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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Susan Lee Schwartz on Human Nature and Principal Immunity From Accountability

From former re-assigned teacher Susan Lee Schwartz:

Hi there,
It's me with the insight of the day.
I read something that applies to our plight, as we all try to wrap our minds round the enormous disregard for all of us as human beings by the principals and administrations that savagely destroy our careers and lives, with no regard for the law of the land, or the union contract which binds them,
The interesting quote of the day came from the editorial section of NY Times (today, April 5) about the removal of the environmental protection law protecting wolves, but this wonderful, insightful quote applies to all of human nature. I paraphrase it here (the article itself is at the end of my e-mail):

'The answer to every important question that affects us ultimately depends on human self-restraint. The simple ethical fact seems to be that humans cannot restrain themselves, not without laws and incentives that are only as solid as our weakest intentions. The laws change, and overnight all that good work is threatened,'

and I say: even with good laws, when a weak failed human being poses as a principal or superintendent, then chaos ensues.

Case in point is our contract, which demands explicit procedures for any actions taken against teachers, but the procedures fail as these people do an end-run around them, particularly at the site, where employment files are trashed, and false allegations are distributed without accountability.

I know that many of you who read this do not belong to the UFT, but in a recent conversation that I had with president Randi Weingarten, she said: "We have gotten rid of plenty of principals. I have been able to get a false allegation clause, a new PIP plan that stops bad principals from simply U-rating tenured teachers and whistleblower protection, but the contract doesn't walk and talk by itself, which is why I have focused so much attention this year on chapter building and joint mobilization."

For many of you in the rubber rooms, or sitting amidst the tatters of your career, you wonder why this comes too late to help you, BUT YOU CAN GET THE MESSAGE OUT that the union is only as strong as the members who mobilize (to use her words) and fight corruption. All of you who are getting the word out there about this abuse ARE making a difference, and people are listening. This PIP plan and the UFT action for accountability is the result of YOUR getting the word out!

As I have said before, to Randi and everywhere I write, all the pensions and benefits teachers receive from a top-notch union is of no value when they can be terminated at the whim of the administration or an administrator.

THIS issue has a hidden IMPACT on the future of good education in the schools, as the best and the brightest are lost to our nation's youth, because they are viciously maligned to break or prevent tenure. THIS point is very hard for the public to grasp and can easily be lost with all the spin that is put out about tests, and failing schools. THAT is why I have taken my pen in hand, to pursue the concrete solution, which is to make an example of the worst offenders. It is not enough to rid the system of the bad apples who make teachers miserable and every day a torment. Yes, class size and standards for evaluating GENUINE learning AND ACHIEVEMENT (not just teaching) IS ALSO CRUCIAL, but without the experienced, talented and dedicated professionals in the classroom, failure is the only result.

It is crucial that ASAP, a severe PENALTY under the law must be drawn for one or more of these marauding principals and superintendents.
Most of them NEVER lose their job, but are just shifted to another school or system, where they harass teachers. Irony is not lost on all of us that cannot find a job after we lose our reputation along with our pensions and benefits.

I will never forget seeing the face of former NYC District 2 Superintendent, Elaine Fink on the TV; (and it wasn't even Halloween!)
After traumatizing so many teachers (first as Principal of P.S. 6, and later as superintendent, including her outrageous and libelous behavior towards me) she danced off to a position in San Diego. So there I am, watching some education channel while on vacation, and a Board of Ed person from San Diego is excoriating her methods, and saying:

" We don't treat our people like that, here!"
Hubby and I almost fell off the sofa.

I assure you, if the union had sued her back then for falsifying documents and trampling on my civil rights by finding me guilty and publishing to my school, her 'verdict' of corporal punishment, on her own, with no investigation, no hearing, no presentation of evidence, or charges to me, she would not have savaged the San Diego staff!
... and I hear she is back in NYC.
She and others who break the civil laws, not just the contractual laws, need to face monetary penalties as 'individuals' and possible jail time for breaking the law. There are laws to protect citizens from criminal behavior, and they should not be immunized from them because she and those like her show no human restraint once they have POWER! BUT teachers must come forward and mobilize at the school, and help the union fight. Many, like me, had no idea that this was an option.

If Fink had paid a heavy penalty and faced jail for civil rights abuse, she would be, like us, with no job and a career in shreds! Instead I fear she can insinuate herself back into the city system.

I use my case because I know it best, but MY POINT is that there needs to be a MECHANISM, a PROCEDURE and a severe PENALTY, that makes a principal think twice before tampering with the reputation and employment history of a teacher. What is needed NOW, SOON is a highly visible trial, with an impassioned prosecutor who brings the whole rubber room scandal down on the heads of those who dare to break the law just to remove a great teacher.

So this is my 'tirade of the day."

The NY TIMES article which precipitated this e-mail, is below. Poor wolves, but then poor teachers who are thrown to the wolves in the Ed business who are protected! LOVE THE TITLE!
Susan Lee Schwartz

April 5, 2008
When Protection Vanishes

At midnight on March 28, the gray wolves in Wyoming slipped out of the protection of the Endangered Species Act and became other kinds of creatures: trophy game animals to be hunted in the state’s northwest corner and predators to be shot on sight elsewhere.

The nature of the wolf didn’t change, only the restraints imposed on humans. In the next three days, three wolves were killed, two by hunters and one by a rancher, all in the predator zone where the only restriction is the obligation to report a kill within 10 days. Environmental groups plan to sue to reverse the lifting of these protections, but they are barred from doing so for 30 days — plenty of time for more wolves to die.

It is tempting to adduce an ancestral hostility between man and wolf. But this is a problem in economics. Wolves kill a small number of livestock, and compensating ranchers’ losses is a price worth paying. What this is really about is a competition between two top predators — man and wolf — for elk. Elk-hunting generates revenue, and wolves cannot pay for the elk they take.

Gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains were eradicated in the early 20th century, so it is easy to think of them as a special case. They were reintroduced by humans — a legally mandated intervention — and they will be killed by humans because of another legal intervention. Their survival is wholly a matter of our intent. And yet you might say the same thing about every other species, every other ecosystem on this planet.

The more we think about it, the more we believe the only nature that matters anymore is human nature. This is not a happy thought. The answer to every important environmental question ultimately depends on human self-restraint. The simple ethical fact seems to be that humans cannot restrain themselves, not without laws and incentives that are only as solid as our weakest intentions. The laws change, and overnight all that good work is threatened by gun smoke.

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