Just one year ago, after a week of visiting I.S. 201 in East Harlem and talking to community leaders there, this reporter warned that conflicts centering around ghetto schools would mushroom unless teachers and parents could get together. As it turned out, I was understating. The New York teachers’ strike this fall provided a golden opportunity for out-and-out union busters (such as the Board of Ed, the New York Times, and, I’m sorry to say, Mayor Lindsay) to exploit the anger and frustration of Negro parents—and thereby to strengthen the hand of the most destructive “militants.” To be fashionably radical in Fun City this fall season, one had to find the UFT unstylish—cf. the columns of Murray Kempton. The Post and the Times agreed that the teachers were teaching “lawlessness” and “crippling” their pupils by a two-week strike—though they did not suggest another way to obtain the contract provisions the teachers were so clearly entitled to.
Now everyone—including the UFT leadership — is aware that there are teachers in the public schools who should be gotten rid of. But does anyone take seriously—or even report—the UFT’s suggestions for wider recruitment? Is it worth considering that the benefits and classroom conditions the teachers were fighting for would bring teachers to New York?
Granted that the Union was often clumsy in getting its case to the public. It lacks the skill, cash and connections for the high style of public relations practiced by, say, the Ford Foundation or the Center for Urban Education. But since when do people calling themselves “radicals” automatically assume the same position on a strike as our city’s most reactionary elements?