I thought Randi wrote an excellent letter in response to Mercedes Schneider’s questions. I repeat, as i have in the past, that Randi is a personal friend. We disagree about the Common Core, but that does not diminish our friendship. The fact that Randi engaged in this dialogue shows her willingness to listen to criticism and to respond thoughtfully, as she did. This is a trait I admire. I too have been the subject of harsh attacks, and I usually ignore them. I don’t have enough years left to fight all my critics, so I try to look ahead, not let them pull me down. But Randi chose to engage, and I admire her for doing so.
Many commenters have continued to criticize Randi, and Leo Casey, who has worked with Randi for many years and is now director of the Albert Shanker Institute of the AFT, responds here to the critics:
Leo Casey writes:
Mercedes Schneider’s blog post repeats a false and malicious account of Randi Weingarten’s teaching and, on this basis, accuses Randi of misrepresenting her experience. Her post is a direct attack on Randi’s personal integrity.
It is one thing to criticize, even heatedly and vehemently, political positions; it is quite another matter to engage in unscrupulous personal attacks, as Schneider has done.
What makes this personal attack by Schneider especially offensive is that it is based on a smear mounted by the New York City Department of Education under Joel Klein in retaliation for Randi’s criticisms of its Children First corporate education reforms, a smear that has since been taken up by anti-union forces on the far right.
What makes this personal attack by Schneider inexcusable is that a simple Google search leads one to an open letter from Randi’s supervisors, colleagues and students at Clara Barton High School. The letter refutes this smear and provides insight into how those with direct knowledge of Randi’s teaching viewed it and her. (The full text of this open letter is included at the end of this post.)
I am one of the signatories on that open letter.
I first met Randi Weingarten in September 1987, on the steps of a New York City courthouse. She was counsel for the United Federation of Teachers, and I was a social studies teacher at Clara Barton High School in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. In a saga I have recounted elsewhere in some detail, in 1984 the New York City Board of Education (as it was then called) had begun renovation on the Clara Barton school building—with us in it. After three years of disruption and dislocation, we had returned to our building a few days before it was to open for a new school year and found it filled with debris and a thick layer of dust. I enlisted the White Lung Association and a prominent law firm in our cause, and with their help, a court closed our building. The air and the dust were tested, and friable (loose) asbestos—a dangerous carcinogen when inhaled or ingested—was found. The school building remained closed for two months while a top-to-bottom cleanup and asbestos abatement were completed. I ended up working closely with Randi during a number of court hearings and as she negotiated, with our input, a protocol for the completion of the renovation of our school building. This protocol became the basis of protocols for all subsequent school construction work in New York City.
As we worked together, Randi and I became good friends. We discovered we had a common passion for teaching, and we shared notes on teaching students at Clara Barton and at the Cardozo School of Law, where she had taught. I was something of an evangelist for teaching in an inner-city high school, but Randi was in no need of conversion: She told me that she wanted to teach in a New York City high school, in part because she believed it was very important social justice work and in part because she felt the experience of “walking the walk” of New York City school teachers would make her a better advocate on their behalf. I told her that the Clara Barton staff was grateful for what she had done on behalf of our school, and that we would welcome her to our faculty if her work with the UFT allowed her to teach.
In 1991, Randi took up that invitation and started teaching at Clara Barton. Randi and I co-taught a class in political science, and she taught courses in American history and government, law, and ethical issues in medicine, a public policy course for Clara Barton’s nursing students. The essential facets of Randi’s teaching are addressed in the open letter from her supervisors, colleagues and students reproduced below.
Two accusations repeated by Schneider need to be put to rest. I speak from firsthand knowledge in both instances.
First, the only time during her teaching at Clara Barton that Randi and I discussed her future role in the leadership of the UFT was after Al Shanker became seriously ill with cancer and then passed away in early 1997. Sandy Feldman had taken on the job of AFT president as Al’s successor, and it was clear she could not also continue as UFT president for long. It was only when Sandy had asked Randi to consider standing for UFT president that Randi and I discussed for the first time what she should do. The notion that Randi taught at Clara Barton in order to become UFT president ignores the obvious fact that no one could possibly have known that Al Shanker would be taken from us well before his time.
Second, the “evidence” used to dispute Randi’s account of her teaching was the manufactured product of a personal attack on her mounted by City Hall and the New York City Department of Education. At the UFT’s 2003 spring conference, Randi announced the union’s opposition to the Children First corporate reforms of the Bloomberg-Klein Department of Education. The response from City Hall and Tweed was immediate. Rumors were circulated about Randi’s sexual orientation. Her personal finances were investigated. Neighbors reported that strange men were surveilling and photographing her house. Officials in the DOE passed word that they were being ordered to provide copies of Randi’s confidential personnel files over their objections. Then, two weeks after the UFT’s spring conference, Wayne Barrett published a story in the Village Voice that took up the Bloomberg-Klein cudgels. Barrett wrote that Randi had not taught real classes but was a day-to-day substitute teacher, and that she was absent three days for every day she was present. Using the passive voice, Barrett wrote that “records reviewed by the Voice” were the basis for these claims. We will probably never know what documents were shown to Barrett by the Bloomberg-Klein administration or what they actually reflected, but we do know that the conclusions he printed about Randi’s teaching were entirely false, and that they were part of a smear against Randi conducted in retaliation for the UFT’s opposition to the NYC DOE’s Children First policies.
It is passing strange that those who claim to be the strongest opponents of corporate education reform and who characterize everyone else as weak and vacillating would now be spreading these false and malicious charges. It is beyond odd that self-styled opponents of corporate education reform would be not be focusing on opposition to privatization and austerity, were we would all seem to have common cause, but in mounting personal attacks on Randi Weingarten. If nothing else, it shows their lack of confidence in their own arguments against the AFT’s principled support for the Common Core standards and its strong opposition to the destructive ways in which too many states and districts have implemented them that they have to resort to personal attacks. That’s pretty sad.
To whom it may concern,
We have learned of publications that challenge the teaching record and accomplishments of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, disputing the account provided in her official AFT biography. The allegation is that Randi was a substitute teacher who did not teach regular Social Studies classes at Clara Barton High School from 1991 to 1997. Further, it is claimed that she was never observed or evaluated by the school’s Principal or Assistant Principals.
We were students, professional colleagues and supervisors of Randi Weingarten in the years she taught at Clara Barton High School. We have first-hand knowledge of her teaching, and know that these allegations are completely unfounded.
Those of us who were students of Randi know that she taught us in regular classes, from U.S. History and Government and Advanced Placement Political Science to Law and Ethical Issues in Medicine, and that she was in class virtually every day to teach us. A number of us had the privilege of studying with Randi when she prepared our Political Science class for participation in the national We The People civics competition, and our class won the New York State championship and placed high in the nationals. She gave countless hours, before and after school, on weekends and on holidays, to ensure that we would be able to do our very best. We know Randi to be an excellent teacher, completely dedicated to her students.
Those of us who were professional colleagues of Randi know that while teaching at Clara Barton, Randi taught the same regular classes that every teacher teaches, and that she was in her classes virtually every day. We know Randi to be a master teacher who was supportive of her colleagues. She was a welcome presence in our professional community.
Those of us who were supervisors of her know that like other Social Studies teachers at Clara Barton, Randi’s teaching was observed and she was evaluated by the Assistant Principal for Social Studies and the Principal. We know Randi to be a conscientious educator who was ever mindful of fulfilling her obligations to the young people she taught and committed to the mission of our school and the inner city community it served.
Tamika Lawrence Edwards*
Gail Lewis Jacobs*
Keith William Lee*
Elizabeth Ramos Mahon*
§: Was a Clara Barton teacher or guidance counselor colleague
*: Was a Clara Barton student
¶: Was a Clara Barton supervisor