Deviance credits and paying attention to the work of work

Some other union members (from K-12 locals) have criticized my last post which points to the excessive absences of Central Falls high school teachers as something that undermines the efforts of K-12 and other unions outside Central Falls defending their jobs when they were scapegoated last winter. The latest Providence Journal article (from yesterday, which also links to other recent stories) makes it clear that the Rhode Island affiliate and the national AFT are defending the teachers as a group from the allegations of excessive absenteeism but that the record is supporting that defense in part, not fully.

A vigorous defense is part of the public job of a union, and I have no problems with my dues being used to defend the Central Falls teachers again this year. But  I'm also sorely disappointed at the teachers who are absent without long-term medical issues, because it does make the job of their local, state affiliate, and the AFT more difficult, in part because of the time and resources spent and in part because second chances need to be taken up with vigor and an understanding of what can undermine a second chance. Either no one sat down the teachers after their jobs were saved to explain that their behavior this year was going to be under a microscope or a number of the high school's teachers had not paid attention to that fact. That does not mean that all the high school teachers at Central Falls have been persistently absent, but enough have that it's creating a problem for the entire group of teachers. 

Some years ago, a friend told me she explains to graduate students and colleagues the concept of deviance credits. Some years ago, a set of dialogues between Ira Shor and Paulo Freire explained the concept of deviance credits (or that's the discussion I'm aware of), and it's essentially this in an applied sense: you earn the right to be a pain in the butt on occasion by staying within the rules most of the time. You earn your deviance credits by doing your job, and in return an organization is going to give you more leeway to dissent. Someone who is a constant dissenter within an organization, who skirts well-understood and defensible rules, and who does not contribute to the organizational whole in visible ways is going to be in trouble at work, no matter how often the person claims that any action taken by the employer is retaliation for dissent. 

The situation at Central Falls is not the same. The teachers at Central Falls did not put a bullseye on their back in the same way as someone who's a constant noodge can. But the principle is still applicable: the teachers needed to pay attention to the highly visible institutional context of their situation, and to the consequences of failure to pay attention not only for each teacher individually but the perception of the school faculty as a whole. That's deeply unfair, but it is reality. 

2 responses to “Deviance credits and paying attention to the work of work”

  1. Jonathan

    “The teachers needed to …”

    Completely unfair. You demanded an apology of the faculty as a whole, and now you are holding each teacher responsible for each other teacher? No. You don’t have that right. And to the extent you have a voice that is listened to, you should be ashamed to lending it to the service of Duncan and Gates.

    How can you think that being out sick is a conscious act? Working in a school that is being defunded, having programs destroyed, has its disciplinary system overwhelmed, or, yes, is being threatened with being shut, all of these are demoralizing. I worked in one of those places, and watched the number of subs (long and short term) and coverages jump.

    When things go bad people feel bad. Do you think there is a Central Falls teacher who is planning to screw the system or screw their supporters? But put yourself in a hopeless situation. Give all the control over your fate to outside forces. And then just watch.

    This has nothing to do with “deviance credits.” This is a war, and we have victims on our side. And the non-neutral/faux-neutral media continue to kick them when they are down. And something made you want to join in?

  2. MaryB

    Teaching in the best of circumstances with good administrators and at a respected school is stressful. Add to that stress the testing not teaching of NCLB with its surreal expectations that in 2014 that every child in your school regardless of their circumstances will pass a test devised for huge sums by the likes of Pearson. I cannot imagine what the teachers at Central Falls are going through right now with all the finger pointing and divide and conquer battles raging around them.
    As a parent and a teacher I want my child to be in a classroom where they are supported when they need help and given credit for their hard work in a loving community. Do the proponents of Trickle Down economics who are working hard to profit from our public shcools really think the cruelty being inflicted on school staff and the finger pointing and infighting will not trickle down to the children in the classroom? If Mr Dorn really wants to improve education for American children he will help build supportive school communities not blame and divide.