Saturday, September 15, 2012

Killing Teacher Unions Dooms Good Teachers

Teachers are workers, as vulnerable to the selfish, vicious whims of management (adminisitrators) as anyone on an assembly line.
The difference is that the "product" that teachers need a union's help in order to protect is not widgets, it's children.
I keep hearing about how difficult it is to fire "bad" teachers and they should be able to get rid of tenure and union guarantees so the kids don't suffer. I wonder how many people understand that "bad" is in the eye of the beholder?

Let me tell you about my brother-in-law, a highly educated high school English and Drama teacher who teaches in Alaska. He assigned a book of Native Alaskan tales to senior students which included a vaguely sexual allegory. This is a school district with a a substantial subculture of conservative evangelicals, many of whom are extremely active in the district and have a slight majority on the school board. One of the parents complained. My brother-in-law went through months of harassment and nearly lost his job. It was the union that saved him.

You see, what you think of as bad teachers -- lazy, uninterested, whatever -- is not necessarily what other people think of as bad teachers. They want to be able to fire my brother-in-law with no recourse because he assigned a book that offended them. And I'd imagine some would like to fire a teacher who teaches evolution or Shakespeare too without having to deal with all that difficulty that a union requires. This was why academics and teachers fought for tenure in the first place.

I realize that the "teaching to the test"/evaluations issue is different. But the effect of breaking the teachers unions --- which is what this is fundamentally about, just ask Ed Rendell --- will result in "good" teachers being endangered in exactly the same way as everyone seems to want for the "bad" teachers.

If union bashing is supposed to be about what's good for the children, I think people need to think a little bit more deeply about what this really means.
Earlier, she advised:
Here, read this lovely essay by Corey Robin about why people hate teachers. Read this piece by Rick Perlstein about what's really happening in Chicago. And read this Mother Jones explainer so you'll know when elitist jerks like John Heileman go spouting off half cocked.

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