A rhetorically challenged Lady MacBeth: that is the figure cut by Peter Murphy of the New York Charter School Association, as he attempts to explain away the well-established history of NYCSA’s pursuit of right-wing ideology at the expense of schools. Murphy’s mutterings of “blah, blah, blah” when faced with inconvenient facts lack the power and force of “Out, damned spot!” and “Will these hands ne’er be clean?” But the urge to wash away the stain of rightwing and anti-union Wal-Mart, Gilder and Icahn money in NYCSA coffers, the desire to erase the blemish of NYCSA leaders opposing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and NYCSA lobbyists working against New York receiving Race to the Top funds, the effort to cover up the alliance with the leading union busting law firm in the country, all cast Murphy and NYCSA as political sleep-walkers deeply steeped in the psyche of the Scottish aristocrat Lady MacBeth.
NYCSA is “non-partisan,” Murphy opines, and there is not a single “action by this organization… that displays any partisan, ideological right-wing or left-wing approach to charter schools.” We appreciate the practical dilemma here: the IRS might cast a critical investigatory eye on NYCSA if this particular fiction was not constantly asserted. But the evidence that can be spun in support of it is rather weak, to say the least: for example, Murphy doesn’t want to take on the issues of Wal-Mart money or the contributions of anti-union corporate raider Icahn, so he is reduced to telling us that Wall Street tycoon and NYCSA financial backer Richard Gilder financially supports the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park as well as NYCSA. How more non-partisan than that could one get, he implies. The only problem for Murphy is that in 2009, there are tools like Google and Wikipedia that tell us more than we ever wanted to know about Richard Gilder [here, here, here, and here], and it quickly becomes clear that along with providing major support for a whole host of ultra-conservative institutions like the Manhattan Institute, Gilder has been the main mover and shaker in the far rightwing PAC, Club for Growth. Here is one particularly well-known example of the Club’s “non-partisan” work. [Yes, we drink lattes, but buying a Volvo on a teacher's salary is a bit of a reach.]
Playing the role of Lady Macbeth to the hilt, Murphy engages in a similar pattern of evasion regarding NYCSA and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Rather truculently, he attempts to remake the actual point we made here — that leading members of NYCSA were among the most outspoken opponents of CFE — into a claim we never made — that NYCSA took an official organizational position on the question. When faced with actual statements of NYCSA leaders attacking CFE which he had previously claimed did not exist, Murphy simply ignores Tom Carroll’s statement that CFE is “an irresponsible and ineffective attempt to throw more money at the same old education problems,” and declares that NYCSA President Bill Philips’ statement that CFE is “a multibillion-dollar gamble saying ‘Give us more money, and things will get better…’” is really an argument on behalf of charter schools. He then avoids the fact that it was teacher union leadership in Albany which ensured that CFE funds were included in the charter school funding formula, effectively eliminating the operating funds differential between charter and district schools. A fig leaf as small and transparent as this one will not cover the naked pursuit of right wing ideology, including outspoken opposition to CFE, by NYCSA leadership.
But perhaps there is nothing more revelatory of Murphy’s own dirty hands than his proud ownership of bringing the nation’s premier union busting law firm — Jackson, Lewis with its non-profit arm, the Atlantic Legal Foundation — into the world of New York charter schools. Their Leveling the Playing Field “union avoidance” manual “provides balanced legal information on labor issues written in understandable, layman’s prose,” he declares. Interesting, isn’t it, that ALF boasts in an annual report of its work with a New York charter school to “resist a union’s organization petition.” And even more interesting is this exhaustive New York Times exposé, “How Do You Drive Out A Union?,” which tells the story of the Jackson, Lewis role in a union-busting campaign in South Carolina which employed every illegal tactic and the most scurrilous race and sex baiting. But Murphy tells us that he has always “respected” the right of teachers to unionize. This sort of respect brings to mind a line of Lenin — “We support the Labour Party… like a rope supports a hanging man.”
Now according to our Lady MacBeth at NYCSA, I have a “rabid contempt,” a “hatred” for charter schools. Strange, isn’t it, that I should have played a central leadership role in founding one, and that I should serve on its Board of Trustees? Let me suggest a slightly more plausible line of thinking: what we oppose at the UFT is the New York Charter School Association and its diversion and perversion of the idea of charter schools into a tool for the privatization of public education and union-busting. What we oppose is trumping the needs of schools with right-wing ideology.
The last word on Murphy’s apology for NYCSA’s ideological posturing goes to Shakespeare, in the lines uttered by MacBeth after the death of Lady MacBeth: it is “full of sound and fury,” but it “signifies nothing.”