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Monday, November 10, 2014

Teacher Unions: Throwing Huge Money at Politicians

"American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) President Randi Weingarten recently revealed that her union spent over $20 million on election campaigns this cycle in order to elect politicians who defend an indefensible status quo that she’s partly responsible for.

"The other big teacher union, the National Education Association (NEA), pledged up to $60 million, making teacher unions among the biggest campaign contributors this election cycle.

"The NEA ranks fourth and the AFT thirteenth on the list of biggest 
overall campaign contributors of the last 25 years."

(Richard Berman. "Do the Math: Teacher Unions Spent $80 Million on 2014 Elections." 
Fox News. November 06, 2014)

As a teacher, I began my career as a union supporter, and I continued to belong to the NEA for many years. During that time, I held office in the local organization and served as a member of the Negotiations Team. I continued to support the local chapter and pay my dues each year. I guess you could say I was a happy member who felt the union was necessary for insuring the best interests of my profession.

Then, I began to question some of the political views and educational issues my dues helped support. It seemed to me that union representatives always had a large political agenda that often clashed with my personal views. I began to feel that too little union money and too little union attention went to local organizations while much of it went directly to national political interests.

You can guess the rest. I declined membership for the remaining years of my career. I was not comfortable paying dues for so little representation. I took no offense that the union operated in my district: I merely did not want to put my hard-earned money into directions for which I had absolutely no interest. I was tired of the union telling me whom I should vote for and what issues I should support.

All politicians claim to be "for" education. It is politically correct to do so, and being for education also begs the support of a large voting base. The problem is that many politicians offer mouth service without ever intending to give so much as a drop of supportive action. Promising attractive reform and better pay for teachers, office seekers from both parties campaign for educational platforms. But, to be honest, the winners most often put their fight for meaningful aid to education to bed the day after elections and let it rest there until the next election campaign.

In the meantime, unions, lawmakers, universities, and even State Education Departments hash and rehash educational "fixes" ad nauseam as they reinvent the age-old, perpetual wheel of teaching theory. The problem is that simple practice is generally ignored.

Teachers work in real environments, not in perfect laboratory settings. They are in front-line trenches dealing with rigid demands imposed by such ridiculous concepts as silly "no child left behind" curricula, unrealistic goals of student achievement, the dramatic overemphasis on standardized testing, uncompromising lockstep learning standards, and an ever-increasing number of bothersome clerical tasks that chase the impossible achievement of total accountability.

Considering the loss of precious resources -- preparation time, material aids, and actual class time for instruction -- teachers are fortunate to survive to fight another day. The best use of money to help education is spending that directly affects the quality of education a teacher can provide for his or her classroom instruction and his or her students' success. And, to me, that is not giving a boatload of money to lobbyists and politicians.

I have heard it said that no business could survive if it was run like states run public education. I have read the polls that show American students now rank 17th internationally in reading, 20th in science, and 27th in math. Elective classes are being phased out. Johnny and Jane need more computer science and technical instruction. Asian students are so much more intelligent than American kids. Woe is me! It's the end of the world, and the sky is falling!

Shut up!

If the practice of teaching were left to educated, capable, intelligent classroom instructors, American education would experience a noticeable improvement in a very short time. Teachers need to be free to teach creatively their subject matter, and their students need to be given creative resources to assure that they will partake, chew, and digest pertinent information. Shortcuts and insane pressures detract from quality education. Good teachers realize that reasoning skills and time for extension build retention. They also realize too much of their time is spent doing chores to satisfy administrative demands.

In my opinion, here is the bottom line about membership in the National Education Association:

* Teachers join to protect themselves from termination due to mistakes or to misconduct.

* Teachers join because the NEA is the recognized bargaining agent for their negotiations with school boards.

* Teachers join because some members pressure them to "give their fair share" to local chapters.

As far as the lofty political concerns of the NEA, most seasoned educators could care less because they have heard all the promises before, probably bought into the pledges for reform, and then wound up sorely disappointed that one of the biggest unions in the country couldn't effect sweeping change in their local district.

It all amounts to the same old game of "gimme money" then discovering any significant gains go to the organization itself or to sustaining future political lip service. Education is a "people business," not a political play toy. It makes me furious to think about the tremendous commitment of good teachers and the fact they are forced to play politics in order to keep their jobs and to instruct children to develop independent thinking skills. The irony is too much to bear.

The AFT and the NEA both have the potential to be educational game changers. Instead, the organizations are unions with union mindsets forged through political wranglings. I understand that this is the American way of initiating needed change. However, waste and inefficiency on the highest levels prevent the unions from being recognized as important influences.

Besides, everyone knows "when you can't do anything else, you can still teach," right? I mean all we're really talking about are teachers, those ineffective babysitters who have their summers off and still get paid for it. Can you believe they think they deserve greater pay and better benefits? I bet they also think they have been burdened with the responsibility to teach our children all their social skills, all their ethics, all their manners, all their values, how to read and write, and all their other basic educational necessities.

Duh ...

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."

 ~Thomas Carruthers

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