I have known Randi Weingarten for about 15 years. When I met her, she was president of the UFT in New York City. Over the years, we have shared many important life events, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals.
Randi and I first wrote an article together in 2004. It was a protest against the autocratic way that Michael Bloomberg was running the NYC public schools. The title of the article in the New York Times was “Public Schools, Minus the Public.”
At that time, Randi took a risk joining with me because I was known as an outspoken conservative. But she recognized that I was undergoing a fundamental rethinking of my views. Because I continued to write op-eds and continued to support teachers against the efforts to destroy their professional status, the UFT honored me in 2005 with its prestigious John Dewey award.
Understand that I was still active at the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, both leading centers of rightwing thought. I was indeed in transition, in what I eventually understood as a life-changing intellectual crisis. I was trying to define and redefine my perspective on issues I had studied for decades.
Randi must have known I would come through this period of introspection and self-doubt. And I did.
The books I wrote during these years were studiously nonpartisan: “The Language Police,” which criticized censorship of tests and textbooks by both the right and the left (2003); “The English Reader,” an anthology I compiled with my son Michael; “Edspeak,” a glossary of education jargon and buzzwords.
Then in 2010, I published “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” and fully renounced my conservative alliances, beliefs, and allegiances. Randi gave a book party for me at AFT headquarters in D.C.
The next year, when she invited Bill Gates to speak in Seattle, she also invited me, but I had a previous commitment to speak to legislators in Boston.
She invited me to speak at the AFT convention again in 2012, and I did and received a wonderful reception from the delegates in Detroit.
We don’t agree about every issue. We disagree about the Common Core. She thinks it has great potential, and I am skeptical about its consequences and oppose the undemocratic way in which it was stealthily imposed. Friends can disagree and still be friends.
But our agreements are far larger than our disagreements. Randi was the first one to alert me years ago to the total inappropriateness of the business model in education. She is a lawyer, and she is very smart. Randi was first, in my memory, to talk about “reform fatigue.” She is courageous. When the big “Waiting for Superman” propaganda blitz was unleashed in the fall of 2010, Randi was treated as Public Enemy #1 by the privateers, and she slugged it out with them on national television again and again. That took guts.
Recently, we co-authored a letter to Secretary Duncan urging him to intervene to stop the destruction of public education in Philadelphia.
I have read many comments on the blog that are critical of Randi. I let readers have their say, but this I believe. It serves no purpose for those of us opposed to teacher-bashing and corporate reform to fight among ourselves. We must stand together so that we will one day prevail over those who want to destroy public education and the teaching profession. We can’t win if we are divided. I will do nothing to help those who pursue a strategy of divide and conquer. They want us to fight among ourselves. I won’t help them.
Today, American public education faces an existential threat to its very existence. We all need to work together, argue when we must, but maintain our basic unity against the truly radical, truly reactionary threat of privatization. As a nation, as a democracy, we cannot afford to lose this essential democratizing institution.
Let us join forces, stand together, debate strategy and tactics, but remain united. If we are united, we will win. And make no mistake. I am convinced that we will win.