Mind Games, and How Unions Can Win Them

Jose Vilson Jose

John Lennon, Yoko Ono

I purposefully watched as commenter after commenter discussed the role of unions in the future of schools in this blog; the difference between saying a union would file a grievance against its own members and saying a union files a grievance against its administration for making a teacher work later flared a virtual town hall with some of the best edubloggers I know, who all in turn wrote about their experience in their blogs. Needless to say, it was a lot of great reading (check here, here, and here for example).

But it also made me think about the union’s own battle with rhetoric, within and outside its ranks. I was watching a show recently where a political analyst broke down the language that has made liberals in our government look weak and wavering in the face of the no-compromise obstinacy of the conservatives. We as teachers face some of the same. For instance, check this:

“We need to fire bad teachers.”

On the surface, who would disagree with that? Bad teachers have a special place in Dante’s Inferno with the panderers and the traitors. Except that they don’t. Frankly, many of them are well-meaning people who a) didn’t know what they were getting into, b) were never trained properly at their teacher colleges, or c) have been burnt out by a system that preaches change constantly and never really does. This idea of “bad teachers” is further complicated by the fact that only 10% of all teachers nationwide get rated as “unsatisfactory” by their administrators. Tests haven’t been the answer either, since too many of them have been shown as an ineffective way of teacher evaluation.

“The unions [insert verb here] teachers.”

This is a meme I’ve heard almost as often than the first, and it’s just as disingenuous. I always have a hard time with this because the union is its teachers, just like any union is representative of its members. You can always rescind your membership from the union, but when you least expect it, the decades of union work have made it possible for teachers to get a relatively fair shake. It reminds me of how, in the early part of the 20th century, the media would call union leaders un-American and illegal to separate their leaders from the people on the ground.

“What charter schools have created is the opportunity to experiment — free of traditional bureaucracy — and figure out what works.

I’m not sure what John Legend was thinking when he said that, but it gives me all the more cause to think he can’t be serious. (You mean, you’re really going to make me blog about you again?!) I mean, who doesn’t want to be free from restrictions? Who always wants to think about what this law and that statute say about the things they have to teach or have to do as a service? Yet, for every ridiculous law we don’t like, there are plenty more in that fine print that protect schools from acting in their self-interest.

And that includes charter schools.

What’s more, the dialogue is such that people aren’t clear as to the difference between charter schools and regular public schools. Since they’re technically both public schools, why not say so? If we’re saying that all of these schools service every kid that walks in through the double doors (they don’t), then why not say so? Because it’s a thing we call double-speak, and the mind games persist if we don’t stay alert to them being played. Much of the wars playing out aren’t in some foreign country or a practice desert, but in between our temples.

As my more favorite John (Lennon) said once,

We’re playing those mind games together,
Pushing barriers, planting seeds,
Playing the mind guerilla,
Chanting the Mantra peace on earth,
We all been playing mind games forever,
Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil.
Doing the mind guerilla,
Some call it the search for the grail,
Love is the answer and you know that for sure,
Love is flower you got to let it, you got to let it grow,
So keep on playing those mind games together,
Faith in the future outta the now …

Jose, and you know that, for sho’ …