When I was growing up in New York City, visitors from New Jersey were disparagingly mocked as the “bridge and tunnel crowd.” Woody Allen got a big laugh when his character in Sleeper posited, “I’m what you would call a teleological, existential atheist. I believe that there’s an intelligence to the universe, with the exception of certain parts of New Jersey.” And don’t get me started on Housewives of New Jersey or Jersey Shore.
Fear not, fellow Garden Staters: the New Jersey Education Association has our backs. Unlike its union brethren in the Big Apple, NJEA is urging its members to participate in Black Lives Matter in Schools Week. And, as one who often gives NJEA leaders grief, let’s give credit where credit is due: I’m proud to live in a state where the primary teacher union advocates for historically under-served students.
That’s not what’s happening in New York City. Last week the Daily News reported that
[T]he union representing the teachers of nearly 300,000 black students rejected a resolution supporting Black Lives Matter in education, making it the only local teachers union to do so among the 10 cities where it has been proposed. New York City parents are alarmed and deeply disappointed that the United Federation of Teachers cannot confidently and proudly say that Black Lives Matter — in other words, that their students’ lives matter.
In other words, UFT, the NYC arm of the American Federation of Teachers, rejected a resolution that called out the need for more Black teachers, more celebration of African-American history and literature in course content, and an end to punitive disciplinary policies that disproportionately affect children of color.
Huh? What could UFT possibly be thinking? (Full disclosure: this is personal. My parents were both UFT members. They would be dumbfounded by the union’s Trumpish disregard for decency.) Vivett Dukes, a Black teacher in Queens, wrote at New York School Talk, “the union of which I’m a part just made it clear, in no uncertain terms that, to them, Black Lives Don’t Matter. How do I reconcile that within myself and carry on with my calling of educating Black and Brown children? To say I’m outraged is an understatement.”
According to the Daily News, the resolution was voted down to “avoid controversy.” Seriously? We’re not so craven on this side of the Hudson. From the Star-Ledger:
The New Jersey Education Association is calling for schools to participate in the national Black Lives Matter in Schools Week and teach lessons about structural racism and other race-related issues.
The initiative, which has stirred some controversy in other states, began Monday and is running through Sunday, though it’s unclear how many New Jersey schools have decided to participate, said Steve Baker, a union spokesman.
Union members threw their support behind the program to show how important they believe the movement is, he said.
“It’s about stimulating a dialogue and about starting the conversation about these critical issues,” Baker said.
Isn’t that precisely what schools should be doing? NJEA gets it. UFT doesn’t. I beat up on the NJ teacher union on a regular basis. This time they deserve unvarnished praise.
I believe that there’s an intelligence to teacher unions, with the exception of certain parts of UFT.