write her recommendation because the administration is playing hardball with my salary.”
Very few teachers will ever choose their own self-interest over the support of their students and so they will ALWAYS lose these negotiation games. Teachers therefore are always negotiating from a point of severe weakness. The only avenue available to them in the past was pure politics. Support politicians with money, time, and elbow grease so they support the teachers when in office. To some, including many teachers, this is crass and not “appropriate” for the educators of our children. My reaction to that ranges from annoyance to outrage depending on who is making it and why. As I said, it’s the only way to amass power for the teachers in their protection for themselves.
All this has had me thinking for some time. What the teachers need is a way to show power over the administration, over the system, in a way that will not have a detrimental effect on individual students. I came up with one idea that is so rough that it’s not even course sandpaper yet. There is also a whole lot I don’t know as it relates to the inner workings of the school system so I will rely on others to fill me in.
What would happen if the teachers unified to “opt out” of administering sme specific or even all of the standardized tests? Clearly it would have to be a unified position. If Laurel Woods teachers opted out and Manor Woods teachers didn’t (or vice versa) the whole plan goes to hell. However, even if the teachers could establish it as a credible threat (my language is intentionally provocative there) the system would be threatened to the (common) core. I want to be clear here, this is not about me taking a position on the nature of these tests. I have a slightly nuanced position but that’s NOT what this is about. I would support this idea even if I were 100% behind the epic levels of standardized testing. My point is that the results of these tests affect the school system but not the individual students (at least not directly). This, to me, seems like the only place where teachers might have an avenue to exercise their power within the bounds of what’s morally acceptable to the teachers themselves.
 Many of the teachers I talk to bristle at the concept of being categorized as workers. All have Bachelor’s degrees, some have advanced degrees and many have told me they find the classification as “worker” to be demeaning to the profession. I struggle with the term worker being demeaning but I certainly mean no offense. For these purposes it simply means the bottom rung of a management flow chart.
 I of course very much include School Board members in this pool of “politicians”
 If you’ve studied organizing at all this should be reminiscent of of Alinsky’s threatened Fart-In at the Rochester Philharmonic. Hit them where they breathe. Pun intended for sure.