A Bad Taste…

Since I publicized my first post about the debate around the idea of switching from CCEA to CTA, I have been informed of a couple of facts that made me re-consider whether my position (that people who don’t like the CCEA leadership should join CCEA and vote to replace the leadership because the “enemy” is state and national, not local) is the correct one.

The fact that moved my needle most is the fact that CTA plans to facilitate membership in ISTA for members who choose to support that organization. This means that being represented by CTA does not necessarily mean that less money will be going to ISTA. This threatens to erase my main objection to CTA–that it withholds support from the state and national associations at a moment in history in which they need it most.

So I didn’t send-in my vote in right away. I continued reading pro-CTA information with an open mind, in an attempt to make sure that my argument truly holds water.

One argument I have made is that we have no guarantee that the new, inexperienced negotiators will be any better than the old negotiators. It turns out that the CTA president is a former negotiations chair from the CCEA. We still have no guarantee that the CTA will turn out to be better negotiators than the current negotiating team, but it is reasonable to assume that its team, which boasts some valuable experience I had not taken into account, could be successful.

My head began to tell me that the CTA would be an acceptable option, and I felt myself moving back toward neutrality.

My gut had more to say on the matter. Or maybe it was my tongue. Reading CTA materials left me with an increasingly bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite identify. But here it is: the CTA’s emphasis on “my paycheck, now” is too far removed from the “pay it forward” ideals on which organized labor is based. The tone of CTA’s messaging strikes me as unseemly (especially in an upper middle-class district with comparatively excellent pay, working conditions, and benefits) in an age in which public education and the teaching profession are under attack.

I have seen nothing in CTA’s literature that recognizes any responsibility to contribute to any cause larger than one’s own paycheck.

It is as though there are no teachers in upstate New York forced to teach from prepared scripts written by Pearson. It is as though there are no teachers in North Carolina scrounging promotional copies of textbooks at AP workshops because their district can’t afford to provide them. It is as though the ALEC/Bennett/Koch/Rhee/DeVos privatizing movement hasn’t been trying to chip away at teachers’ bargaining rights for decades. It is as though there aren’t 28 states where you can still be fired from your job for being gay or transgender. It’s as though it were legal in Indiana for a school to pay a teacher extra for teaching an extra class.

I joined the profession during a time in which the ISTA and NEA could rightly take credit for making teaching in public schools a stable, solidly middle-class profession in the fairly recent past. This progress, as is true of all social progress, was a direct result of the sacrifices (financial, in the form of dues, and otherwise) of previous generations of teachers and advocates for public education. I still benefit from their sacrifices (thanks to ISTA), as laws have prevented the government from clawing-back salary gains that I had earned in what now looks like a “golden age” of teaching. I began my career at perhaps the historical peak of the desirability of teaching as a profession. I have watched as public schooling has ridden cultural and political trends to what I hope is the bottom of a valley, but I personally have been largely protected from the decline that has turned the profession one that few of us would recommend to our students.

It was the dues money, amid other sacrifices, of those who came before me that gave me a financially secure life. When it was my turn to do my part, my dues money did not have the effect of advancing the teaching profession or the concept of public schooling. But I am proud to note that my dues have gone to slow the decline of public education and the teaching profession against well-organized and well-financed national forces.

Pendulums eventually swing in the opposite direction. Now it is our generation’s turn to sacrifice in the hope that public schooling may one day be recognized for the indispensable public investment that it is, and that teachers may someday attain the level of respect that has always been denied them in American society.

The CTA seems completely unaware of our bargaining unit’s connection to the movement for, and the benefits derived from, organized labor in this country. The well-financed groups that have turned-back the clock in so many ways in this country are acutely aware of the strategic importance of dissolving the bonds of organized labor as a whole, of course, but also specifically among public educators. Labor’s demise has been the focal point of many millions of dollars in political spending over several decades, which has resulted in several conspicuous victories in recent years.

It is tragic that anti-labor forces may soon also be able to count on assistance from local-only associations to help them realize their vision.

Is it too late to build a culture that sees beyond our district, and beyond (both before and after) the span of our own careers? Or can we, out of today’s divisions, spark a new understanding of why we are both obliged and privileged to leave the profession, and public education, in a better state than we found them?

If the CCEA loses this vote, I will cheerfully join the CTA and the ISTA. As a member, I will beat this drum very hard to try to move the CTA into a more mature vision of its responsibilities to society and to the profession. If CCEA wins, I urge those who have voted against it to see CCEA/ISTA/NEA as something worthy of support regardless of the ways in which it, as will any institution, fails to live up to all of the ideals for which it stands. Let’s not make this about winners and losers–we are all stronger together, no matter what set of initials we write on the dues check.





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