Lois Weiner keynotes United Opt Out in Denver with historical perspective on corporate attack on public schools... 'Merrill Lynch, April 2009, described schools as retail outlets with the school board being the customer service department...'

Lois Weiner, Professor of New Jersey City University and author of The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice, spoke on day one of the National Opt Out Conference in Denver. She opened her speech by telling the crowd You are not alone in this fight. She wrote the book for parents and teachers to understand what is happening in education. What Ive learned since Future of Our Schools was published is what Im here to talk about today.

Historian Lois Weiner addressing the United Opt Out convention in Denver on March 30, 2014. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Weiner talked about transforming unions with parents and students and how we must face the history that brought us to the present. She talked about the rhetoric of making schools more equal. To push back we must be honest that no golden age in public education ever existed. Teachers and unions did not create the issues but allowed it to happen. This kind of talk often makes white people uncomfortable.

In 2005, Weiner met with a small group of International researchers. The World Report, hidden in a lengthy World Report document, talked about teachers and unions being the problem. The 2002 World Development Report talked about making schools for poor people. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was a reiteration of this project. Merrill Lynch, April 2009, described schools as retail outlets with the school board being the customer service department. Net Flex began talking about charter schools. This came out of the political assumption that the free market requires workers in every country to compete for jobs.

Most new jobs today are in the service sector. These are low wage jobs that only require an 8th grade education. Workers need to be educated about the need for a college education. Therefore, the money used to educate workers was beyond the skills of low wageworkers so its money wasted.

Standardized testing is equivalent to quality control. It measures what employers want in their workers and employees. A Global project, of privatization, was enacted for the first time in Chile and was supported by the U.S. This neo-liberal, voucher system spread to S. America, then Africa and Asia and to get money for things like roads, they had to go to privatized education.

Next the system spread to Western Europe, Eastern Europe and finally the U.S. resulting in NCLB. NCLB funded education and encouraged privatization resulting in a fragmented system that uses standardized tests to control teaching and destroy teacher creativity. Unions are a threat because they are a stabilized organization that projects a collective voice of power and controls competition in teachers, resulting in democracy in the schools. These conditions have strong influence on members because they have to serve everyone regardless of beliefs. This slows us down and causes problems with teachers with different opinions.

Unions are subject to prejudices even when there are contradicting opinions about quality in the work place. Unions need to be transformed from the bottom up, stated Weiner, which, resulted in her writing The Future of Our Schools. Advocating for a social movement in teachers unions has three components, democracy, mobilization and defending social justice. Racism standardized testing, immigration and homophobia must be addressed. We must support our allies. Students are walking out. Its important to have a relationship with students. Democracy has norms, procedures and protocols. The leadership works for us in a member driven union. We have to fight and this is beginning to happen in the standardized test arena with parents increasingly opting their children out of testing and teachers refusing to give the test. Policy issues must be decided at the school level. Debates should be held with principals, commitment and democracy. We need to partner with our allies on other issues such as foreclosures, Increasing minimum wage to $15.00 will do more for education than professional development. It is important to have respectful discussions of pedagogical differences and understand this is a global project about profit and capitalist power.

She described the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators) as the beachhead of union transformation. Weiner cited several examples of union transformation. Los Angeles merged AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and NEA (National Association of Education) and recently had an election with reformers. Chapters are being mobilized and there will be a run off for president. LA is the second largest teachers union in the country.

Newarks AFT started with 6-7 people who realized a legacy of racial animosity. They included parents who worked in the schools as well as other school workers and paraprofessionals. The Avid Leadership Institute is for parents and students.

The Caucus of Educators was recently formed by workers in Philadelphia and Minnesota, San Francisco and Rhode Island are on their way to forming a reform caucus.

When asked about the difference between AFT and NEA Weiner explained that AFT is a confederation of locals and dues stay with them. NEA ha elected leaders who rotate quickly so they are run by staff; similar to the way SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and NFL-CIO (National Football League - Congress of Industrial Organizations) operate.

NEA locals working on caucuses include North Carolina, Massachusetts, Portland and Seattle. Colorado has both NEA and AFT and could form a statewide caucus including both. Each location has different resources and conditions and must build their unions from the bottom up and stand on principals and discussions of what we need to do. We can persuade people if our ideas are right and were stronger.

Whats next? asked Weiner. Bring testing issues to teachers for informed debates and bring to AFT and NEA. Make motions to unions to launch a campaign targeting standardized testing and Unions response in every single local. Bring that debate to schools with parents and teachers. Use whatever spaces we have to organize. She also discussed the importance of locating people who share your ideas and making caucuses to engage people with similar thoughts.

She talked about Social Justice and that, in many instances, parents of children of color are accepting of the testing and are happy when their schools are safe and clean. We want to make schools responsible to parents, students and communities. Parents are not involved because they are uninformed or negligent but they bring in issues we may not even know about.

Karen Leis, President of CTU, wrote an OPT OUT article in the CTU magazine. We cant have people from afar nudging our kids. CTU has relationships with parents and student allies. Issues are discussed in CORE before bringing them to the CTU. This process resulted in CTU adopting a resolution on standardized testing. When teachers and independent organizations boycotted the tests, CTU was able to support them as part of the social movement because they transformed their union. Unions must do all they can to under cut the argument that they exploit people. Arguments about equality have to be discussed.

Comments and questions following Weiners speech included Neo-liberalism came from around the world because social justice made a money crisis. Therefore we cant afford unions and must break them. A press conference was held in Harlem NY the previous day regarding the parents of kids opting out of the test. The issues are real; students are walking out and talking to their parents.

What will be our relationship of right vs. wrong regarding common core? Weiner asked. She also talked about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum being used to flood the market so Bill Gates wont have to pay his employees. Its important to level the playing field and make sure your childs school allows all children to have a fair shot at the good jobs. We not only have to tell parents here were going to help their child but what jobs are available. Education alone is insufficient to achieve this goal.

She cited an example where middle school kids were mentored in the work place, get paid internships, paid part time jobs their senior year in high school and have a job upon graduation. School boards and chambers of commerces will say no stating the lack of job availability. We cant accept the scarcity of good jobs to guide education.

The concept of college and career ready is being pushed upon two and three year olds. We need good jobs for all so parents dont have to talk to their 2-3 year olds in a specific way to get jobs. This college / career ready talk would lead to the obliteration of native cultures and culture obligation. They (education reformers) want all (parents) to talk to their kids the way middle class whites do which s not the only form of successful child rearing. The shrinking of manufacturing and industrial jobs in the U S is due to trade agreements. There are no good jobs in factories and industry. It is not the schools fault kids arent educated properly. The shrinkage of good union jobs increases poverty.

She described CTUs mobilization in the fight for $15.00 as a message to parents. The issue is the government doesnt want to talk about good jobs. After her speech, everyone broke into working groups. Weiner joined the Union group as they began to formulate their part of the plan for improving Colorado Education. Lois Weiner, a life-long teacher union activist and educator, has been an officer of three union locals. With Mary Compton she co-edited The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions. Internationally known for her work on urban teacher education, she received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) award for research on teacher education for her book, Preparing teachers for urban schools.


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