Eric Alterman has published a surreal response to this post. He writes that he was a target of “character assassination” when we noted that he had adopted a “lefter than thou” attitude toward the electoral strategy of teacher unions, with specific reference to the UFT’s practice of endorsing any incumbent, regardless of party, when they had supported positions on education, labor and human rights issues important to us. His objections to teacher unions, he now says, “has nothing whatever to do with political policies.” Rather, he says, it rests with “the union’s frequent inflexibility and resistance toward what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes to be common-sense reforms.” The record tells a different story.
We have been able to find one prior published comment of Alterman that touches on criticisms of teacher unions in over nearly a decade of voluminous published writing. These results follow a number of different Google searches, as well as an examination of Alterman’s Nation columns, the portions of his Altercation blog still published on the Internet [here and here], and his posts on the Huffington blog. This blog post condemned the New York Times, SEIU 1199 and the “teachers’ union” for endorsing the incumbent Republican Governor, George Pataki, in his 2002 re-election campaign. [Personal disclosure: Alterman and I had an exchange in the comments section of his blog on the issue of the UFT’s endorsement of Pataki.]
This blog post in which Alterman criticizes teacher unions, as well as the exchange between Alterman and myself, are no longer available at the original MSNBC.COM site, as they sent Alterman and his blog packing last fall. However, there still are contemporaneous references to the post available on the Internet, at least one of which quotes a passage which specifically singles out the “teachers’ union” for criticism. There are many more references in Alterman’s published writings to the New York Times endorsement of Pataki, often citing Pataki’s failure to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. At one point, Alterman himself describes the Pataki endorsement as “kind of an obsession of mine.”
[As I noted in the comments section of the original post here at Edwize, the UFT endorsed Pataki in the 2002 campaign, after supporting his opponents in previous races, because he had personally intervened to obtain state funds to increase teacher salaries by 16% in the 2000 contract — the start of a process which concluded, in the most recent contract, by closing the gap between the salaries of suburban and city teachers. Achieving that benchmark was important not only for city teachers, but also for city schools and city students, because it eliminated a major cause of the hemorrhaging of experienced and accomplished teachers from New York City. In order to retain political credibility with elected officials of all political hues, the UFT endorses an incumbent who supports our issues in such a major way.]
Among the few times Alterman discusses unionism in print, there are a number of instances where he criticized other unions, such as when he objected to a Nation article that criticized Yale University faculty who were seeking to undermine the organizing of GESO, the Yale graduate student employees union, and when he criticized all of the New York City municipal unions for refusing to accept a Bloomberg proposal to diminish their health care insurance. But nowhere could we find another published criticism targeting teacher unions.
When an author as prolific at Alterman publishes nothing on what he now tells us are his criticisms of teacher unions, when his published criticism of teacher unions focuses on an electoral endorsement which is a self-avowed “obsession,” and when he then offers one line comments that “I don’t like teacher unions,” it would seem more than reasonable to conclude that his longstanding objections were to our electoral strategy. But reasonable does not seem the operative word in this exchange. When citing the published record becomes “character assassination,” we have entered into the world of Alice and the Looking Glass.
Now that Alterman has “come out” as someone who “agrees more with the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council, the original home of Eduwonk’s Andy Rotherham) than with the union,” and someone who believes that teacher unions are “frequently inflexible and resistant toward what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes to be common-sense reforms,” perhaps he might share with us exactly which “common-sense reforms” bring himself and the DLC/Rotherham together. We understand that the market politics of “branding” considers the substantive issues unimportant, that the whole purpose of such politics is to issue sweeping generalizations and one line putdowns without offering substantive critiques. But enquiring education reformers need to know. Does Alterman fault teacher unions for being “inflexible and resistant” when we oppose “common-sense reforms” [see here, here, here, and here] advocated by Rotherham and this thinktank, Ed Sector, to raise class sizes? To lower the salaries of experienced teachers? To raid teacher pensions? To diminish teacher health care insurance? To have chronically underfunded urban schools, such as those in NYC, make do with their current funding? [On the last point, was there some point between Pataki’s refusal to resolve the CFE case and Rotherham’s current revelation that public schools can not expect more funding, but need to make do with what they now receive, that this became a “common sense reform?”]
We won’t even ask for an explanation on how any of these “reforms” will help schools.