Workout Log 11 Sep 2012: The Chicago Teachers’ Tragic Strike

Prospect of Sunset from Queen Mary Hospital 5 Sep 2012

‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

‘I never heard of “Uglification,”‘ Alice ventured to say. ‘What is it?’

The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. ‘What! Never heard of uglifying!’ it exclaimed. ‘You know what to beautify is, I suppose?’

‘Yes,’ said Alice doubtfully: ‘it means—to—make—anything—prettier.’

‘Well, then,’ the Gryphon went on, ‘if you don’t know what to uglify is, you ARE a simpleton.’

20 minutes first thing with weights to Journey to the Line and Freedancing to Sweelinck. In the Sweelinck developing the warrior stomp for the fast part as seen in North American and Maori dance to force blood back into the broken wing of my left leg, in thrombosis because of lymph pressure. Come on out and fight it is a good day to die.

The Chicago Teachers’ Tragic Strike

…working parents are going nuts in Chicago because today both Mom and Dad have to “get to work” where the very phrase is so universal as to norm a deviance, a life every year grimmer; a highly educated friend has pointed to sources that show slaves of Plato’s Athens to be better off than ordinary workers today, for the Athenian slave was guaranteed the minimum to sustain life whereas absent collective bargaining this is not guaranteed, and the obvious goal of policymakers, even “blue-dog” Democrats like Rahm Emanuel, is to destroy the union guarantee of a living, much less a family, wage.

Chicago used to be the Cubs on Saturday, Mom home with the kids, Dad with a strong union job. Ooooooohhh so sexist. But it is now morning hysteria, what, are the TEACHERS on strike? And does it take a village to raise a child, a family, or both?

Hilary Clinton said “it takes a village”.

My brother, who’s raised a family on a union wage and many years of hard work, says no, dammit, it takes a family.

I say it takes both.

The teachers themselves will of course be without income unless they can work at temporary jobs for employers who’ll resent them as union members and foster resentment against them by their co-workers, for behold: resentment flows as a river under Wacker drive.

One issue: student evaluations and test scores as a bonehead metric for lazy and aliterate, computer-maddened administrators.

Here’s what actual teachers have to say at the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (Core Teachers):

“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.”

The Chicago school administration is focusing on test scores as a way of getting rid of the mythologized witch-figure, the “bad teacher” as if to cleanse the land of witches was job one; at university level the focus shifts to student evaluations: but student evaluations are also used at K-12 and their philosophical basis is the same: what Adorno calls scientific asceticism.

Scientific asceticism is a philosophy of applied science which assumes without discussion that the data will conform to continuous mathematics and smooth curves and that for this reason we can and should disregard, to the point of an intellectual ethnic cleansing or as above a scientifically sanctioned witch craze, actual facts and actual people.

Scientific asceticism allows administrators, in what’s after all a clearly administered world, to essentially sit on their collective lard ass in air-conditioned offices and judge the workers, using their (the admin’s) own personal limitations as a positive asset, as in my favorite example where your aliteracy is transformed, alchymerically, into my “verbosity”…nice work if you can get it.

Student evaluations, which alongside test scores will make or break (mostly break) Chicago teachers if the school board gets its way, started, as far as I can tell, in China in the 1960s when the Chinese “baby boom” exploded on schedule in the 1960. They constituted a Westernizing reaction to the unquestioned authority of the Confucian teacher which Sun Yat Sen and many Chinese Republicans felt had caused the humiliation of China.

It appears from the record that French intellectuals including Simone de Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva thought this cool, and brought it to Paris of 1968, making “questioning” of teachers all the rage ‘mongst tous le monde. When the meme got to Frankfurt, Theodore Adorno was “questioned” by Stalinist thugs and bare-breasted Rhine Maidens for teaching Baroque aesthetics when he should have been teaching resistance to Vietnam. (The fact that West Germany had no dog in the fight was rather overlooked.)

Circa 1969, when I was myself an SDS member, the meme reached the United States and my own university, Roosevelt University in Chicago, in which the then president, an Austrian economist, was attempting to de-radicalize the student and faculty, making Roosevelt a bit more capital-friendly despite its labor union support. Rolf Weil consequently made a point of firing the popular left-wing history professor, Staughton Lynd.

For a few years, student evaluations as demanded and won were collected using manual procedures but Roosevelt’s clerical staff was itself unionized and considered expensive; organized by SEIU (Service Employees International Union), we clerical workers had what would now be considered a sweet deal when I worked in the university bookstore: a living wage, health insurance, and free tuition part-time.

But at the same time, Roosevelt University was also paying IBM an incredible amount (if memory serves, from the time when I was “acting director” of the computer center, 10K per month) for an actual computer with 8K of RAM, the legendary IBM 1401, the Ford Granada of mainframes. The programmer who preceded me undertook to write the “code” for a system that would, it was hoped, allow the students to use manually punched cards to register her opinion.

These cards were the infamous cards that got the worst President in our history elected in 2000 (“hanging chads”), and there were all sorts of problems with them by the time I appeared on the scene as a long-haired hippie in 1972.

Basically, the crude software written to analyze the evaluations had in the presence of any invalid input, caused by “hanging chads” or other problems, given the teacher the worst possible evaluation. And I realized even as a callow youth that this was dialectical bullshit.

The “thesis” was Kristeva’s critique of what in China were called “the four olds” including the authority of a teacher who could make or break you, as my teachers could.

The “antithesis” was the loud student demand circa 1968 for the “right” to “grade” the teacher.

The negative synthesis by 1972 was the destruction of faculty by software which didn’t even work, but, for administrators that wanted to sit in air-conditioned offices, and not actually observe teachers in Roosevelt’s sweaty and rather primitive classrooms, student evaluations were just great as are test scores for K-12. In both cases you can sit on your ass and call up the results on your computer in aircon comfort. You don’t have to crouch down to a crying child in the heat and ask her what’s up.

Robert A Johnson writes: “It is commonplace in the dreams of people who are capable of high consciousness that mechanical things do not work very well.” This rather surprising thought is probably true. We dream of airline crashes, but then again so does the competent engineer, such as the sort of man or woman who developed the Airbus (cf William Langieweische’s thoughtful book on this), with the result takes a real clown, a murdering SOB filled with vanity, to crash it as in this incident…even as you have to be a world-historical clown like Bush, Rumsfeld or now Romney to transform the USA of 1999 to that of 2012.

So why in Christ’s name should the employment of 30% of Chicago teachers depend on crap software written by bonehead software guys who don’t know what it is to teach, whether that software consists of tests, test metrics or evaluations?

It is received wisdom in the software field that best of breed software needs to be reused and not rewritten, and that given the proper tools (such as PowerPoint or Excel) programming one’s own application is no intellectual challenge for the end user. But overly “results-oriented” education, where the phrase “results-oriented” typically is a manifestation of intellectual cowardice, is in all cases driven by necessarily large and general software packages for which school boards pay quite a lot of money, and these packages are written primarily by young males who know nothing about education whatsoever.

Prior to 1968 education was a conversation in which the best students held their own without too much rancor. Unfortunately this was in some measure because of racial and gender discrimination but not, in my experience or opinion, to the absurd lengths claimed. It is a myth that in that era the academy was completely opposed to women’s survival and flourishing. The Shakespeare scholar Marcette Chute survived and flourished as did Susan Sontag. In my own university, the redoubtable director of theater studies, Yolanda Lyon, survived and flourished. Even in the numerate field of computer science, Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, survived and flourished (cf. my own book, which makes reference to this matter, based on interviewing people who knew Hopper, “Build Your Own .Net Language and Compiler”, Apress-Springer 2004.)

This conversation has been replaced by one-way and unquestionable (if highly flawed) cybernetic and mechanical authority that can’t be questioned, and this is the aufhebung, the profoundly negative resolution of the questions raised by post-colonialism: that in place of recognition and mutuality, we’ll all just game a mechanical system of test results and evaluations using as much as we can fashionable age, race and gender.

Won’t we.

Do I rage against an empty chair, like Clint Eastwood? Perhaps. But I do know that if we don’t end class difference, the dialectical result will oppress even the winners of the game. Furthermore, I’m smarter than Eastwood, merely a conformist who did what he was told throughout his career by Sergio Leone et al. until it was his turn to direct.

But: enough, is enough. The problem in Chicago and world-wide is that rents, as in economic rents, must be collected no matter what by certain people and not others; as any ordinary person can see, the system’s justification as being, for all intents and purposes, ceteris paribus and kiss my ass, a perfect and friction free “market”, has a massive contradiction, that the goal of the playuh isn’t to play by the rules.

I got screwed in my nice Brooks Brothers suit for believing that. No, the goal is to collect a rent, corner a market and obtain a market failure. Non-proprietary software written for fun and for free works much better than proprietary software written for temporary advantage until the rest of the market wises up and clones your product, nonetheless the game for software engineers remains earning the family wage by developing the proprietary system which is, too soon for any long-term economic security, undercut by something reverse-engineered and free. Nonetheless the game continues: a forced scramble for ever-diminishing dollars.

For example, the charges made by doctors are considered set in stone as regards Medicare reimbursement and for this reason we cannot expand Medicare or, God forbid, Medicaid because this would cause doctors to flee the system.

Whereas teachers and software engineers are fair game.

The notion that doctors might be in the aggregate unwilling to abandon patients who need them, the ungrounded statistical notion that on balance we’re pond scum, is unexplored, but my late father wouldn’t abandon patients.

It’s true, that as Adam Smith said, we do not owe our bread solely or on balance to the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker: but the notion that we may not ascribe their “personal responsibility” to benevolence has been put under a dark cloud…even though a GK Chesterton would say that in “merrie old England” it was precisely the benevolence of mine host that I got a free beer now and then, what’s known as a “comp”, I think, in Vegas or Macau. Smith knew full well that the pot-latch impulse, the seeking of prestige through generosity, was no myth, but his concern in 1776 was to demonstrate, on balance and as a purely pragmatic matter, that we’re also motivated by avarice.

That is…there’s weak Smith (small s) and strong Smith (big S) and the true Smith is small-s in which benevolence (our sense of “personal responsibility” to strangers as found in the Chinese sage Mencius) plays a part alongside greed and avarice. Mine host overcharges me but unlike some racist chicken stand owner, he’s benevolent because he doesn’t “reserve the right to refuse service”. His motives are compound as are any human motives.

But we’re told today that teachers are unmotivated by benevolence and that they are to be equated with commodities traders, and they, unlike commodities traders, are greedy but unlike them, incompetent and clue-challenged. Which is merely just the gangstas in the back of my high school homeroom, including my schoolmate Ted Nugent, running their filthy mouths. They couldn’t do shit in school and now they run things having taken over by force, fraud, and rock and roll.

Enough, is enough.

The tragedy of this strike is that it will hurt the people who don’t need any more hurt: parents and teachers. It needs to discommode doctors and commodity brokers. Like the battle of Algiers it needs to discommode the denizens of the fashionable aronidssements. But tragically, in Chicago, strikes rarely do this.

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