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          THE TORCH:  December 2003

THE BOTTOM LINE

     Hugh M. Spoljaric, President

              Kingston Teachers’ Federation

                                  JUSTICE

     The Greeks were one of the first societies to openly discuss virtues. Aristotle believed that all virtues lie somewhere between two vices. Justice, like a rose between two thorns, lied between the vices of cruelty and softness. And, if justice is a virtue, then it would need to have a vice, and the vice would be injustice. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “It is good to be fair with others. It is evil to be unfair to others.” Both of these are qualities that an individual can have. Justice alone cannot make a man good, since he could be unjust to himself or evil in actions that do not affect others. Therefore, justice is the virtue at work in actions dealing with others, when those actions are in line with right reason. There is harmony when reason and justice guide one’s decisions.

     And, we come to the discussion of exactly what is the virtue of justice. Is there justice, is there fairness, or is it possible that life is just not fair and there is no justice? And, as a virtue, does justice pertain only to the individual, the just person, or is there social component of justice? And, are all virtues supposed to be in harmony and never to clash?

    Socrates died in Athens in 399BC. His student, Plato, concluded that democracy was a corrupt and unjust form of government. Plato formed an academy aimed to educate future Greek leaders to use reason and wisdom in ruling. It was then that Plato wrote his most famous work, The Republic. In it, he attempted to design an ideal society and government that were free of injustice and conflict and were in harmony!

     Greek dialogue focused on two questions: What is justice and why should an individual act justly? In their discussions, one character declares that justice is whatever is in the interest of the powerful who rule the state. In other words, might makes right! Socrates disagrees and argues that justice requires rulers to act in the interest of their subjects like a doctor and his patients. Justice brings harmony to a society rather than conflict.

     Another character argues that people only act justly out of fear. He tells the story of Gyges, a shepherd who discovers a ring that makes him invisible. Given his new power, he sneaks into the palace, seduces the queen, and murders the king. Gyges continues his life as a just person when visible, but also benefits from his unjust acts when invisible. The character states that most men would act this way. They would reap the benefits of injustice and of being seen as a just person.

     Socrates answers that such a person would not be at peace with himself.  He would have lost his most precious possession—his integrity. He would have harmed his soul and that would be the worst thing that could happen.

     Socrates says it might be helpful in thinking about justice to look beyond individuals and look at the bigger picture of what makes a ‘just state’. Of course, he believed that the intellectuals were the most just and should rule. He saw a democracy as nothing more than a popularity contest where freedom is supreme, but the laws are not obeyed and chaos results. Then, leaders will pander to the wants of the people. To restore order, the citizens of a democracy vote a tyrant into power. Tyranny then steals the freedom of the people.

     Justice must occupy some middle ground between behavior that is excessive and behavior that is deficient. In essence, hitting the point. Is that what we mean by fairness? In fairness, do people get exactly what they deserve…no more and no less? Can we perfectly match people and their actions and receive perfect harmonious justice?

      Justice is required because a good and functioning society requires the presence of justice—as long as people trust that justice will be done, they will trust each other and the system.    

     So, what is justice? Is it what is right for the time and moment? Could the just act of today be seen as an unjust act tomorrow? Is it a balance between the individual on the left side of the scales of justice and the society on the right side of the scale?

     Is justice doing one’s own business? Is it equals treating equals equally? Is justice a compromise of sorts, somewhere between advantage and fear? People understand, as did Gyges in The Republic, that being unjust is often to their advantage. However, they also fear being the victim of injustice.

     There is a difference between the virtue of justice and the act of justice. The act of justice is to render to them what is due them within the context of civil society.  The virtue of justice is a habitus or inclination by which they will tend towards choosing that which is right; the proper good in any situation. It is a habit of the soul that advances the social good. And, the virtue of justice is done with pleasure. According to both Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, if we are pained in any way in performing a just act, then we do not truly possess the virtue of justice.

     Civil society is concerned with making unjust people act justly towards each other. Justice in society is primarily concerned with the external act and not with the internal deposition of the person acting. Government and laws are charged with making this happen. The habituation of just action forms the character of its citizens by encouraging them to do what is right and to do it with pleasure.

     And, that’s the Bottom Line.

 

                          RETIRING IN JUNE?

     A reminder that all teachers who are planning on retiring at the end of this school year and are eligible for the retirement incentive are to submit a non-binding letter of their intentions to the district by January 1, 2004. (See contract p. 17-18). A binding letter is due to the district by March 30, 2003.

                             RIP ELIGIBILITY

     This note is a reminder that Teachers, who by June 30, 2004, will be in the first year of eligibility for retirement with full benefits, are entitled to the Retirement Incentive provided for in Article III, Sec. 10 of the collective bargaining agreement if they have 10 years of service in the district.

     ESP members, according to their collective bargaining agreement, have to give six (6) months notice for their Retirement Incentive.

     IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK, WALKS LIKE…

     Recently, It has been brought to the attention of the KTF that the district seems to be bargaining with individuals and groups regarding unit work. Under the Taylor Law of New York State, the KTF is the recognized group to do all bargaining.

     Therefore, when you are asked to perform work, ask yourself these questions. (1) Is this teacher (or ESP) unit work that belongs to our group? (2) Is this work in addition to our established work?

     If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then the district must bargain it with the KTF. The district may not dictate to you what the pay will be. This includes any work that is stated to be grant funded. It doesn’t matter! What matters is that all additional work, hours, compensation, terms and conditions, etc. must be bargained with the KTF. It is in violation of the Taylor Law to bargain with individuals or with individual groups.

     Bring any concerns to the attention of your building rep immediately.

 

 

      YOU’RE SO VALUABLE, IMPORTANT,

                  yada, yada, yada!

     Four years ago, when the first of the state tests became a graduation requirement, teachers of English, Social Studies, and Math were trained for the double scoring of the exams. The KTF saw this as increased work and demanded to bargain the teacher unit work. Each year, in January and June, teachers who scored kept a time log and they were compensated for any additional hours. Last January, when a demand to bargain was presented, the district promised to get to it and never did. The same happened for the June exams. Promises, but no action from the district.

     Finally, on October 7, the KTF met with the district (Greer Fischer and their attorney) on the issue. It was to be presented to the Board at the Nov. 5 meeting. It never happened. It was presented at the December 3 meeting and the district is refusing to pay up.

     Grievance Chair Suzanne Jordan has filed a grievance. Obviously, our work is valuable and important, but not appreciated.

     This grievance is one of several filed against the district. The KTF has not lost any of the grievances.

        LIBRARIES: SECRETARY SHORTAGE

     The libraries at Miller, Bailey, George Washington, and Edson have suffered with reduced hours and reduced student contact time since the beginning of the school year. The district cut secretaries and typists from the budget and, even when state monies were restored, never restored the positions.

     Teachers and ESP in those buildings should notify parents and the PTA of this situation that directly impacts learning. Despite repeated appeals to the district administration, the problem continues.

                            SICK BANK…LAST CALL!

     Although the elementary and middle schools responded well to the Moore Days Sick Bank Drive, the high school still has 35-40 teachers who have not applied. This is a LAST CALL to any teachers who have not responded. See a Building Rep and fill out a form. Send the form DIRECTLY to Glenn Gallagher at George Washington School. It must be received by Thursday, Dec. 18.

 

                               BLOOD DRIVE—SUCCESS!

     Members of the community came forth to support the KTF Blood Drive on Wednesday, November 19, at the Bailey School. A total of 50 pints of blood were collected. Congratulations to all who donated of assisted at the Drive.

                   ELIMINATING JOBS?

    There are two disturbing issues that have recently come about and could affect KTF members.

     The first involves the statewide reorganization of the middle school curriculum. 7th and 8th grade Home and Career Skills may be on the cut list. If it is, it could also affect the Family and Consumer Science program at KHS. Both of these courses provide ‘real world’ practical skills for a vast number of students in the community.

     Secondly, the district has begun to refer to School Nurse teachers as members of the Health Department rather than as Nurses. SNT’s are beginning to feel that they are being nudged out of their positions by having elementary classroom teachers be responsible for the new curriculum.

     These are two small departments that need the assistance of all members. Please contact teachers in both areas and ask, “How can I help?” Remember, we are all in this together!

 

                              MEDICARE OVERHAUL

    Although Congress approved the Medicare overhaul that includes a flawed prescription drug plan and threatens the health benefits of millions of retirees, the battle over this program is just beginning.

     The drug plan goes into effect in 2006. The Medicare privatization scheme begins in 2010.

     The Plan: Educate members about the importance of electing a President and Congress that will protect workers and retirees. It is widely felt that the AARP betrayed its members by endorsing the legislation. All of New York’s Republicans voted FOR the legislation while all of the state’s Democratic representatives and the two Senators voted against.