A recent conversation regarding education ended with a charter school teacher saying to me, “I will join the union, once the union uniformly protests all standardized tests.” I stood there, nodding my head in agreement, while also feeling timid in my heart. I did so, in knowing, that the idea of public education (the democratization of it) and teacher unions collective-bargaining is a right and deserves to remain one.
There is not one part of me that does not support higher pay for teachers, at least partial implementation of tenure, and a strong voice to oppose state law makers, school boards and individual school administrators. However, the reason why I write this post is because of the attention needed and a lack thereof to the voiceless learner. Instead, I am drowning within the protests, the republican Governor press conferences, the state Democratic lawmakers leaving the state, and pundits on all sides claiming heartless individuals on the other side. I mean this, in a holistic sense. This idea that the learner is within all of us, and we all should do our damndest to voice a collective bargaining for learning, first and foremost.
At a function this weekend, a vice-president of a college, stood up and said, “What educational system do we have in America? We took the lecture style one from England, where a professor would stand up and speak on a topic, and the students would then leave, go to the pub and deconstruct the ideas. The only problem? We didn’t bring the pub portion to the states.”
I watch and listen endlessly to political radio and TV, talk about teacher unions, the conservatives asking them to be abolished, as nothing more than a way to protect bad teachers, high pay and wealthy health benefits, and the liberals indefensibly defending teachers as the oppressed, one’s who do their best and have worked their ass off in order to get the benefits they do, while still remaining underpaid, overworked and respected little.
However, what is missing is that neither side speaks to the learning, to the idea that education should be centered on ideas and critical thinking, questioning and exploration. While each side yaps, the learner suffers. The learner becomes voiceless, without a direction, without a pathway, without a believer to stand for them. They need the signs to read, “We stand up for better learning; and we will not harm children, just because we earn a salary.” And a Governor who says, “ We live in a democracy, one in which believes that the best form of learning be put in place, so that the future leaders of our nation can lead intelligently, respectfully, collectively, individually, creatively and through innovation.” We need individuals who demand rights for better learning, before discussing the right to higher or lower pay.
In my humble opinion, and in the opinion of the progressive educators with which whom I’ve discussed this topic; we are never going to support the unions, or the dissembling of them, until one side, or the other, preferably both, decided to collectively bargain for the learner and not for their own interests.
I agree with you in every way on your views and feelings.
But there is a major exception/difference. This isn’t about unions, OR wages, OR about learning.
This is about massive wealth, paid for in great part, to bust the unions, but not for any of the things you’re talking about. When Citizens United was decided by the Supreme Court, only two entities were given the power to spend money freely as “individuals.”
One was massive wealthy corporations. The other, and only thing to stop the takeover, was unions. And now the unions—for better or worse—are going to be beaten. Because the wealthy have decided to make it so.
And that, that, is how we lose our one and only remaining bit of power from the people. When unions are gone, only the wealthy can spend, can influence, and can manipulate. We will be powerless.
That’s what’s going on. Hope you don’t mind me telling my side here. Check into who the Koch Brothers are, check into who finances the union busting in Wisconsin. It’s scary, it’s hideous, and I don’t think we’ll survive it. Best of luck to you.
Thanks for writing Paula. I am familiar with the reality of the protests and the Koch Brothers. However, that is not the point of my post. I think you understand that. The reason why I brought up this post is in part, the association of what is happening in Wisconsin, but it is to think about Teacher Unions on a global and national scale.
To think about, why is the focus on money and not on learning? Why do we always make it us v. them, instead of how we all can critically examine what education is working, what is not and how we can continually progress and improve.
Through all of my research, I have rarely come across state or national teacher unions that speak to the value of education (authentic learning), instead of the value of corporations, unions themselves, pay, supplies, protection, ect.
What really, as educators, should we be protesting first? I understand the rights of individuals and the rights of teachers/unions/public workers and the service they do is important. But, as educators/teachers/thinkers/doers, do we concern ourselves first politically or educationally?
It is about shifting the paradigm, both through the voice of teacher unions and the state and national dept. of education.
I’ve come back again and again…and now I see that we agree! Yes, we must retain that right to bargain. We must retain the right to bargain for the learning, and for the children.
My earlier response was a knee-jerk reaction to the things I’ve been reading and hearing for weeks. I responded too quickly, and without reading carefully.
I hope I’ve fixed that error now. 🙂
And yet I despair. Because I do not think we will win this battle. I do so hope I am wrong.
What serendipitous timing. You replied, understanding me, and I replied understanding you, apparently in the same moment or two! After posting my second note, there was your note, waiting!
I’ll be back often to see what you have to say. I know it will be valuable.
Maybe you could read my post at Almost 60? Really? about “I’m in a Teacher’s State of Mind.” I’m not including links, as I think that is seriously abusing the privilege of communication. Still, though, should you find it, I’d love to debate if you disagree!
I’m going now to see where I can follow you, be it Twitter, Facebook or ???? Thanks for a great hour of thinking. It all counts.
Casey, well said. My primary criticism of the educational unions is they too infrequently take on teaching and learning, and too often resist changes to the structures of the professions without offering compelling counter-visions beyond the status quo. Adult convenience and comfort shouldn’t be the focus of a faculty meeting, let alone a union.
That being said, I share Paula’s concerns about the influence of corporate wealth on government, but I’m hopeful that better models of teaching, learning, and teaching representation will keep our democracy from foundering completely.
I’ll be holding on in hope of all that.
Casey, this has always been a struggle with teachers’ unions. What people rarely realize is that things like better working environments, working hours, and smaller class size help *students* too. I left the District and am now at a charter because my union lost most of its bargaining power, including the right to strike in 2001 when the State took over. As a result we were handed a contract to vote on that pretty much had already been decided. This contract included turning around schools. Now our Superintendent is turning over union schools to be run as non-union charters, essentially ‘busting’ the union. It’s scary, as you state, to think of how powerless we have become. By ‘we’ I mean teachers, parents and students. (On a side note, students in 3 high schools have walked out to protest the turnovers. They were threatened with suspension. Teachers found helping students have been pulled from the classroom.)
I think you are confusing two separate issues: unions and learning. The purpose of unions is to protect the rights of workers in regards to wages, benefits, working conditions, etc. Union dues are paid by teachers to protect their rights and wages. Unions are not directly designed to promote learning or guarantee student rights. Unions are part of the democratic “checks and balances” against big business. Review the history of Carnegie and other robber barons. Sure they donated lots of money to libraries to and created education institutions. Sounds alot like Gates, Broad, and crew to me.
But as Mary Beth has pointed out, positive working conditions and benefits leads (but does not guarantee I admit) to better learning situations for students. These benefits lead to more qualified teachers entering and staying in the field. Other rights such as planning time lead to better learning opportunities. As my dad always quoted a friend who owned a used construction equipment business said, “I can’t afford a $7/hour mechanic. I need a $20/hour mechanic.”
Unions do fight for more funds for education all of the time. Are they self-interested? Sure, but the money goes to many things in schools also.
Lastly, I agree it would be incredible if teachers would rally, protest, and boycott against NCLB, RTTT, and standardized testing too.
BTW “Get up, Stand up” by Marley came up on my Itunes shuffle as I wrote this. #karma
Thanks for the comments and the helpful reminder of where the unions “help” with supplies and create environments for better learning. However, with all due respect, they are on the fringes and are very teacher based, compared to learning base. Also…
I don’t think that I am “confusing” two seperate issues. I think that is exactly the problem, the fact that they have been seperate and been seen as so. I understand that my ideas are differen’t than what traditionally, unions do with corporations or the government, but that is exactly the point. I am not under a disillusionment regarding what is a union, or what is a learning issue, the fact is, I am trying to interconnect these, not confuse them, and this seems to be the division that some have a challenging time understanding.
It is not so much that unions don’t deserve to bargain or that they don’t represent the best of a democracy, in fact, they are the epitome of it, but as educators, we have a specialized part and role to play, and that is to collectively-bargain for learning, and I believe that takes precedents before any personal gain. This is of course is speaking, not only to the unions, but to the government as well.
Politicians redistribute wealth, and in Wisconsin right now, the powers that be are busy giving more to corporations (tax breaks) and creating a state budget problem to be solved by busting the state’s workers’ unions. In the early 70’s as I was preparing to work toward my teacher certification in Ontario, the conservative government run by Premier Bill Davis was adamant about not raising spending ceilings for education in the province. The teacher unions, there were 5 in the province and all teachers belonged to one of them, began gathering promissory notes from teachers, pledges to donate a set amount of money to help defeat the ruling party in the next election. I don’t recall how many thousand were gathered, but the government raised the spending ceilings, and more money was available for bargaining, yes, but also for many other kinds of educational expenditures. Whatever happens in Wisconsin, or elsewhere, as the culmination of all this teacher bashing over the years, I think if teachers could really come together and put a promise of large campaign money on the table, enough of the bashers could be put out of office in the next election. Teachers in this country have not taken a firm enough stand. The idea that any state or city is going to starve schools into excellence is ridiculous. Finland did not achieve their results by reducing the financial commitment to education.
Thanks for your comments and adding to the discussion. I guess, my point isn’t about limiting the amount of money that education takes in, but rather, why is everyone missing the most important point in elections/protests/campaign finance, ect. The ideas. I view your comment as a prime example of this. I talk about the voicelessness of the learner (learning) in all of this mess, and you go straight into a socioeconomical political stance.
I am all for teacher’s having the right to collectively bargain, for pay to be increased ( I never believe that there can’t be enough money in education, although I do think much of that money goes to distraction). I simply pointing out, that the learning itself needs someone or something for it to stand on. Right now it is not the government and it’s not the teacher’s unions.
I hope you don’t think that I am bashing teachers, rather, I am celebrating the unique position they are in, and asking them to grab hold of that position. Part of the major concern, is why does everyone get defensive everytime we talk about ideas? Its at the heart of learning…its always about questioning.
I think a teacher’s right to a living wage commensurate with their education and experience is not an unreasonable demand. The fact that teacher unions in the US have not come out forcibly or at all against high stakes standardized testing is a shame despite members’ attempts to encourage the union to move in this direction. At the same time, to withhold support for unions until they do so in a public manner is unwise. Teacher unions have been successful at doing other things that matter to learning, such as class size. Is class size where we want it? Not necessarily. Is it better at non-union States? Absolutely not. There are a lot of things I don’t like about how teacher unions have dealt with educational issues but without them we have no place from which to fight back. Witness the struggle in Wisconsin it’s a struggle for democracy. Shouldn’t we all be supporting our unions right now?