In principle, I am pro-Union. I know enough of labor history and even of public school teaching history (see Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars if you need a refresher) to know they can be a force for good. I have never fooled myself into thinking they are perfect. Which organization is? I’ve long struggled with the notion that teacher unions are in any way different than, for example, a plumber’s union. Both have an abstract interest in getting people who are bad at their jobs out of the profession (it brings down the reputation of the profession which itself has many ripple effects). But I have struggled with the pressure placed on teacher unions to focus on kids.
It wasn’t popular when he said it, but it’s hard to argue with Shanker —
When school children start paying union dues, that ‘s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.
Goldtein offers a compelling counter-argument, namely that teacher unions are funded with taxpayer dollars.
As we deal with t-shirts that say, “I DON’T WANT TO STRIKE, BUT I WILL IF I HAVE TO,” I want to wonder about whether teacher unions have lost their way a bit. People who count minutes make me nervous. No one wants to be abused, but let us not get bogged down by pettiness. And don’t give me the slippery slope argument; I don’t buy it. In the end, I will say more than we’re all in it for kids (or at least we should be). I will say, if there are no students, we have no jobs. The Union is much more powerful when it’s wielded judiciously and surgically. It needs to present and visible, but when it comes to the small things, let’s not let it be a wedge between “us” and “them.” What happened to “we”? Yes, there are some awful administrators and districts and mayors and governors (what in the world is going on in Illinois?), but there are also awful teachers. How about we back off ‘fighting’ for rights and start ‘advocating’ for them? I am sure there are horror stories. I am also sure that many of us are doing okay.