Deja voudoun for teachers unions

Jay Greene's attempt to diminish the Wisconsin recall movement and next week's Save our Schools march in Washington is a typical Us vs. Them narrative:

The unions succeed by intimidating politicians with their raw power while convincing the public that teacher unions love their children almost as much as the parents do.  Maintaining this double-game is essential because it disarms parents, media elites, and others who might otherwise mobilize against teacher unions and apply their own direct pressure to politicians.

Liam Goldrick's response:

I've met few teachers who are nearly as angry as Jay himself comes across…. Jay's "mob" is my "democratic gathering"…. It seems that Mr. Greene would prefer that teachers simply shut up.

As a member of both the NEA and AFT, I'm delighted Goldrick responded faster than I could, pointing out that both freedom of assembly and freedom of speech protect teachers' rights to band together. As an education historian, let me just note Greene's amnesia: if there is a high-water mark in local public contention over teachers unions, it would not be now but the 1970s, when NEA's entrance into organizing* led to a large number of strikes in suburban school districts. Strikes are intense local politics, and the outrage Greene articulates looks to me to be thin veneer next to the strong emotions (pro, con, and mixed) regarding strikes that affect your own child's schooling. Unions didn't die then, and they won't die now. 

That doesn't mean that the AFT, NEA, or state and local affiliates are pressure-free. But the stress on teachers unions today is far less related to anything Greene claims than the logical consequence of the mini-depression we're (not sufficiently) recovering from. Even where districts have avoided layoffs, they have done so through retirement and other attrition and generally have smaller payrolls than five years ago. That translates into lower membership rolls (even if density remains the same), and with little to no raises in the last few years, lower dues collections. At the same time, contract enforcement has become more critical, as well as public representation of teachers' views. We call this a budget crunch. 

But neither that budget crunch nor politicians such as Scott Walker or Rick Scott can kill unions. 

* NEA began life in the late 19th century as an organization largely under the control of male administrators, and it remained that way until the 1960s and 1970s, when the growth of the AFT and internal politics pushed the NEA to become a self-identified union. 

One response to “Deja voudoun for teachers unions”

  1. Catherine Lugg

    Uhm…also check out the not-quite hidden sexism anchoring his argument:

    “As long as teacher unions act like Mary Poppins to parents, media elites, and others, the general public is willing to suspend their normal inclination to desire choice and competition in the goods and services they consume. Mary Poppins is an extension of the family and we don’t apply market principles to our family. The family is a refuge from the rough and tumble of the market which is instead governed by a sense of mutual obligations and affection. Where the family ends, the market begins and people think the market needs choice and competition to stay healthy. ”

    Great, all teachers should be female, obedient, perky, and sexless. Jeez. How f*ckin enlightened Mr. Greene is.

    My late Grandmother, Dorothy S. Pearson, who taught English to Jr. and Sr. High students between 1928-1973, would have a thing or two to say on this point, especially on the need for collective bargaining, a unified salary schedule and the right to strike. As a widow with a child (mom was born on October 28, 1929; her dad had died in August of that year), she was paid far less than her male colleagues until the advent of that salary schedule (in NY ca: 1970). Did the market have any other options for Gram as a highly educated female? (fat chance). Did politicians care about her status? No, especially since she wasn’t a “charity case.”

    I’m sick and tired of the “pointy-headed” mystics of educational reform who think teachers’ unions are the spawn of Satan. May they spend the next two years of their lives waiting tables, have NO health insurance, have a malevolent boss, work really crappy hours, and try to raise a kid or two. And yes, it will suck if you’re in your 40s–hey, join the rest of the working class. Perhaps that experience might leaven their analyses.