June 6, 2020

Children lose in the unionist agenda

Teacher union representatives often remind us that teachers should enjoy the same level of appreciation as other professions.

I agree. Hopefully the unionists understand that their comparative philosophy works for better and worse. They might intend it to lead to higher wages and greater prestige, but it also might cut the other direction too.

If airplanes were crashing daily in America you better believe that pilots, air traffic controllers, and mechanics would be under a ferocious media glare. I doubt the debate would involve much consider about how a fattening America weighs planes down or how criticism of the airline industry hurts the feelings of workers.

If surgery patients had a 1 in 2 chance of dying on the operating table, surgeons and hospitals would find themselves the subject of congressional inquiry. It’s unlikely that the conversation would get stuck on the practices of the parents of patients, or their diets, or how curing illness before patients arrive at hospitals would improve the performance of physicians.

Yet, every day in schools across the country teachers, administrators, and politicians preside over a disaster more dangerous than plan crashes or botched surgeries. The implications of this failure for the lives of children are dramatic enough to equate the phenomena with death by mass malpractice.

I’m clear on the fact that teachers aren’t to be held solely responsible for the failure of children to thrive in general. However, teacher efficacy is the strongest school-based determinant of student performance, which makes teachers fair subjects for school reform discussions.

It also makes the lack of urgency and resistance to change by their unions intolerable. It’s maddening watching them sputter arrogantly through school reform discussions without capably completing sentences that elevate the needs of children over their own.

There is no doubt that effective teachers deserve our respect for the hard work they do and the results they achieve. The work is incredibly difficult. It requires a level of insight and determination that many of us would not be able to sustain. And, as one of the most regulated occupations in America it’s no cake walk even for talented teachers to do their best work.

I empathize with them. However, their is a hierarchy of empathy. Teachers can end their discontent by selecting other occupations. The children at the bottom of the well have no such options. I empathize with them more.

It’s true that far too many children arrive to school everyday without possession of the rote abilities traditionally inculcated by properly functioning families. It’s also true that a superfluity of contrarily devised initiatives, regulations, and non-educational mandates complicate the clear mission of improving student learning.

That is what it is. These self-evident truths existed yesterday and my best guess is they will still be with us tomorrow. The best unionists can do is promote an expectation that learning occurs within the context we live in, not the one they prefer.

For all the smarmy laments about the nobility of the teaching profession, it is possible that teachers play a role in reducing their profession to the status of utility workers.

Teacher supporters can speak in high tongues about the nobility of the teaching profession, but if they ignore the variability of teachers, the unmeasured inconsistency in their practice, and the enormous social injustice that results from not addressing the issue, they are not truly being friends to teachers – or more important, to children.

By resisting reform of collective bargaining and shunning merit-based initiatives, they blur the lines between effective and ineffective performers.

By elevating seniority, tenure, and teacher rights to the level of religiosity while children, parents, and communities fall deeper into social and economic desperation teachers unions become guilty of another crime; narcissism.

Let’s be clear: teachers are not oppressed. Conditions for their work are not ideal but they certainly enjoy lifestyles more luxurious than many of the students they are paid to serve. Marginalized communities are oppressed by the social inequality that is aggravated by the inability of school systems to prepare them.

And, that’s the real rub here. These debates are not about teachers or conservatives or liberals or the rights of white people with jobs, money, health care, due process, running water, home heating that never ceases, protection from personal crimes, options of food, and many of the skin softening properties of middle-class life.

If you are not talking exclusively about the developmental needs of children, and their human rights, and their abuse by systems, then you are not involved in the real debate.

And, yes, if planes are crashing airline workers should brace themselves for aggressive inquiries.

If surgery patients are dying on operating tables in ridiculous numbers medical professionals need to lawyer up.

Finally, if children of color are on greater pathways to jail than college, after years in the K-12 system, teachers had better prepare for us to use our outside voices as we demand change.

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