Saturday, February 5, 2011

Debating UFT Strategy on PEP Walkout as a A UFT Leadership Member Declares: "We're Going in a New Direction"

Is Mayoral control and the PEP the UFT's Rosemary's Baby?
Yesterday I received a call from an upper level UFT member of the leadership. After hearing me do my usual "Ed Notes was warning you about mayoral control, the entire PEP process is the UFT's Rosemary's baby, yada, yada, yada for at least a decade I was told, "You may have been right but now we're going in a different direction."

We'll see. Based on history and the analysis below and some follow up stuff I want to do based on what Mulgrew didn't say at the E4E appearance (no real defense of LIFO or ATRs)as reported at Gotham, I don't think so.

When I wrote my Wave column Wednesday morning (Poison Pep Pills) for the print edition I blacked out my last sentence for the blog because I didn't want to give anything away.

By the time you read this you might be hearing about a major disruption of the PEP at that meeting to attempt to stop the vote to close the schools. Or not.

It turns out the "or not" was operative. You see I was actually fooled again. I really thought the UFT might stop this meeting cold so they couldn't conduct business, just like the CEJ-led August 16 PEP meeting when the PEPsqueaks were driven off the stage.

If you were roaming around through the grim looks of the DOE officials before the walkout and the look of relief after the walkout you would know exactly what I mean. They were really worried that they wouldn't be able to have a vote and would have to reschedule the meeting. And I believe the UFT and their partners in the event, the Coalition for Educational Justice (more on this relationship soon) and the Urban Youth Collaborative could stop every single PEP meeting if they have the will. But do they? (CEJ was involved in that $10 million that Bloomberg gave the schools to help struggling kids, something CEJ lobbied very hard for, though critics say that money is going for Saturday test prep academies.)

Now, I was as caught up in the evacuation as anyone and since then I was on the fence on the walkout. I got an earful from parent Lisa Donlan (who had a discussion - which I may have mischaracterized in my post yesterday as "in the face"of Michael Mendel but Lisa cleared up as a nice talk - about how upset she was) and teacher Julie Cavanagh at a bar when we left the meeting.

Yesterday, the debate raged all day on the NYC Education News listserve (run by Leonie and the most influential ed listserve with both Diane Ravitch and Debbie Meier commenting frequently). Before I jump in with more analysis of UFT strategy and tactics in a follow-up here are some of the comments I culled. I will add more as they come. Weigh in with your own.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Bar Von Clausewitz wrote a little book, On War. It is still used in military strategy classes in the USMC and at Sandhurst. These are three primary rules on war.....

*Never underestimate your enemy.....or, s/he ain't half as dumb as you would like her/him to be.
*Never arm the enemy.....or don't leave ammunition lying around
*Never abandon the field in the face of your enemy.....or don't walk out.

Although I understand the frustration of watching a preordained vote, leaving was a mistake,
Another strategy is being developed.

If the latter is true, it's time for the troops to know something about the strategy. No one will follow a leader(s) who keep secrets. And, if there isn't a new strategy, WTF?


I am glad you returned to support the co located schools that were left alone w/ ERN and their astroturfed bussed in parents with scripts, as the text below documents.

 Of course it was all decided- and the majority of mayoral appointees have the votes to perpetuate the sham, voting as ordered.
That is the definition of Mayoral control- the DoE and its controlled  PEP do not have to listen, they do not have to follow the law, as the last 9 years has demonstrated.

My question is a sincere one- 
What was accomplished by the walk out?
Lisa Donlan

All we have is right now is to try to exert more public pressure on Bloomberg  through the media; watching NY1 last night (I didn’t see the other channels) it appeared to me that the walkout and the interviews w/ students and others who walked out made a powerful point.

Leonie Haimson


I didn't feel right about the walk out and didn't participate in it. To me, it would have been much more powerful if everyone there either a) stood in solidarity w the parents, students, and teachers who came out to speak for their school, b) we all participated in a vigil of some kind or c) if instead of walking out, we walked forward and really took the needed steps towards a revolution (which, in a dictatorship is not that radical). The walk out left a very bad taste in my mouth because it was very much political staging on the uft's part; that kind of staging usually leads to some kind of sell out deal which will not benefit the majority of stakeholders in education. It also upset me bc the messaging of a walk out is "nothing matters"- that is fatalistic and serves no purpose. I doubt any political capital was gained from the action and sadly, even if it generated some, the uft has no desire or will to stop the drive to privatize- which at the root, is what this all is really about. I understand the catharsis of walking out, but having been in the position of the PS 9 families that were there; even though you know it most likely doesn't matter, when its YOUR school- you hold out all hope against hope that something you say will make a difference and it feels so good to have a room of people there with you, I am sure it did not feel good to them that everyone was gone by 7:30. . To marginalize their opportunity to be heard just made me feel sad. It should also be noted that yes, the youth collaborative was a major player in the action, and I admire those kids so much, but the action was planned and implemented by the uft- to me the role of teachers should always be to support parents and kids, not bend them to your will. Uft grandstanding will not get us anywhere. Ask them if they are going to fight, now, to end this dictatorship. The answer will be no. They need to do something real, or not bother. Unpopular opinions here I am sure, but my two cents. 

Julie Cavanagh


My understanding is that the idea of the walk-out came from the students first, not the UFT.  And I entirely sympathize w/ how they felt.   There is huge frustration from sitting for 6-8 hours, sometimes at multiple hearings,  and being entirely ignored.

We can differ on tactics; and what makes more of a difference, either politically or in the public eye.  It is very hard to say at this point which tactics may be more effective, but  I don’t think it’s helpful to criticize other people’s motives or intentions.

Another thing….it was clear from the message sent around that even if you chose to join the group and walk out, no one was discouraged from coming back if they wanted to speak later or show support for other parents or groups afterwards.

Leonie Haimson


I did not hear that the idea came from the students first, that is not how the UFT sold it, branded it, etc.  It changes the political part of my feelings about the walk out some certainly if that is the case.  Just to be clear, every email I received that was written by the UFT messaged this walkout as their own, and in fact, they tried to encourage members to come promising they would only have to be there unit 7:30.  It is true people could have walked back after the walk out.  Some did.  But certain UFT emails also did make clear that walking back in was not on the agenda.

As I stated, I admire the students and the work of the Urban Youth Collaborative, and understand (to the greatest extent that a non-student could) their feelings of frustration. 

I am not trying to be critical of those who chose to walk out.  I was simply sharing a different opinion on last night in a strand of emails, knowingly (and I stated) that it was probably not a popular opinion.

What I am being critical of is the lack of authentic action on the UFT's part.  Historically I have pushed back against those who have been critical of the UFT.  I do think it is important however to question and criticize any power structure when I disagree, especially when I am paying the dues and more importantly when the magnitude of their action is disproportionate to the severity of the situation, namely 25 of our public schools being closed, not to mention charter takeovers. Further I think sometimes this kind of criticism can be helpful.  I am not just going to agree w/ something or keep quite about something I disagree with when it comes to the union that represents me.  Disagreement is healthy. Maybe that discourse moves one side or the other and maybe we just agree to disagree.

I was uncomfortable with the walkout for two reasons:  one because, again, I have sat w/ the parents and their children whose schools are being destroyed (including my own), I know what it feels like and I know how much you need to look over and see a friendly face or have folks there standing in solidarity with you.  That comes from my very specific subject position, it doesn't mean the alternative is wrong, but it was wrong for me.  Second, I don't agree with the tactic and I think it is helpful to discuss tactics that are employed, that is how we learn what is effective and what is not, what can be improved, what comes next etc. 

When it comes to UFT action what I have seen over the last year is obfuscation and capitulation.  The UFT has not provided the truth to its members about the destructive policies of this Mayor and those we see nationally, as my friend Sam Coleman said at a rally last week (paraphrasing), 'I couldn't wait for my union to educate, organize, and mobilize me... it didn't happen.'  We have also seen questionable concessions such as the backroom deals that happened after last year's school closings lawsuit, which allowed the change in utilization process to be usurped in order to place schools in the buildings of the schools that would no longer be closed, undermining those schools that the UFT claimed to be saving.

Again, I am not the person to go after the UFT and I have long said, I don't think it is helpful for union members to attack their own union... but I am growing tired of inaction.  The UFT is, at this point, the only organizing body that has the resources to take action that might meaningfully bring us changes that would stop these unfair and destructive policies.  I understand that the UFT has to spend their political capital and their organizing power wisely, but what is more important than mobilizing your masses to fight back the attacks on our schools and our kids?  A walkout does not accomplish that.  Maybe this is a prelude.  I certainly hope so.

Julie Cavanagh


As a UFT member I support the walk out, but believe the correct tactic would have been to not allow the PEP to go on. We should have all stayed and continued the disruption.  For me, it was a let down to walk out.  For once WE had control, not them!  Yes, I know that they would meet another time and still do what they did, but WE need to take the power back from them.  I think that would have been empowering.  Everyone should have stayed until there was a real treat of arrest, which I am not sure would have happened with all the media there.  I stayed to support the PS 9 people.  It was very depressing listening to the charter people totally control what went on for hours afterwords.The PS 9 parents were left mostly alone against the charters...and there were LOTS of them.  I totally understand the closing schools not coming back as they poured their hearts out last year and  were still closed.  The problem with the UFT is that the walk out IS the UFT strategy.  I think they will move on to the budget cuts ( which does need to be organized around), but nothing will be done about these closings now and next year there will be more closing schools....and we will do the same thing.  Perhaps there will be a walk out again and the schools will be closed again. The UFT, students and parents need to say that  NO PEP will continue doing business..or perhaps one or more of the closing schools need to do a sit-in at the school.  This can NOT be the end of what to do about school closings.  
Lisa North 

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