I Reserve the Right to Take Your Rights
Public Unions are a touchy topic. Following the bill and the protests revoking collective bargaining in Wisconsin, many states with conservative governors tried to enact similar legislation. Public Unions stop government from making necessary budget cuts to reduce deficits, they plead.
Their efforts have met mixed success, from the removal of collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the complete failure to remove it in California, to more compromised versions like the bill in Illinois which requires a 75% vote to strike. We move in the direction of compromise. Unions don’t have to worry about their complete destruction, but the government will closely watch their activities from now on.
Whoever said Tyranny of the Majority?
I haven’t come here today to recap “this year in labor news”. I’ve just come here to say: Yes, Unions are needed, especially for teachers. Teachers too often have their back to a wall. Parents, Politicians, and Administrators might occasionally support teachers, but at the end of their day we must look after ourselves. Parents will always be looking out for their children. Politicians will be looking out for their office. Administrators will be looking out for their own job. So, teachers have to look after teachers.
But What About the Children?
How would this situation improve if we removed collective bargaining? I hear that Unions “hurt the children”. Whenever teachers gathertogether to strike we tell them that they’re being selfish. We tie the noose of social responsibility around teachers’ necks.
We say that you cannot desire things like sane hours, proper funding and proper pay because trying to get those things will damage the students they teach. Maybe the day a math teacher doesn’t teach math will damage a students ability to do math, but we do more damage by creating an atmosphere in which teachers are persecuted and students feel undervalued.
I’ll confess that unions haven’t always pleased me. The teachers unions have rested on their laurels for some time now, and they just recently started discussing ways to improve the educational system, mainly in response to attacks such as those in Waiting for Superman. But there’s enough neglect to go around: the lack of any real investment in improving public education is not a fault reserved solely for Unions.
Administrators look for quick fixes to improve test scores to the point of just making them up. Politicians won’t enact policies that might fix structural problems that contribute to poor educational quality like poverty and cultural bias, and instead look for magic bullet fixes for education itself such as high-stakes tests, or teacher evaluations attached test scores. Parents share the blame as well, from everything from contributing to the idea that unions “defy the taxpayers” to the simple act of advocating for their own child for honors classes without realizing the existence of tracking in school hurts all but those few “honors” kids.
The problems are large, and few people seem actually invested in fixing them. This is the time when teachers unions can really step up. Now that their very existence has been threatened they need to not only show that they are necessary to protect teachers who would otherwise be bullied, but also that they can take the lead in the improvement of education. Most of all they need to be vocal in this. Now is the time that they can reclaim not only their former place, but a far better place in the history of education in our country.