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Why I Support the Teachers

October 2, 2011

Here is an excellent article in Forbes (of all places) about why this person is supporting teachers and questioning the “Teachers Unions are Bad” mantra that Republicans and even some wealthy liberals have been saying lately.  I am a teacher, I work really hard, ALL the people around me work really hard to help the students that we do.  Teacher’s unions help ALL teachers because without them there would be a rush to privatize education and this would most certainly come at the expense of our children in our classes.  Corporations are concerned with profits, we as teachers are not in this for profits, if we were we wouldn’t be teaching – we are here to help our future generations of this country.

I am going to post some of the article, but I recommend you take the link above and read the entire thing:

Teachers’ unions are often portrayed by their opponents as standing in the way of efforts to reform our schools. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Public Sector Unions Rally Against Proposed Pension Changes In Maryland

In Wisconsin in February of 2011, tens of thousands of protesters descended on the capital, Madison, to protest an extreme union-busting bill aimed at reducing the power of that state’s teacher unions. Ultimately those protests failed, but they were a remarkable display of worker solidarity and middle class organizing. Largely, this was because they involved teachers who remain one of the best organized workforces in the country.

More recently, in Tacoma, Washington teachers went on strike in order to secure slightly smaller class sizes and rebuke a pay cut aimed at closing a shortfall in the district budget. The strike ended recently, with both sides getting some of what they wanted.

I’ve wrestled a great deal with the question of organized labor, especially in the realm of public education. There’s a strong contingent on the right and the left that believes that essentially all of the flaws in our public school system stem from a combination of government inefficiency and union recalcitrance. Some people in the reform movement believe that the only way to affect reform is to sidestep or abolish teachers unions.

Many left-leaning school reformers believe this largely as a last resort. These are typically liberals who believe in public education but have become frustrated with what they see as union resistance to much-needed reforms. There is no doubt that unions oppose many reforms. The question is, should they? Much of the time, I think they should.

Many right-leaning reformers, and some liberals as well, are simply in the business of union-busting, seeking to dismantle a powerful political opponent while ushering for-profit schools in through the side door, and handing out lucrative contracts to political allies in the private sector. For a good example of this second camp, go to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. Or follow Michelle Rheearound the country – to Florida, Nevada, or wherever she is voicing her support for union-busting at the moment.

Right or left, this is essentially the neoliberal approach to school reform. Technocratic, choice-based, with a troubling dose of private, for-profit groups thrown into to the mix. Mayor Bloomberg’s New York schools are a perfect example of technocratic, anti-democratic leadership at the top, coupled with private contractors, high-stakes testing companies, and union-busting advocacy groups working from the ground up.

If I could wave a magic wand I would graft Finland’s model of public education onto our own. And yes, I realize that even drawing close to Finland’s educational successes will take far more than any magic wand could provide.

One problem we face is that our reform movement has become defined by a very specific, narrow set of ideas: choice and testing and tinkering with teacher compensation and benefits. Very little attention has been paid to curriculum, infrastructure, or equitable school funding.

Most importantly, the very, very hard work of education reform will require teachers if we want it to succeed, whereas the current crop of reformers is intent on bypassing the teachers and especially the teachers’ unions. There are not many advocates for our public education system or for the welfare of children who have the organizational structure and commitment that America’s teachers have.

Parents are the only comparable demographic but they are fragmented and are often only temporary activists. No other group comes close.

Big charities, foundations, and other reform groups can leave the field at any time. They have no vested interest save their own interest, for better or worse.

The National Education Association, or NEA, was founded as a professional association of educators in 1857 and evolved into the largest teachers union in the country. The American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, was founded decades later in 1916 and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Both organizations have worked to improve school conditions both for teachers and students for decades. This is important to think about. They are not newcomers to the field. They’ve had their hands deep in the dirt for much of the history of public education.

Yes, we hear stories of unions and union members behaving badly, and these stories will be forever regurgitated to prove that the institutions themselves are to blame. What institution is exempt from this critique? What group of people does not have such members?

A sustained effort to improve and reform our schools will not only require the commitment of the labor force in the here and now, it will require the long-term commitment of teachers both in the field now and those who will come later. Some portions of our education system may need to be reformed, this is very true. Reform should never stop. Progress doesn’t magically happen whilst we twiddle our collective thumbs. But without teacher buy-in no reforms will stick.

Furthermore, without the participation of teachers in the reform process, we risk sacrificing . An even lower-paid teaching force, with fewer benefits and less job security, is what the neoliberal approach to education reform actuallyoffers. It’s not what’s promised: reformers often honestly want to make a grand bargain between job security and teacher pay, offering more of the latter for less of the former. But we know how these things work. Once they take away job security and collective bargaining rights, what’s to stop them from taking away pay, benefits, and everything else?

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