First published on @TCFKSM on June 15, 2013
What troubles me is what you are doing with the millions you raise. You use it to sow dissension, to set parents against parents, parents against teachers, parents against principals. I don’t see this as productive or helpful. Schools function best when there is collaboration among teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Schools have a better chance of success for the children when they have a strong community and culture of respect. — Professor Diane Ravitch
Quick background. The Walton Foundation funded Parent Revolution operatives were handing out flyers to everyone, including me, before the UTLA Chapter Chair meeting on June 2, 2013. The flyer contained their typical boilerplate bombast, and also featured an invitation to a "Meet and Greet" on June 12, 2013. The flyer is archived here.
I arrived just before 17:00 and tweeted a photo of the place while waiting for everyone. I was in a fairly somber mood, having been at the vet in the morning before work putting down one of our terminally ill cats. Perhaps my grieving kept me from getting in trouble, although I'm sure just my presence made the privatizers uncomfortable.
I met the illustrious UTLA South Area Chair Ingrid Villeda and two Weigand ES teachers in a parking lot behind the arranged location. We walked in solidarity. When we arrived several Parent Revolution (henceforth pRev—the name the pro-public school Adelento parents like Lori Yuan call them) were waiting outside the Golden Gopher. The pRev privatizers sent TFA alumna Christina Sánchez, Patrick DeTemple, Anne Lee, Rafael Serrano, and a few other staffers I didn't know. Before we were done Gabe Rose joined the meeting.
We waited with them for the venue to open and everyone made nervous small talk and introductions. Another Weigand teacher and spouse showed up as we were waiting. After a while it became obvious that the Gopher was going to stay closed, and the owner came and told us they had a private party. Our side was wondering why an organization with tens of millions of dollars at its disposal hadn't reserved or even called the place they set for the meeting. Ingrid tweeted our situation.
@LASchoolReport for the record I came 2 talk about school reform and the Golden Gopher is closed? What happened Ben Austin?— Ingrid Villeda (@EducateLAnow) June 13, 2013
The pRev folks suggested a place several blocks away, and with some misgiving, we went with them to a place called Los Angeles Brewing Company. When we arrived, the pRev folks were smart enough to stagger seating so that we ended up engaged in separate conversations. I ended up speaking with Patrick DeTemple. I was already pretty familiar with his party line, which hadn't changed since his long post defending pRev when Ben Austin was immortalized on the famous Crooks and Liars website. His commentary there is worth reading since it contains some of their stock language and ideology borrowed from the extreme right including gems like "intolerable levels of incompetence are permitted" by teachers unions. He told me verbally that basic protections like seniority somehow allowed for such things as well. Like all reform parrot-speak, it's not rooted in reality and wilts under scrutiny.
For those of you who have never seen the Austin segment on Crooks and Liars, it's a must-see and is the perfect example of how he cynically manipulates parents of color for his charter industry agenda. Shemika Murphy must have felt so empowered when she couldn't answer that softball question which wealthy white lawyer Austin stepped in with his evasive answer on her "behalf."
Whenever I factually cornered DeTemple, he'd essentially change the subject or say things like "we're working on that." That included things like how is 53 people voting on the disposition of a public resource in Adelento, a city of 32,000 democratic? Or how does creating the chaos of 21 of 22 teachers leaving a school benefit students or empower parents? His answer to that was interesting, he said "our intel didn't indicate that would happen." For a guy whose resume includes so much UFW and other union related organizing, you'd think he would have heard of the concept of solidarity. DeTemple isn't as much of true believer as many in the corporate education reform project, but he's the epitome of mixed consciousness politically. He's easily the smartest person they have in their organization, but he still melted when asked direct questions for the obvious reason, they can't provide honest answers since those answers would expose their agenda for what it truly is.
I caught a little bit of Ingrid's conversation with Sánchez. The best part of which was when Ingrid pointed out to Sánchez that when she abandoned teaching, she abandoned the children she now claims to be helping. Of course, that's a point of pride for TFA anyway, right? I couldn't hear the Weigand ES conversations from where I was sitting, but Ingrid said she did, so maybe she can provide us with any interesting tidbits. I'll ask her to comment here with any additional thoughts. I welcome the pRev staffers that were at the meeting to comment here as well. Ingrid and I left about a half hour after all the Weigand teachers left.
I sort of knew the entire thing would go the way it did. They get paid very well to advocate what they advocate, and weren't there to listen to community or teacher voices. The teachers and myself don't get paid at all to advocate alongside our communities, and that's part of the point isn't it? On the other hand it was important that we showed up since they would have been able to take the high ground and say they made overtures that went unanswered. It also probably did them some good to talk to real classroom teachers, something they almost never do.
Moving forward UTLA needs to start organizing alongside community organizations at every school site in order to begin building an infrastructure to combat future trigger attempts. Parents Across America has made it clear that they want to see multiple local chapters in Los Angeles, and we should be helping them build. Educated parents tend to run pRev petitioners out of town, but we need to reach people with the truth in the open before they are deceived secretly. LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer's resolution will help in this regard, but organizing to end the corporate drive by trigger law will take more than that.
The saddest thing I heard on Wednesday was that none of the new teachers headed for Weigand have any experience. While I wish all of them the best of luck (even the TFA missionaries among them), we all know how first year teachers fare. We confronted the pRev about this, saying how did that empower anyone? Ingrid's tweet from Thursday sums this up.
News Flash! This just in. 17 BRAND NEW teachers (some just interns, others TFA) at Weigand ES after Parent Revolution blasts the school...— Ingrid Villeda (@EducateLAnow) June 13, 2013
The damage Austin and his coterie caused Weigand will take years to mitigate, and even then it will never be completely ameliorated. Ingrid posted a great comment on that bastion of right-wing thought run by reactionary Jamie Alter-Lynton also known as the LA School Report. It bears reproduction here:
More mind blowing is how Parent Revolution can claim to be about community involvement but not have open meetings, announce agendas, discuss with stakeholders, and announce campaigns. Parents being hand picked, and asked to meet an organizer at a nearby fast food place is not community engagement. And how empowering is it, to not properly address the poverty afflicting these kids and families. How empowering is it for parents NOT to read academic plans...or be acquainted with data, academic focus, etc. One of the central parents staying "I never read the plan" makes a huge statement. This isn't about making things better for kids but adult agendas instead. The principal is no good and she lacks vision but her plan (one she wrote with many teachers) gets the okay...something doesn't make sense.