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Wake-up call

April Fools’ Day, observed


When passion-corrupted battles rage between two irreconcilable points of view, victory will not be assured or much advanced by the inherent persuasive power of truth. Facts and moral authority are not indispensable ingredients of a convincing argument. It will hinge instead on the primacy of propaganda and access to susceptible minds.  

One New York tabloid feasts on distortion like koala bears on eucalyptus leaves. Its editorial board is always gunning for public school educators and their unions. Their barrels are locked and loaded with apples and oranges. They draw invalid comparisons while avoiding legitimate ones. Their default is disinformation. It is their brand.

Their recent indictment of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is a true bill of felonious drivel. The following parody faithfully captures the rashness and spite of their logic:

"This Law is Anti-Patient. It only serves the interests of the American Medical Association. Because of the shrinking number of patients in the ICU and the other hospital rooms, they want to increase the number of attending physicians on duty. It's just a gimmick. Hiring more doctors will dilute the quality of those already on staff. Having more specialists seeing patients will aggravate their existing sicknesses, especially patients who are most critically ill. Despicable politicians who support the Law are submitting to the vile power brokers of the AMA."

Just substitute "schools" for hospitals, and the UFT for the AMA, and you have a fairly close approximation of a recent editorial.

It said that when teachers have more time to devote individual attention to each student, the law mandating the lowering of class size is "anti-kid.” And that the teachers union supports the law because it wants to rake in more dues from more members. When the union takes its position in the furtherance of professionalism, they call that dedication a "gimmick.” 

In this latest of their serial screeds, they maintain that the least skilled students will be the most victimized by the intensified focus on their needs. It refers to leadership of the union of professionals as "powerbrokers,” smears supportive elected officials as "despicable," impugns their integrity ("How does he sleep at night?"), and mocks the law itself, which has been scrupulously reviewed and stood the tests of time and research.

The editorial's most egregious whopper is that "under the UFT contract, senior teachers have rights to choose which schools to teach" and that they may transfer at will to wherever suits them. The claim they make about the contract is not a matter of interpretation. It is a provable falsification and an overt smear. 

Naturally, the tabloid won't retract their lie.

By malignantly misreporting the goals and priorities of labor organizations, union-busters have had some success in perverting the image of worker activism. When there is internal strife in a union that is caused by external events, as occasionally happens, these scab-friendly detractors take particular delight in capitalizing and running with it.

A group of City University of New York professors quit the Professional Staff Congress over the union's resolution which the group alleged was antisemitic. There are precedents for similar actions taken over other disputes. 

What are the ground rules for the wagging or tying of tongues? Is consent required from those in whose name political speech is to be made and spread? Should members' dues money or other separate funds be spent on advocacy of non-employment issues, like human rights, social justice and climate change? In pursuit of sublime ideals, is the sky the limit?   

At what altitude is there cloud cover, if any? 

What should be the criteria and measurements for determining applicability and merit, or should there be none? How should the official positions of labor organizations be developed and finalized? What should be the parameters of debate?

If, for argument's sake, it is agreed that unions should stay clear of hot button controversies, should that apply also to classroom curriculum and discussion? Should educators be entrusted to evenhandedly cover sensitive, divisive and sometimes culturally "no-go" topics?  

Should educators be enjoined from ever striking a raw nerve in class discussions? Should objectivity be mandated? Is it even possible? If so, whose "objectivity" and by what means would it be enforced? Should educators keep their own views private? How will indoctrination and invidious intent be assessed?   

If they commit a faux pas, teachers shouldn't be made to feel like they're in barbed-wire underwear doing pirouettes on a tightrope high above a river gorge with rapids that will sweep them into career oblivion.

What if the ascertainable facts of the topic are not suitable for balance because both sides are not equivalent? What support will be provided to children who may be embarrassed or hurt by lessons that may clash with their upbringing or home environment, but are nonetheless vital to teach?

We are living in an era of repudiation, at least an overhaul of core values and the standards of practicing democracy. Free speech is being re-invented and refitted to new orthodoxies. There's no training in civics or the discipline of neutral critical thinking. Publishers of education texts who seek contracts with large school systems know they had better toe the line in their presentation of the historical record and ensure it is in fashion and has been vetted by virtue signalers. 

The free market of ideas is in a supply-chain crisis. The "information highway" is buckling from censorship and potholes. Maybe what we need is a "cosmic dance,”  which often transfixes the spirits of space travelers. That's what astronaut Ron Garan Jr. calls "this big shift when you're aware of the unity … that we're all part of, and it's very profound."  

Well, the solar eclipse has come and gone, and the heavens were not up to the job of reviving human decency with the smelling salts of awe. But April Fool's Day is being observed all year, as we are being pranked by anarchists who use the construction material of fire to rebuild society.

As we await the removal of the tracking devices from our consciousness, and the weaponization of government agencies to keep dissent in check with the help of anti-social media ( perhaps as a joint venture), I have just one request in the meantime: will the winner of February's congressional special election kindly yank out of the dirt the many campaign posters that remain impaled in the medians of roads in his district?

Maybe he thinks they're poppies in Flanders Field.

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