Liz Davis

A remote memorial for my former colleague, fellow union member, friend and ally, Elizabeth Davis, is scheduled for May 6.

(Apparently I recorded an incorrect date. For details and to register for the on-line event, go to the website of the Washington Teachers’ Union.)

(If you didn’t know, Liz was the president of the WTU until her tragic death in a car crash on Easter Sunday. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.)

During my very first year teaching, Liz and I happened to be posted at the same school, a big new open-space building almost as far south as you can get and still be in DC.

Interesting times — there was a teacher strike that year, and we both were definitely doing our best to be on the left, progressive, anti-racist side of things. Looking back, I feel that I mostly made a hash of it. Liz was much more of a fighter than I was, frankly.

I haven’t been to a general membership meeting of the WTU since I retired in 2009, and I unfortunately don’t have a good reading on how well she was running things.

I only recall one serious disagreement with her, which I should explain later, but in hindsight on the event, I see we were both partly right and both partly wrong. Long story. I should write it up.

News from The Washington Teachers’ Union: National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education in DC

Those who are unhappy with the direction of education here in Washington DC, here is a meeting that I think will be worth attending. I plan on being there and hope to have some hard questions ready for Vincent Gray and David Catania, as well as other mayoral candidates both of whom are wrong on some very important points regarding education.

Please come and we can also talk with each other and get to see each other’s faces again.

Here is the blurb from Liz Davis:

National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education in DC
(Event Location:  Eastern High School, 1700 East Capitol St., NE)On Monday, December 9, 2013, over 300 District teachers, school parents, faith community members and organizations such as ours, will gather for a forum and discussion of important issues affecting public education in our city. All mayoral candidates have agreed to attend.
Local unions supporting all school workers (principals, teachers, teacher’s aides, cafeteria workers and custodians) have signed on to participate and support this important Town Hall meeting.

The forum will focus on the  attached “Principles that Unite Us”—which express the common vision for public education that is shared by teachers, parents and community organizations here in the District and across the nation. In scores of cities around the country, December 9th  will be a National Day of Action, when community groups, parents and local leaders are coming together to reclaim the promise of public education as our nation’s gateway to democracy and racial and economic

Mayor Vincent Gray and all other mayoral candidates will participate in a moderated panel discussion addressing the importance of community voices in education policy and practice. Each candidate will have an opportunity to make a two-minute presentation at the beginning of the
discussion that should answer the question: What steps would you take as Mayor to make community voices matter in public education and increase stakeholder engagement?

We hope you will join us! The success of our schools and our children
depend on it!

In unity,

Liz Davis
Elizabeth Davis, President
Washington Teachers Union
1825 K Street, NW Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20006
Office Tel (202) 293-8611
Fax (202) 293-8633

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 11:18 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Troubling Signs at the WTU

I saw a serious sign of what I think ails the Washington Teachers’ Union when I walked briefly over to the Franciscan Center at 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, not far from my house, where a combined general WTU membership meeting/reception/comedian entertainment/holiday party was taking place this evening.

I think that this sign explains, in part, why the percentage of teachers voting during both rounds of the recent WTU leadership was so low.

The problem?

I saw almost no young white or Asian or Hispanic teachers. And, to be frank, I didn’t even see very many young African-American teachers. Nor much in the way of older white, Asian, or Hispanic teachers, either.

After a not-very-careful look at the heads and faces, I got the feeling that if I had actually stuck around and sat down, the number of white teachers in attendance would have gone up by somewhere between 20% and 100%. (Do a little bit of mental math: if one person comes in, and that makes the number of people in group W increase by 100%, then how many people were in group W before that person arrived?)

I fear that this means that those in attendance at this meeting were not very representative of the rank-and-file teacher corps in DC Public Schools. Younger teachers, be they white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, don’t seem to be stepping up to take leadership roles in the WTU, at least not in Saunders’ slate, which I guess was probably more represented at this meeting (though I don’t know that for a certainty). Perhaps they don’t have the tradition of activism and militancy that a lot of future teachers acquired who grew up and attended college in the 1960’s and 1970s, during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras? Do they feel that the WTU leadership is out of touch with what they need?

At a lot of DC public and charter schools that I visit, there aren’t very many older black teachers left at all. They have generally retired, and have been replaced by young teachers (and a good fraction of those are TFAers, many of whom have no intention at all of staying in education, and 89% of whom are gone after 3 years). They find, of course, that almost all of the vaunted ‘reforms’ and ‘accountability’ that Michelle Rhee and her acolytes have imposed, simply mean lots of additional demands to perform the impossible, with less and less support. And, once they fail to achieve the impossible, they are then blamed, and are labeled in the media as being part of the problem, just like the veteran teachers that they are replacing. So they burn out… but could really use a union that advocated sanity and didn’t sell out and beg for more whippings in exchange for possibly imaginary pay increases.

It’s clear to me that if the WTU is actually going to be able to represent teachers in a positive and forceful way, so that it can help lead public education away from the clutches of the billionaires who want to take it over, then it needs to start working on its own composition.

Unions in the past that have failed to do this, have generally lost.

Dividing and conquering is a useful tool for a tiny ruling class: look what the British Empire was able to do for a couple of centuries. But it doesn’t work if you are the working mass of the population. United we stand, divided we fall.

%d bloggers like this: