by Robert C. Rendo
English Language Arts Teacher, Westchester County
In 2006, when I had written an article in the NY Teacher Paper about Randi Weingarten, I extolled her leadership virtues by examining her role in actualizing parity to bring city teacher salaries in line with those of the gentrified suburbs. She also compromised tremendously in that “victory” by helping Michael Bloomberg secure mayoral control of the New York City public schools and then extending the working day for teachers, amounting to 15 more days a year. The “leveling” didn’t exactly produce a flat terrain, and pay for city teachers, while increased, still lagged behind about $7,000 on average for top capped salaries.
With regard to Ms. Weingarten, I’ve since then had a reversal of observatory fortune and am getting in touch with my inner Diane Ravitch. Like Ms. Ravitch’s “one-eighty” on NCLB, I’m now seeing Weingarten in a high wattage spotlight, as opposed to the rose colored light I once shed on her in my article. Ms. Weingarten was at the “We are One Rally” on April 9th in Times Square. I saw that the only transparency she exuded was the two way mirrored window pane plucked straight from a stage set. She was cheering us protestors with her shiny high pitched, fast talking, inflection filled speech. Yet, her rhetoric remained acutely incongruent to her past and present actions. Randi Weingarten is, within her own drama queen-to-centrist spectrum, a substantial obstructionist to true educational reform.
I want to remind everyone at that rally that Weingarten, a teacher for 9 months in her whole 20 year career, paved the path for Bloomberg to control and damage the NYC public schools by demoralizing teachers with a test-obsessed, mostly data driven, and castigative professional culture. Not to mention, Bloomberg now runs an opaque process where no one gets to see too much of what goes on behind the scenes; whatever democratic components he has in place, like the Panel for Education, are little more than cosmetic democracy. His hiring of Cathy Black was a swift smack in the head to teachers, administrators, cognitive scientists, students, and parents. When I saw Weingarten up at that speaking post at the rally, I was reminded that this was the very same figurehead who was completely behind mayoral control and instrumental to getting Bloomberg this post.
Bloomberg’s appointment as a education leader is a dot that can be directly connected to other dots of non-teaching occupations and unions. He’s a prominent powerbroker for the rich and an indifferent plutocrat whose policies weaken the middle and working classes.The contradiction of Ms. Weingarten, president of the AFT, and Mr. Bloomberg, president of the rich, stick out like a sore, open, liquidy infected blister.
I am also reminded of Weingarten’s successful move to feature Bill gates as a key note speaker at the AFT convention this year. How can that NOT send the wrong message to us teachers, yet also, reveal Weingarten’s true “reformer-deformer” orientation? Gates is among the most anti-teacher and anti-teacher union plutocrat in the United States; not to mention he is emotionally disconnected from the student-teacher bond and has no background in education. He has preached his cavalier and politicized acceptance of several self-dogmatized, bizzare precepts: 1) class size doesn’t matter; 2) the length of time it takes teachers to become adept and experienced is only 3 years); 3) there is a non-necessity of having a masters degree or higher to become a teacher; 4) there is a non-necessity of factoring in student poverty to teacher evaluation; 5) there is an innocuous need to replace, in part, real teachers and the human bond part with virtual learning. How much more counterproductive to children’s intellectual development can Mr. Gate’s Aspberger-ish and disconnected notions be?
Yet again, we turn to Ms. Weingarten, who cherry picked at one of the most visible and symbolic forums this year at the AFT convention.
Finally, there is the UFT debacle wherein Weingarten, and then later on, Michael Mulgrew, suppressed information regarding Iris Blige, the Medusa-inspired principal who was found guilty and fined by the DOE of giving directives to her assistant principals to issue “U” ratings to teachers without actually having them observed. The UFT deliberately chose not to pursue this case when one of the affected teachers was sent to a rubber room. The virtual absence of coverage, press conferences, rhetoric, and plain truthful advocacy is key to revealing Ms. Weingarten’s corruption and incompetence. And now we all get to relish those same branded hallmark qualities in her at the national level.
It is my succinct hope that the more people are keenly aware of Weingarten’s “all-about-eve” style representation of teachers nationwide, the more there will be a movement to seriously and perhaps aggressively unseat her. It remains a critical goal to replace her with someone who will militantly stand for those who educate rather than for ideological, philosophical movements that are dressed up to imitate advocacy for teachers. But then again, Weingarten is a master at self-promotion. I can see her sparkling up her public image a little by dancing with the stars or showing up on a revival of “What’s My Line?” Yet, the real Randi Weingarten couldn’t possibly ever stand up due to her own self serving denial and paralysis. A strong but peaceful grass movement to form and mobilize a national teacher union where the president is directly elected by teachers - as opposed to being elected by a cronied tier of upper delegate management, is a start in the right direction to restoring health to a union that is diseased by its leadership.