Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fed Up with Flexibility

Photo of a yogi with his legs up behind his shouldersI know a talking point when I hear one, and the continuous harping on "flexibility" from union-busting governors and legislators is starting to get on my nerves.

They've taken a perfectly lovely word and ruined it.

The Scott Walker-backed law to empower the governor to sell state-owned energy plants is a good example of flexibility run amok. Minnesota former Governor Arne Carlson (a Republican) wrote on his blog about this: "How is it in the public's interest to give such extraordinary power to one person who can dispose of taxpayer-owned facilities without public hearings, without legislative review, and without competitive bids?"

Flexibility is code for "we can do whatever we want, whenever we want." And it opens the door in a big way to old-fashioned graft like this country hasn't seen in close to a century.

Another example of the type of flexibility Walker and his friends want can be found in a piece by the Star Tribune's Lori Sturdevant. She talked with a 90-year-old former teacher who started working in 1942, when teachers had no due process and no collective bargaining rights:

She had to remain single. Marriage was a firing offense. She could not wear slacks to work, not even in the dead of winter.

She was paid $90 a month and was told she had to spend $45 a month to share a bed with another teacher in the attic of a widow's home that functioned as a teachers' boarding house.

[She] was assigned to teach 17 students ranging from fifth through eighth grades. The eldest, a 16-year-old boy, was developmentally disabled.

He caused a discipline problem, for which she was blamed. Soon after the year began, she received a letter from the superintendent informing her that if she could not keep order in her classroom, she would be fired.

In response, Babiracki said, she became very strict.

Soon she was visited by the chairman of the school board, a large, intimidating fellow whose daughter was in her class. He told her she was scaring his daughter, and she had to ease up -- or he would fire her.

She looked for a less stressful situation the next year, and thought she found it in Cromwell, near Cloquet. The new job paid $130 per month, and the ban on marriage was lifted.

But in Cromwell, [she] had 40 students in one room. She was required to join the Lutheran ladies' aid society and attend their dinners.

She was also compelled to join a canasta club organized by school board members, even though she grew up in a household that forbade card games.
Of course, the union-busters will insist no one would be so ridiculous as to return to those types of restrictions and requirements on teachers just because there's no union. This from the same people who have created a ridiculous drumbeat about test scores to fire teachers, ignoring the obvious correlation of poverty and poor test scores. (For more about teachers fighting back on test scores, check out the amazing Diane Ravitch on Talk of the Nation a few days ago. She's also going to be on the Daily Show this Thursday.)

Enough of flexibility. I've got my own talking point phrase: Race to the bottom.

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