I know unions are often vilified as the unjust protector of the lazy, incompetent, shiftless worker. Especially when it comes to public sector unions. And it’s particularly fashionable to blame teachers unions such as the Chicago Teachers Union for poor performance of schools and students, especially thanks to liberal movies like Waiting for “Superman.” There are times when it is true that unions protect bloating, ineffeciency, or bad workers, but those few cases are stymied out of proportion. The enemy isn’t the unions. No, in fact, they protect against growing inequity, and in the case of education unions, against the corporatization and privatization of education. They protect against the current tides that would turn our students into commodities – a tide that we see is unrelenting in the post-secondary world with overwhelming debt to an increasingly costly higher education.
Rather, the enemy is a mindset that says most of our children are not welcome to the education that the wealthy kids in the wealthy regions have. The enemy is a mindset that places high “accountability” on teachers to bring test scores of students with high stress levels, with malnourished stomachs, in overcrowded and underresourced schools up to par with wealthy, well-fed, well-regulated students with private tutors and classes no larger than fifteen a piece. Our children are taught to the test. Wealthy children are taught to succeed. I’m not hating, it’s just that we need that as well.
The enemy is a system that takes what little money goes to working class and black/brown students and sucks it out through the Industrial Testing Machine to “assess” what students are learning through worthless and disenfranchising bubblesheets – bubblesheets that teachers spend the better part of the year teaching their kids how to fill correctly so they’d have a chance to allow the school to not be drastically defunded.
No, the union member who is teaching my daughter how to read and add in English and Spanish is doing a fantastic job. Because she has some protections. And she is being compensated decently for it as well – not as high as should be. But decently. As should be.
I worry about the next few years, as my daughter will have to – in order to meet national “standards” that unions are trying to fight against even as the administrators shout “Do not resist!” – conform more and more to testing apparatuses that stifle intellectual curiosity.
The main problem isn’t the unions or their pensions. The main problem is that teachers are not encouraged to educate in a cooperative and meaningful fashion – but compelled to conform to normalizing and competitive corporate powers.
That’s what propaganda like Waiting for Superman is about. Diane Ravitch:
It bears mentioning that nations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. Those who insist that poverty doesn’t matter, that only teachers matter, prefer to ignore such contrasts.
If we are serious about improving our schools, we will take steps to improve our teacher force, as Finland and other nations have done. That would mean better screening to select the best candidates, higher salaries, better support and mentoring systems, and better working conditions.