Thursday, August 27, 2015

We have Enemies. Pick a Side.

We have Enemies.  Pick a Side.

Republicans who want to privatize public education, openly bash public schools, teachers, and of course, teachers’ unions.  Democrats (“liberals”) who essentially share the same agenda, or at a minimum believe the “free market” could help public schools, use less aggressive strategies.

In Minneapolis, the “liberal” free-marketers often use the strategy of claiming the middle ground.  This is not unique to Minneapolis or to this issue.  It is a popular and effective argument that works to maintain the current path of change under the guise of pragmatism, a sort of neutrality.  Taking the middle ground is in their mind, taking the high ground.  The rhetoric depicts those on both the right and left as close-minded, but all with their share of valid points to be considered.  No one is “entirely right or entirely wrong.”

A former Minnesota Teacher of the Year, has written a blog post that seems to urge all of us to stand above the fray and stand together as teachers regardless of our views on education reform or our roles in the system.  It has struck many as positive and inspirational, as this post has been widely shared on social media. 

I don’t know this teacher personally, as he is new this year to the Minneapolis Public School District, but I appreciate how he has reached out to fellow teachers.  I appreciate his advocacy for his students and for social justice.  However, his positions on education reform do not align with giants of social justice education like Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn.  Sitting on the fence with regard to education reforms is equivalent to endorsing the dominant corporate reform narrative ("You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train).

As a history teacher myself, I often remind my students that issues are complex and multifaceted, and “right” and “wrong” are often unclear and relative, but sometimes there is a right and a wrong side.   Slavery is wrong.  Jim Crow segregation is wrong.  Putting unprepared and under-prepared individuals in front of students, and calling them teachers is wrong.  Caring about students and being passionate are necessary, but woefully insufficient elements of being a teacher. 

Institutions that promote such practices and their corporate and political supporters are the enemy of public education, and we do need to take them on.  Pick a side.

To clarify my point, I have rewritten his original post, but replaced “teacher” with “doctor.”  I would encourage you to read the original post first (find it here), and then read my revision below.

Rewritten Post:
(Italics represent the changes from the original post)

Last year, a guy moved in across the hall from me to practice cardiology (everyone’s favorite).  He didn’t have a license.  He had been rejected from Doctor for America years before.  He came in on a community expert license, but really, he came in at the last minute because we needed someone, anyone, to fill space.  The year before, we had resorted to having a sub with a dentist's license sit in the room while the patients used Web MD (because the only thing that could make cardiology more awesome was making a diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome with the internet).

Shortly after meeting that guy, I met another doctor, a guy who was in his fiftieth year of practicing medicine.  Seriously.  Fifty.  He practices oncology (everyone’s other favorite), and has been doing so since 1965.  He is fully licensed (in a few different specialties, actually), and widely recognized as one of the best doctors in his state.  He is a master of master doctors.
Aside from both staying up way later than I do, these two guys have very very little in common.

But you know what?  Both of these doctors are awesome.  That cardiology guy, he’s incredible.  He turned his examination room into one of the strongest places of cardiology in our entire building.  He built a community-based cardiology practice, from scratch, because he really wanted to, and it was fantastic.  That Oncology guy?  You don’t even know, you don’t even need to know.  He’s Yoda, he’s a magician, he’s a champion.

They are both awesome because they care hard about medicine, they focus on patients, they grow, and they accept help and friendship and support from other doctors openly.

They are who I want to be.

It’s doctors like them that rarely bother with microphones and message boards.  They are not out to win anything, not out to beat anyone, not out to mock, to slander, to attack anyone else.  They love to practice medicine, they love doctors.

Being a doctor is impossibly hard. Doctors stand on the front lines of the best and worst of us.  It’s hard enough without making people into enemies, it is hard enough without slapping down hands extended in help.  Being a doctor is hard enough, complicated enough, that it’s just impossible than any of us is entirely right or entirely wrong.

Doctoring is full of dumb.  Being a doctor is full of mess and frustration.  It’s full of humans, and humans are ridiculously ridiculous.  I understand why it makes it tired, and why it can make us angry.

But being a doctor is an act of love, and I’ll never understand why it produces so much needless hate, so much exclusion, so much us and them, so much you or they are not enough, not the right kind.

So, let me say:  I don’t care if you’re in your first year or your fiftieth.  I don’t care if you are in Doctor For America, were in Doctor for America, like or don’t like Doctor for America.  I don’t care if you’re a pin-covered-lanyard-wearing AMAista or if you delete every American Medical Association email on sight.  I don’t care if you are a doctor in a unlicensed clinic or did or will practice medicine in a unlicensed clinic, or if you send your kids to private hospital or public hospital.  I don’t care if you’re traditionally licensed or alternatively licensed or unlicensed, and I don’t care if you are a normal person or someone who plays a doctor on TV.

If you care about patients I am with you. If you work for hospitals and health and joy and love in hospitals, I am for you.

We can disagree and stick together.  We can come together on the things that make us doctors, and respect the differences of everything else.

I will assume you have no hidden agenda.  I will assume you are not evil or stupid or misled for believing what you believe.  I will help you if you need help, and I will accept help if you’re willing to give it.  I will try to see what you see if you try to see what I see.

If you care about patients, if you care about practicing medicine, there is nothing that will make you less of a doctor to me.

If you practice medicine, if you care about doctors, if you care about patients and hospitals, however you care about them, you are not my enemy.  Let’s go to work.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, February 6, 2015

Frankenguild, Part 2: The Sellout Continues

Union Leaders Have Joined the Privatizers
Two years ago I wrote about the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools, an organization created four years ago to sponsor charter schools.  The Guild was created by Lynn Nordgren, the current president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), and Louis Sundin, a former president of MFT and its current lobbyist.  The funding for this enterprise came from the American Federation of Teachers' (AFT) Innovation Fund, which itself received money from the Gates Foundation.  All of this was done without a discussion or vote by the rank-and-file members of MFT.

As in the rest of the country, charters are proliferating in the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  While two charters in Minnesota recently voted to unionize, charters as a whole are anti-union.  The majority of charters operate on a model that recruits young, inexperienced, under-trained teachers mostly provided by Teach for America (TFA).  Charter schools are also a key tool in the push to privatize our public schools by neo-liberals such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and yes, Obama.

Studies have shown repeatedly that charter schools are no better than true public schools and most of them are worse.  This according to the same testing data that the privatizers love to use to justify closing public schools and opening more charters.  Furthermore charter schools have contributed to dramatically increased levels of racial and economic segregation.  Charters along with other education "reforms" have effectively erased the original gains of the desegregation efforts following the Brown v. Board decision.

The Monster Continues to Grow.
Despite failure of charter schools and their destruction of democratic, public schools,  the Minnesota Department of Education approved the opening of ten new charter schools this past fall, including one sponsored by the Minnesota Guild.  The Department has also approved 19 more charter schools to open in the fall of 2015, including five sponsored by the Minnesota Guild.

Over four years now the Guild has quietly grown outside the view of rank-and-file members.  Dylan Thomas, writing for the Minneapolis Journal, reports that the Guild has a goal of being the "third or fourth largest charter school authorizer in the state," according to its director, Brad Blue.  In addition to the five schools opening by next fall, Blue also hopes to have five current charters switch to Guild sponsorship.

Of the five new charter schools the Minnesota Guild has been approved to open next fall, four of them are in Minneapolis and in direct competition with Minneapolis Public Schools.  This includes a school called Mill City, which plans to open with 200 high school students.  This means 200 students that won't be attending MPS schools, and 5 or 6 fewer unionized teachers in MPS.

Conflict of Interest?
According to Dylan Thomas, "Mill City [charter school] joins the small but growing portfolio of the Minnesota Guild, a non-profit charter school authorizer sponsored by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. When it launched in 2011, the Guild was the first union-backed charter school authorizer in the country."  The Guild's first charter school opened this past year in Isanti, Minnesota, and the MN Department of Education has authorized Mill City and three other charter schools to open in Minneapolis this fall, under the sponsorship of the union created Minnesota Guild.

The current president and lobbyist (also a former president) of MFT not only created the Guild, but continue to serve on its board of directors.  Every charter school they sponsor pulls more students from Minneapolis Public Schools (or other public schools) which eliminates unionized teaching positions.  How can the president of the teachers union defend the rights of the union members who elected her, and at the same time create schools that threaten those same members' job security?

Brad Blue and the Guild operate out of an office in the MFT-owned building and pay no rent.  MFT's brothers and sisters working as janitors and engineers in Minneapolis Public Schools have their SEIU local office in the same MFT building, and they pay rent.  Those of us who are MFT members had no say in the creation of the Guild even though we actually are the union, and now we continue to subsidize our own demise.

Under section 501 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, union officers are required:
(1) To hold its money and property solely for the benefit of the organization and its members;
(2) To manage, invest, and expend [the union's money and property] in accordance with its constitution and bylaws and any resolutions of the governing bodies adopted thereunder;
(3) To refrain from dealing with such organization as an adverse party;
(4) To refrain from dealing with such organization in behalf of an adverse party in any matter connected with his duties;
(5) To refrain from holding or acquiring any pecuniary or personal interest which conflicts with the interests of such organization; and
(6) To account to the organization for any profit received by him in whatever capacity in connection with transactions conducted by him or under his direction on behalf of the organization.
Look again at the first point.  MFT's officers must "hold [the union's] money and property solely for the benefit of the organization and its members."  How is spending money to support the expansion of non-union, non-public schools benefiting MFT union members?

So why are union leaders in the business of sponsoring charter schools?  How is this not a violation of their fiduciary responsibility?  More importantly, why are union members allowing this?  How much longer will the rank-and-file members of MFT allow the Guild to operate in the name of their union and destroy union jobs?  How much longer will they allow the Guild to contribute to the privatization and destruction of our system of public schools?

Posted by Rob Panning-Miller