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Teachers have left their calling for the mantle of political activism

February 20, 2011

I resisted the pressure from the CTA, the CFT and the UTLA to join their ranks.  I have always had a distaste for unions because I believe  an organization for teachers which is about politics and coercion seems counter-intuitive to the profession of teaching, which is very much about trust, proper examples, and gentle but firm leadership.

The only thing the teachers protesting in Wisconsin are doing is revealing their true contempt for the public whom they are supposed to serve.  The images and sound bites are irrefutable evidence that the protesting members of teachers unions in Governor Scott Walker’s state are thuggish, spoiled, unprofessional, and embarrassingly disconnected from those whom they “teach.”  I have been in education for a lot of years and I got my start as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s.  I always resisted the pressure from the CTA, the CFT and the UTLA to join their ranks.  I have always had a distaste for unions because I believe  an organization for teachers which is about politics and coercion seems counterintuitive to the profession of teaching, which is very much about trust, proper examples, and gentle but firm leadership.

Wisconsin was one of the states which, in November of last year, elected a Republican governor as well as a Republican majority in the state legislature.  The sentiment of most people in Wisconsin is that the state is in trouble, spending is out of control, taxes are too high, and public-sector unions, with their demands for increasingly high wages and big benefits packages, wield too much power and suck way too much money out of state and local budgets.  Scott Walker, in seeking to eliminate the collective bargaining power of the teacher’s unions, is simply doing the job that he was elected to do a few months ago.  But for some reason, the protesting teachers in that state are beyond reason.  Those individuals paid an average of over $55,000 per year (with 12 weeks off for Summer break and with benefits that nearly double the dollar value of their compensation) to teach children how to think and be good citizens, cannot themselves reason or behave like good citizens.

The teacher’s unions and other state employees’  protests in Madison against Governor Walker’s proposed budget cuts, which ask for modest increases in the amount of money state employees pay towards their own pension funds and benefits in order to help close a $3.6 billion gap, started on Valentine’s day and are continuing through this weekend.  The unions have openly solicited for help to swell their numbers from other parts of the country.  The most shameful and detestable tactic they have used is to herd children, mostly middle and high schoolers, out of their classrooms to join in the protests.  Most of the children have no idea what the protests are about.  To them it is a field trip to the capitol.  But it is a dereliction of the honor and duty of the teaching profession. And those teachers who have used students in such disgusting way should be without a job come February 22.  The derelict teachers are scheming their way out of culpability, of course.  There are confirmed reports that people posing as physicians are making fake “doctor’s excuse” slips available to teachers and other state employees who are absent while protesting  for extended periods of time.

I volunteered to work as a substitute teacher through the California teacher’s union’s strikes of 1990.  The Los Angeles Unified School District was actually offering “combat pay” to those willing to take the risks of crossing picket lines.  We were not allowed to park our cars at the schools because they would be vandalized by the striking teachers.  Those of us substitute teachers hardy, or dippy, enough to show up at work were bussed from a central location to the various schools.  Our buses were pelted daily with eggs, rocks, and any other crap the striking teachers could get their hands on.  A number of buses were actually fired upon.  No shooters were ever identified because, within the ranks of the protesting teachers, rule number one was loyalty to the union.  All other bets were off.  A few substitute teachers were assaulted on their way to work.  We were not allowed to work at a particular school for more than a day or two because the possibility existed that we would be identified and our homes and property threatened by the striking teachers.

I saw during those strikes a side of professional unionized teachers that I could not have imagined existed.  Ordinarily congenial, regular people, became loud, obstreperous, violent, irrational, and dangerous.  The teacher’s unions rely upon the most base and evil impulses of their members bubbling to the surface.  They are incited to hysteria and hate. I believe any individual capable of unleashing such ugliness in the name of a negotiating point or a political cause, has no place in the classroom influencing the malleable and sensitive minds and spirits of children.

I was once enticed to join the teacher’s union here in my Western Colorado town.  The carrot was discounted ski passes. I was sorely tempted.  But when I grabbed the paperwork to apply for membership I was struck with a feeling of heaviness, like when one is on the cusp of doing wrong and the spirit gives a palpable warning.  I refrained, forgot the discounted ski passes, and the dark feeling promptly left.  Now I can’t say that joining a public-sector union is equivalent to selling your soul to to Mephistopheles, but I will say that it is contrary to my best instincts and teacherly virtues.  I am a teacher because I desire to impart knowledge and wisdom to minds who need sober, loving guidance. Teaching is hard work, it requires one’s full devotion, and one’s full being.  I may blog and participate as a political activist during my off hours, but my profession as an educator is not an opportunity to flex my political muscle to force taxpayers to meet my unreasonable financial expectations.

So I say shame on the teacher’s unions in Wisconsin, California, and nationwide, who sacrifice the needs of the classroom for their selfish interests.  Too long students and parents have been held hostage by mediocre teachers in bad schools in decrepit districts.  It is the teacher’s unions that have invariably opposed school choice and voucher programs.  School choice is a threat to them and so they use their political weight to defeat legislation and local programs that free up public monies to be used by the most needy students in private and charter schools.  Teacher’s unions harm the quality of education by deflecting accountability and making it nigh impossible to expunge crappy educators.  The evidence is clear; the American public school system has only deteriorated since teachers started unionizing in 1916. (The NEA formed in about 1857 but only as a professional association.  It did not unionize until decades later.)

I am a public school teacher and I oppose public-sector unions.  I make a modest but stable living.  I get 12 weeks off work for Summer break.  A lot of teachers work a second job during the summer months, which increases their yearly wages by quite a bit.  My benefits are on a par with most employees, private and public.  I have no complaint.  This is 2011, the economy is in the tank, people are hurting throughout this country and to many a stable job is a coveted prize.  This teacher is grateful to have what I do.  I am most grateful to share my skills, love, devotion, and experience with my students, who deserve a teacher who sees education as a calling, not a tax-payer funded buffet.

Wisconsin striking teachers exploit students

Madison Madness by Larry Kudlow

Teacher’s Unions exposed

Unions are Not for Workers:Thomas Sowell

  1. Scott Yagemann

    Great points, Marjorie. I was there in 1990 with you. I got harrassed but no one shot at me. Thank God. You are a great example to all the teachers out there. You teach the facts (which seem to change on a daily basis). I once overheard a teacher tell his class that if Lincoln were president today he would be a Democrat. Why would a teacher editorialize like that? I used to see it all the time. If you want to have a debate about the issues, fine. But don’t take sides. And don’t use your students and their pliable minds to fit your cause. Thanks for being a good teacher. Very well written piece.

    • Thanks Scott. I think there are a lot of teachers out there with conservative values but they often feel alone or intimidated. Usually if you stand up to a bully they will back down.

  2. AZPublicSchoolMom

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. It is a shame that the teachers who typically talk the loudest have a much weaker message. I am worried about public education as it seems to be taking artillery from many directions: charters/privatization and nationalization of standards/assessments/curriculum particularly. Please watch a 4 minute Heritage Foundation video on the subject of Common Core Standards Also troubling is the longitudinal data system tracking students’ information (more than you can believe) from preschool through the workforce. Privacy is required “except as permitted by federal and state law.”

    • Reagangirl

      Yes, as a special educator I am already bombarded with processes and procedures that have nothing to do with instruction. I would like to see a return to the basics of academic instruction, reasoning skills, and citizenship. I have been working with the office of my US rep. to pass on simple suggestions for decreasing some of the liabilities and paperwork involved in SpEd. Number one is a “parental responsibility” clause in the IEP. Anyway, that’s for another time. Thanks for the video link.

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