Teacher unions must adapt, just like all of us


Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily Beast

When President Joe Biden gave his first prime-time speech in March 2021, he shrewdly underscored the one thing that has united nearly all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic: a shared sense of sacrifice.

“We all lost something – collective suffering, collective sacrifice, a year filled with loss of life and loss of life for all of us,” Biden told the nation.

Parents of school-aged children, like me, are among those who have suffered a terrible cost throughout the pandemic and continue to do so.

Many students have not received in-person instruction for a year and a half. “Distance learning” is widely recognized as a dismal failure. In places where schools are now reopened, rigid COVID-19 safety rules of questionable effectiveness have made the typical school experience a shell of itself. The mental and educational consequences imposed on innocent children may never be fully calculated. People are starting to notice.

Despite all of this, parents continue to be told that they have to be flexible, and that’s what we have been.

The Chicago Teachers Union takes children and parents hostage

Most Americans have learned to adapt because COVID and its variants make fun of our plans or our priorities. The coronavirus runs the show. So the masses—poor American workers who work hard every day and pay taxes to fund teachers’ salaries and pensions—learned to make adjustments.

But two years into the pandemic, many teachers’ unions simply refuse to be flexible. They will not adapt to changing circumstances as expected for the rest of us over the past couple of years. Again, people are starting to notice.

I recently wrote a column lambasting the teachers’ unions for orchestrating — after the Christmas vacation — the Chicago School District‘s brief shutdown. Without much warning, the nation’s third-largest school district was shut down when Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey announced that a majority of members had opted into remote learning. Sharkey said the district has failed to make schools and classrooms safe enough for returning teachers.

The Chicago Teachers Union takes children and parents hostage

More than 340,000 students were forced to stay at home for several days. Parents had to scramble, at the last minute, to come up with a plan to watch over their children while going to work at the jobs that support their families.

Ironically, one would think that a branch of organized labor would intuitively understand the value of serving the collective. So much for the so-called partnership between teachers and parents.

Teachers across the country responded to the column by instinctively attacking me. Many have challenged me to step away from my keyboard and spend a day teaching in class.

I went there, it’s done. I was a substitute teacher in a public school for five years in my twenties to support my habit of writing. My wife has been a Montessori teacher and dyslexia specialist for twice as long, and now she is studying to work with students as a speech therapist.

But we’re also parents of three teenagers, so we know what other parents think about the public school system. It’s not good.

What was more troubling was the fact that so many people seemed willing to accept the ludicrous idea that a criticism of a teachers’ union was by extension an attack on rank and file teachers – which my criticisms seemed to imply were beyond reproach.

The answer made me think of the number of Americans who have been conditioned to see unions. Do we view any criticism of police unions as an attack on individual police officers? And do we need law enforcement experience before we can comment on police cases? Certainly not.

Americans need to understand and accept the idea that unions, no matter who they represent, are a creature in their own right, and that they are often effective enough to do what they are supposed to do: protect the interests of their members. , even if they do so harms the interests of society.

And public sector unions, unlike private sector unions, do not negotiate with bosses or companies. Although they serve the public, they negotiate with elected officials whose campaigns are often funded by these same public sector unions.

Technically, teachers work for taxpayers, which means they work for parents. But you would never know, thanks to the outsized influence of the teachers’ unions. Parents have no control over their “employees”.

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Public school teachers and administrators like to claim that parents are full partners in their child’s education. It is above all a device to encourage parents to make sure that their children do their homework.

That’s good, because in this bizarre partnership, the bosses (parents) have no say in whether their employees (teachers) even show up for work in the morning. And when the parent needs help educating their child during the pandemic, while juggling the demands of their job, their partner is often nowhere to be found.

It is no longer an internal affair that the school system must regulate. It became bigger than that and spilled over into the political arena. In the United States, more and more parents believe that they have no control over their children’s education. And for the millions of people who have endured 18 months or more of remote learning, they believe in it even more than before.

It is true that, in the private sector, the unions are in difficulty. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 10.8% of workers in the private sector are unionized.

But, on the other hand, the civil servants’ unions are doing very well. And they will continue to do well as long as they manage to pressure Democratic politicians who want to continue to stay in their good graces. Their members are still incredibly loyal and ready to defend them whenever the unions are attacked.

Whether they accept it or not, teachers – and the unions that represent them – are part of this society. They are part of the collective. They have to start acting like that.

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