Button, button who’s got the button?

Sean Crall, local president of the East Greenbush Teachers Association, distributes "Respect" buttons to members. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Sean Crall, local president of the East Greenbush Teachers Association, distributes "Respect" buttons to members. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

When I was young, we played a game called “Button, button, who’s got the button?” We’d circle around a person in the middle, who held a button. That person would “pretend” to drop a button into our open palms, with only one person actually receiving the button. Everyone would immediately close their hands after their hands and we would try to guess who had actually been given the button.

respect public education it workIn New York, there is a NEW button game. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his cohorts are the ones in the middle. They get to walk around and tell people to remove their buttons. At least — the ones that say “Respect Public Education: It Works.” The buttons produced by NYSUT.

At least one teacher was asked to remove hers at the governor’s State of the State address last week.

And Sean Crall, local president of the East Greenbush Teachers Association, had to remove his in the governor’s mansion on New Year’s Eve.

Later today, though, he’ll be distributing 300-plus of those buttons to members of his local union at a meeting being held to come up with an action plan to fight  against the governor’s slams and cuts to public education and the teaching profession itself.

Crall promises he’ll even sign the buttons, if his colleagues want.

Crall has been wearing his button daily since he got it at a NYSUT leadership conference last fall. “It’s become a piece of my wardrobe. I wear it every day,” said the English teacher.

But his New Year began with a request to remove the button as he was approaching the governor for an open house “meet and greet” on New Year’s Eve at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. He was with his family; their names had been chosen from a lottery.

“Why would the governor hate a button that says ‘respect?’ Crall asked. “How is respecting public education a propaganda piece?”

Crall had already been through security and passed a number of staff.  Then he was asked to remove the button. He did, not wanting to make a scene in front of his family. “I’m not a provocateur,” he said. “I”m a rule follower.”

But still, he didn’t understand. Until he stepped up to talk to Cuomo, and realized that just by mentioning public education he was pushing the governor’s own buttons.

Crall said he asked Cuomo to be sure to engage all stakeholders in the conversations where decisions are made regarding education. He said Cuomo told him he has a problem with NYSUT and said he — Cuomo — knows what teachers want.

Leaving the governor’s mansion, which Cuomo ironically calls “the people’s house,” Crall was dispirited about what was to come.  And now, the 27-year teaching veteran is trying to explain to his colleagues the precise and punitive repercussions that Cuomo is leveling against teachers, public education, students, school control, etc.

“We need to explain the horrible consequences,” Crall said. “No teacher, especially those linked to state tests, are going to survive teacher evaluations. (Cuomo has proposed that student test scores now make up 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation — up from 20 percent). You are eventually going to get students who don’t exhibit the appropriate growth on the state measurements.”

Right now, superintendents are struggling to develop  budgets without the state budget runs (or estimates of state funding for next year) that have always been provided. Always. As in this in the first time in collective memory people can recall NOT having these budget runs.  Cuomo is threatening that schools will not get significantly more in school aid increases unless the Legislature approves his so-called reforms: teacher evaluation changes; pushing tenure from three years to five; allowing states to take over “failing” schools and others

“This is simple punishment,” Crall said.

As was the button removal. When he got home and read the “fine print” of his invitation to the governor’s — or rather, the people’s — house, there was a statement prohibiting alcohol, firearms or signage. An Internet search for “signage” shows only free-standing signs outside businesses; signs in halls to direct people to a restroom; election signs on people’s lawns. Nothing about buttons.

NYSUT graphic designer Dana Fournier, a member of Professional Staff Association, designed the colorful “Respect Public Education: It Works” button, which features a microscope, a palette and a laptop.

“When I’m designing artwork for something that is small, I have to distill it to be as simple as possible. You only have a few seconds of someone’s attention. The saying that NYSUT wanted is strong and I just simplified it to a few graphics — science, art and technology — the things being targeted right now.”

She said other popular NYSUT button series were small, round buttons that said “It’s What I Do: Inspire.” “It’s What I Do: Vote.” “It’s What I Do:Care.” “It’s What I Do: Teach.”

“People like to wear and collect buttons,” she said.

Well, some people.

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