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.