I arrived in Tucson, and I am leaving.
I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, at the American Federation of Teachers Convention. Instead of heading straight home, I detoured east by southeast into the Gadsden Purchase.
With my luck, the flight in Monday was delayed. And the great rate I got from Thrifty? It didn’t come with an actual car.
I got to my hotel (nice spot, Lodge on the Desert, big room, fireplace – well, fake, but I think it’s one of those gas jobs – balcony, comfy, clean… it’s a bunch of two-story buildings around a restaurant, bar, and pool) I got to my hotel around midnight, and slept in Tuesday.
More luck, Tuesday there was a morning storm, and it continued. Lightening, and on and off bursts of rain. But the natives seemed to like it, and told me it would be fine to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and it was. Dips in the road were filling with water, and I’d been warned twice to be very careful. I’d also been advised of the “Stupid Motorist Law” which says that if I drive into a puddle that turns out to be much bigger than that, and need to be rescued – I pay the cost.
The Museum was like a massive nature center / botanical garden. They had an amazing variety of cacti, and the creosote plants (not creosote) scented the drizzly air, and the steel grey sky provided an awesome backdrop. There were animal exhibits, plant exhibits. There was a walk-in aviary, and a walk-in aviary for hummingbirds. I must have stepped in the wrong spot, because one buzzed my head a few times. There was geology, and paleontology. And it got hot when the sun finally came out, but I had already spent hours there. It was absorbing, and entrancing, though perhaps not amazing.
The road took me over a little hill with an overlook back east over the City, and another on the other side, west. On the return trip, as I made it down the east side, I saw a cop with flashers. I slowed. A lot. He was guarding a boulder that had fallen in the road – the shape of a huge wheel of cheese, maybe two-and-a-half feet high, with about a six foot diameter. Another trap for stupid motorists.
In the evening I ate at the Tucson Tamale Company, which was ok. The young woman who helped me let me taste everything, and then even came over to the table to unwrap a tamale for me, and told me I looked way better (she should have said younger) than her mother. One Sonora, one vegan blue.
And then I found the house where my father lived his first few years. Pretty sure the building is not old enough, probably newer construction on the same site. The West University neighborhood was interesting.
Then a few laps in the pool.
And today? Breakfast. The Pima Air and Space Museum. Connection to Phoenix. And an exit row from Phoenix to JFK.
1. Enough Press
And yesterday was another busy “tweeting” day, well morning. If you are curious, here’s the handle once again: @jd2718x . My twitter account saw more action this weekend than in the previous three months. One Unity delegate (and full-timer) joked as I passed him on the way to the bathroom that I needed to get back up front and get back to work. Others noticed that I looked a bit tired (it really was a bit draining). And a Unity retiree who I know slightly, seeing the fatigue on my face, offered to make me her guest in two years. (I know I can register myself as a visitor, but it was a really nice gesture).
I’d been waiting for this. The AFT is famous for pro-war resolutions, and despite their protestations, their draft Ukraine resolution was another example. I heard, and this was at least a little heartening, that it had only squeaked out of committee by two votes. And I expected, despite the odds, a fierce debate.
“the AFT has a long, ugly pro-war history (they were Kerryishly for the Viet Nam war before they were against it, a dozen years ago my local passed a blood-curdling “let’s invade Afghanistan, because we need to invade someone” resolution, and just four years ago the AFT passed a blueprint for justification of a war they clearly were hoping the US would launch against Iran). This time? Pro-war resolution on Ukraine. Look for it to pass, but in a hot debate.”
But a funny thing happened. There was some sort of agreement, and the Cold War reso was replaced by a substitute, introduced and strongly motivated by a math teacher, PSC-CUNY delegate Glenn Kissack. The substitute dropped support to the current Ukrainian government. It added opposition to IMF-imposed austerity. It added support for labor rights for Ukrainian teachers. The Whereas’s (preamble) in the substitute, among other things, pointed harsh fingers at the nationalist right wing parties, Right Sector and Svoboda. That was too much, Shanker Institute Administrator Leo Casey rose to swallow the new resolution, but asked to blank the entire preamble, and PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen generously agreed.
This was one of two places in the Convention where something better than what the leadership proposed was passed, and clearly the more important. (The other was getting a symbolic anti-Duncan resolution). The Ukraine resolution is not a resolution the State Department would be comfortable with. Excellent.
Two speakers stood out on Monday – the NEA’s new president Lily Eskelsen García and the AFT’s new Executive Vice President, Mary Cathryn Ricker.
Lily Eskelsen García spoke plainly, and well. She struck good teacher chords, good labor chords, and was genuinely funny.
Best: “When I die, I would like to die in a faculty meeting. The transition between life and death would be so subtle.”
But she hammered reformers, and testing, and sounded as militant as anyone who’d addressed the assembly.
I wasn’t taking notes when Mary Cathryn Ricker spoke. I had moved to the back, bag over my shoulder, watching my phone, waiting for my ride to call. But as I caught some of her words, my focus was pulled back to the stage (or the screens, I guess). She is from Minnesota, and had been involved with the St. Paul local’s militancy, and so it should have not been a surprise that it was a real labor speech, and kind of tough, and I know it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it was a good last note to AFT14.
4. Election Results
The Progressive Caucus (which binds many major locals to UFT/Unity, and loosely ties some others, prominently CTU and PSC-CUNY) won an overwhelming majority – on the order of 97-98% over perennial opposition BAMN. Of some interest, Mary Cathryn Ricker received the highest number of votes. More interestingly, while the vast majority of votes are slate votes, there are enough votes for individual vice presidents to see a difference – and indeed CTU and PSC-CUNY presidents Lewis and Bowen received more votes than any of the other vice presidents, outpolling the last VP by about twenty thousand weighted votes each.
5. And then? I visited the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum, had lunch in Little Ethiopa, and flew to Tucson for a day and a half of sightseeing – which I need to get started on!
1. More Press
I spent another day front row, listening, writing, tweeting. I’m “Press” here because I blog. But then it turns out I tweet… another 40 yesterday, even though I missed a bit. Maybe a little more intense during the two big discussions. If you are curious, here’s the handle again: @jd2718x
2. Common Core
The second resolution of the morning supported the Common Core, but criticized implementation, testing, etc. It called on teachers to rewrite the standards. This was the most contentious resolution, probably of the entire convention.
Randi Weingarten opened by asking to suspend the rules, so that the question could not be called for the first 15 minutes, and to allow the suspension to be extended 15 more minutes (guarantees debate). In the event, the debate went on about 40 minutes, and included a range of points from each side.
At first it looked like UFT against CTU, but as other delegates joined in, it looked like Chicago and some rank and filers on one side, against AFT Vice Presidents on the other – an unfortunate blunder on the part of the common core supporters.
Almost none of the debate addressed the actual content of the CCLS. Which is unfortunate. The math has some plusses, but the demerits are overwhelming. The high school component is a disaster. And no one seems to care what’s actually in them. One Chicago delegate did address reading: Kids naturally learn to read between ages 4 and 8, and not on schedule. One special ed teacher talked about how inappropriate the standards were for “her babies” (phrase made me cringe), another (unconvincingly) described how the standards would help (hmm, she described things that she’s not currently doing? I was confused, probably for good reason).
The Vice Presidents spoke, some in favor of the Common Core, some in favor of reclaiming the Common Core. A woman from Rhode Island was quite clear about not liking them the way they are, others seemed to endorse them as written.
One rank and filer from Minneapolis, dynamic speaker, distinguished between corporate standards and educational standards, rebutted the idea that kids would be on the same page in different states, and pointed out that we could never “reclaim” standards that are copyrighted.
The vote was about 70 – 30.
Can we make Duncan resign? No.
Can we say we are pissed? Yes.
And that’s the unstated motivation for the amendment to an unrelated resolution calling on him to resign.
Only another delegate comes up with a snarky “Improvement Plan” for Duncan. Cute? Yup. Motivated? With precise, sharp criticism of things he’s already done to harm us. But it kind of distracts from the “We’re pissed, resign” message. So Mulgrew gets up and speaks for it. And the house, still edgy from the Common Core debate, divides along similar lines – Resign vs Improvement Plan. In the end, the Improvement Plan passes overwhelmingly, and it’s only a slightly weaker way of publicly venting.
4. Other stuff
Argentina’s defense was amazing, but they could not score against Germany. I watched with a delegate whom I’d met in June, in Cuba.
Donna Brazile spoke on the Democrats for Public Education. I was outside the hall, eating.
A resolution to create physical infrastructure in the US closed the session. A delegate rose to amend, to add a pro-environment line, and an anti-Keystone line. Randi separated the two, but the question was called right away (delegates were in a rush to end the session). Keystone went down overwhelmingly, but Randi was horrified to see the environment also fail, about 2-1. She called for a revote, and enough of a signal went out that the new result was close enough to a tie that she could conclude that the amendment passed. And who would object? Those were mostly her votes that were still going the wrong way.
6. On deck: International Resolutions. The AFT has a long, ugly pro-war history (they were Kerryishly for the Viet Nam war before they were against it, a dozen years ago my local passed a blood-curdling “let’s invade Afghanistan, because we need to invade someone” resolution, and just four years ago the AFT passed a blueprint for justification of a war they clearly were hoping the US would launch against Iran). This time? Pro-war resolution on Ukraine. Look for it to pass, but in a hot debate.
Did I really say I didn’t like LA? Almost. Look at #5: “I do not love this city” And Fred Klonsky forgave me (Even if Jonathan doesn’t like LA. He’s a New Yorker and can be forgiven), but I vowed to do some repair work.
I guess mostly it was just a NY prejudgement. An idea that the Bay Area was good for transportation, and southern California was good for traffic. All kinds of movie stereotypes. Have you ever seen Annie Hall?
But how can I have an informed opinion after visiting for 4 days (stayed in Culver City) once in the late 80s, and 3 days (all AFT convention) this week? Well, I can’t.
And there’s already some good stuff I can mention. Two of my favorite movies are set in LA. Chinatown, but I haven’t visited Chinatown. Chinatown holds up after over 40 years, as if it were made yesterday.
Better than that, Double Indemnity. You know, Fred MacMurray, from My Three Sons? An insurance salesman, lured into crime by a seductive Barbara Stanwyck? And betraying his close relationship with his boss, claims adjuster Edward G. Robinson? (doesn’t he usually play gangsters?) “Know why you couldn’t figure this one, Keyes? I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.” “Closer than that, Walter”
So we found a livestream of Double Indemnity, and my cousin, who’s been in LA for a year and change, loved it. Because she leaves in the direction of Glendale (not there, just in the direction) and she recognized every corner, every address. Plus it’s, ya know, a good movie.
And then there’s Dodgers Stadium. We saw a game yesterday. Great game. Pitchers’ duel. 0-0 into the 9th, bases loaded, one out, sac fly to left to win it in the bottom of the inning. Love those games. And the shtick between innings was more middle America honky tonk than big city. Loved it. Running to second and back to first. Unpiling cups faster than Jose Uribe. Good wholesome shtick. And the views, and the moon. Yeah, it’s old and falling down a little. But it was no National League cookie cutter. Good sight lines, comfortable feel. Someone should tell the Dodgers fans not to come late and leave early (a couple in front of us left 0-0, bottom in the 9th, one on, no one out), but other than that, good place to watch baseball.
And there’s the ethnic food, which I haven’t figured out yet. And I’m about to leave. Maybe next time. Korean tacos? Really?
And then there’s Uber. An App to call special cabs. You can see how close they are, and get an ETA. And they bill your credit card without swiping anything or opening your wallet. And they are cheaper than regular cabs. Cool.
The only sightseeing I’ll get in is tomorrow, on the way to the airport, La Brea Tar Pits. And what’s Hammer?
So, honestly, I don’t love LA. At least not yet. But I’ll come back, and give it a real chance.
1. Meet the Press
I spent yesterday mostly in my seat, front row, listening, writing, tweeting. Odd experience. I tried to find out how to come to the AFT Convention as a non-delegate, a guest, an observer – and I ended up being a “Press” because I blog. But then it turns out I tweet… More yesterday in fact (40ish times) then in any previous month. There’s no depth to tweets, but some instant info. If you are curious: @jd2718x
The press area is two rows in front. There seemed to be more blogger-types than major publication reporters. And there were folks on the edge. In the morning I sat between 2 major reporter/blogger/writers – at least major in my world. Stephen Sawchuk (I should ask if he’s related to Terry) writes for EdWeek. And Jeff Bryant writes for the Education Opportunity Network (looked them up, seems like good guys).
I’m a little surprised by how few “Press” are sitting up front. Maybe there are more hiding in the hall?
The convention was addressed by a bunch of outsiders. There were three California politicians (not as big as Friday’s Jerry Brown, but…) Tom Torlakson, Congressman Mark Takano, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Takano said he was a Democrat for Public Education. That’s a new group, counter to the anti-public education Democrats for Education Reform, but it’s the first time I’ve heard a politician say he was part of it. Later today Donna Brazile will address the convention specifically on DPE. Garcetti was an iffy speaker – he has a mixed record on education. At one point he flubbed as he tried to blur the lines in the war to preserve public education “We’re all reformers in the room, aren’t we?” he asked, followed by an awkward pause, and then a smattering of weak applause from one section in the hall.
We also had Christine Marinoni, new special advisor for the NYCDoE, and her wife, Cynthia Nixon. That’s the second time I’d seen Nixon live – first time was at Wit a year and half ago. In fact, Nixon read powerfully from a piece by Margaret Edson, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Wit’s playwright.
And then there was Asean Johnson. OK, the kid is photogenic. And a dynamic speaker. And he snuck in an anti-Common Core line. What’s not to like? Here’s a link to a youtube of his talk.
There is a program to “Reconnect McDowell” a poor county in West Virginia, near Logan and Mingo. It’s a hybrid economic/school program. And the AFT is quite involved. But the first outside speaker they brought was a lawyer – not a teacher, not from the county – another lawyer. That’s always a disappointment.
Zakiyah Ansari is always a strong speaker – nothing new here, since I’ve heard her numerous times in New York.
No great surprises in this department. A few interesting amendments. Steve Conn from Detroit amended the Immigration Reform reso to include a call to stop deporting children, and to adopt a national Dream Act. An attempt to add controls on handguns failed. And Susan Di Raimo, PSC-CUNY, and a friendly face at Lehman, amended the Reso to end the reliance on adjuncts, to include ending the exploitation of adjuncts. Good point.
I felt proud to have once been a PSC delegate 4 years ago, based on once again a strong intervention. At least 6 PSC speakers raised issues such as the legacy of slavery, the attacks on K-12 being paralleled in post-secondary education, and not accepting simple and wrong anti-worker explanations for the economic crisis. And the Chicago delegation also made its presence felt, even if dynamic President Karen Lewis was limited to a brief set of introductory remarks from the podium. She had a great line “There are thousands of Asean Johnson’s in the Chicago School System, and we are privileged to teach them.” Other CTU speakers were also strong (including on the dramatic decline in the number of Black educators).
Mulgrew spoke about the UFT contract. I’ve already written extensively on that. Here’s one link, but there must be a dozen.
4. Special Orders of Business
There was some action here.
- Calling on Duncan to resign. On the agenda for today. I expect this to be sharply debated, and pass.
- Support for striking British Columbia teachers. On the agenda for today.
- A “Create Economic Opportunity, Reclaim the Promise of America” resolution, that was debated, amended, and passed as the last business item of Saturday.
- And a “Fighting Back and Fighting Forward” reso for today, about developing a concerted national electoral and activist response, in alliance with others, against the continued anti-worker, anti-union onslaught.
5. Los Angeles
I said I don’t like the city, which wasn’t really fair, because I didn’t give it a much of a chance. And Fred Klonsky mentioned it, and ‘forgave’ me, but I’ll fix this so no forgiveness is necessary. More later….
6. Shifted home base from a northeast neighborhood to a shared hotel room near the conventions center. And saw a great Dodgers game.
7. The hot stuff – Common Core, Duncan – that’s today. Stay tuned.
So this is notes, not everything, because I didn’t see everything, not close.
1. The morning was a series of greetings, including The Rev. Dr. William Barber II (president of the North Carolina NAACP, and of Moral Monday fame), and California governor, Jerry Brown. Brown had an entertaining tangent – he misspoke two words on immigration, and then did a two minute clarification on what needs to be done – I’m assuming it was planned – but a bit funny for the audience.
2. Weingarten spoke long (not a surprise).Her writers had an organized message (we’ve been keeping the promises, we need to keep keeping them, and add a new one). She acknowledged opposition to Common Core, while continuing to support it (but criticizing testing, implementation, etc). She completely appropriated the term “badass” to the point that, when she asked Badass Teachers to stand up, only a small numbers of those present did. I’m assuming embarrassment kept others in their seats.
Weingarten’s writers have a voice problem. Her natural Rockland – big words, not all of them bungled, many of them used correctly – it’s not what you want for a long speech. But what to do? As she moved section to section, the voice, the register, they changed and shifted. A good speaker might pull it off, maybe to great effect. Here, many of us focused on the words, since the delivery jumped rapidly from awkward, to natural, and back again. Even the attempts at self-deprecation often seemed forced. And the audience seemed to cringe collectively at her “homey” moment.
3. Committee Meetings and Caucus Meetings. I am not a delegate, so am not assigned a committee. I am not a member of the Progressive Caucus (joining the UFT’s Unity with others), and do not attend their closed meetings. Which is to say, I missed much of the action.
A. There’s not a “Duncan Resign” resolution coming from the leadership to the floor. On the other hand, what will the AFT tops and UFT do if someone else brings one to the floor? Earlier this year NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) replaced most of their top leadership – largely because the previous year that leadership, confronted with a “John King Resign” resolution, animated by anger and frustration, said no. The UFT stepped aside, and the President and all but one VP were replaced. And the UFT walked away unscathed. So now it’s national, the AFT, and the anger is aimed at Duncan, not King, and if there is a “Dump Duncan” reso from the floor, maybe that’s a big if, but if there’s one, wouldn’t the UFT do the same thing, step aside and let the anger be directed towards passing a resolution that really doesn’t mean much anyway? Duncan has two years left. And the AFT’s voice would be a late addition to a fairly loud chorus.
B. The AFT’s has a long history of taking pro-war positions, and only later modifying some of them (eg Viet Nam). When I was a delegate in 2010 in Seattle, the AFT pushed an Iran resolution that was clearly meant to encourage the hawks in DC. And this time? A Ukraine resolution. No real news, except that it barely squeaked out of committee – just a two vote margin.
C. Common Core. The Chicago Teachers Union resolution “Oppose the Common Core Standards” was defeated in committee. The AFT tops / UFT resolution “The Role of Standards in Public Education” was passed. These are counterposed.
The official resolution continues bad AFT policy from the past. In a section at the top, they laud the standards, in seven bullet points creating a slide show that looks like pure promotion (it would be interesting if this turns out to have been lifted). In another section at the top of the resolution, they say “some AFT members oppose and distrust…” Notice the weak argument, based on “some people.” But then in seven bullet points, they dwell on testing and implementation. This echoes a June 20 e-mail many of us received from Mulgrew: “Everyone recognizes that the Common Core, while the right direction for education, had a terrible rollout.” No. Not everyone.
“The AFT” it reads “will continue to support the promise of CCSS…” That’s the bottom line. And will support a shift away from “excessive testing” begging the question of which tests those are, and exactly how much high stakes testing and standardized testing the AFT is happy with.
There will be debate on the floor, but the UFT delegation votes in lockstep, regardless of how the individual members think, and thus the result is foregone.
Oh, that committee also rejected a resolution (California Federation of Teachers) to reject any more Bill Gates money. It’s hard to fathom how Ed Reform $$$ do not buy influence. In the Bronx, we know that Gates money broke up our schools, created a mess, and then disappeared. We live the aftermath every day.
4. AFT Peace and Justice Caucus had a fairly well-attended panel discussion in the evening (scheduled against a caucus meeting) on corporate school reform.
5. I’ve been staying with my cousin, and navigating LA with great difficulty. I do not love this city.
For me, at least.
Was on a full year sabbatical. Took courses. Math and Computer Science. Some were amazing. Also visited schools and classrooms (not part of what I promised to do, but something I wanted to do).
Traveled. Pittsburgh. Chattanooga. Boston. Buffalo. Morocco. Tallahassee. Tampa. Cuzco/Macchu Pichu/Lima. Cuba. Boca. And now LA. And soon Tucson. And maybe a little more before September.
Still managed to do a little union work. Attended DAs and High School Cttee meetings. Advised my chapter acting co-leaders. And co-chaired (with Kerry Dowling) the UFT Cttee on addressing Specialized HS admissions (organized by Academic HS VP Janella Hinds)
And about to finish my 30th year in New York. Almost a New Yorker. I should throw a party.
I didn’t write much about this during the course of the year, but now I’m ready.
I’ll start in the next few days with where I am now. LA. The AFT Convention.