La Cima Middle School Homepage  Forty years ago, a debate raged among public school teachers in New York State over the question of whether to affiliate themselves with labor unions. 

The debate essentially centered on the issue of whether teaching was a profession or a trade.  A compromise was reached with a semantical subterfuge when many teachers opted to continue calling their locals “federations” or “associations,” thereby retaining the illusion of professionalism, and joined the New York State United Teachers, “a union of professionals.” 

Forty years ago, the American public education system produced graduates who could read, write, cipher, and think.  Granted, we didn’t accomplish those goals as well as our forebears had but they didn’t have to compete with television and cultural and sexual revolutions.  Still,  we did a pretty damned good job–as contrasted with educators today. 

Was the unionization of education the only cause in education’s transparent  decline? 

Not at all.  Many teachers were already members of de facto unions which represented them in  the same way they are represented today.  Also,  there are various outside influences on kids today which were present forty years ago but which hadn’t yet fully blossomed into the negative forces they are now. 

And cell phones, iphones, Blackberries, smart phones, personal computers, and the Intenet didn’t exist.   

Are teacher labor unions necessarily a bad thing?  Again, not at all. 

Teachers have greatly benefitted from the powerful clout of statewide and nationwide affiliations and school budgets have ballooned.  They are not necessarily a bad thing, unless union extremism as seen in teacher participation in last spring’s riots in Wisconsin and the hardships inflicted on taxpayers by those balloons are factored in. 

As a desperate response to failing public school systems often more intent on propagandizing than teaching, parents have resorted to a unique alternative,  homeschooling their kids. 

Teacher unions and their elected officials have fought tooth and nail against that desperation.  Home-based learning effectively served as a denunciation of the inefficacy and the misguided values inculcated in public schools so what else could they do? 

Education vouchers allowing parents to shop for the best elementary and secondary schools for their children represented an even greater threat to entrenched union interests and they, too, have been resisted as if they were a creation of the devil. 

After all, if parents were permitted to pick and choose, they wouldn’t choose failing schools and would therefore put pressure on districts to compete by raising their level of instruction and discipline and to return to their  fundamental pedagogical mission.  

Both home schooling and education vouchers undermine America’s public education system and that’s not a bad thing either in light of the fact that system isn’t educating very well.    

Another alternative to sending children to public schools that provide, at best, a babysitting service has sprung up in the past two decades: charter schools.  If vouchers are the creation of some devil to teacher unions, charter schools must be the creation of Lucifer himself. 

Located primarily though not exclusively in urban centers, charters are financed through school taxes and are dedicated to providing a superior education.  Nevertheless, the NAACP, a close ally of the NEA, opposes establishing charter schools in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in spite of long waiting lists for charters.  

There’s something wrong with that picture except in the eyes of teacher unions. 

Founded by parents, non-profits, universities, and teachers fed up with the quality of public education, charters have been multiplying like tribbles despite fierce opposition and misleading slanders circulated by the education establishment.  Forty-one states now have laws enabling charter school laws and almost 6000 now dot the nation with an enrollment in the millions. 

  Charter schools have been much too successful and are ripe for the picking.  The pickers are teacher unions who just can’t have mostly-ununionized people showing them up.  

As put it, ”The unions know they cannot stop the spread of charter schools, so they have decided to take them over.”  One leader of that takeover is Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president Lynn Nordgren. 

Nordgren made that aim vividly clear in an email: “Charter schools are not going away despite 20 years of protesting” and, “Because of this, it is time to figure out how to. . . stop the de-professionalization of teaching, the bleeding out of our unions and the miseducation of too many students . . . It is time to ‘get in the game’ and make it ours.” 

Translation: Charter schools are “miseducating” by educating and unions must put an end to that anti-union debacle and “miseducate” their way by unionizing charters and returning them to the fold.

Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, Nordgren continued, “We all know that ‘the miseducation’ of students is really the unions’ specialty, and they guard it jealously.  Nordgren writes that the MFT’s decision to open charter schools will “keep our union responsibilities and rights as an option” and “make sure teachers are respected and have a voice in the schools in which they work.” translated Nordgren’s resolve to mean teacher “unions want charter schools to choke on all their rigid work rules, pay schedules and adult-centered demands which will render the alternative public schools no different than their government-run counterparts.  The union’s new philosophy about charter schools is simple: if you can’t beat ‘em, infiltrate and destroy them from within.” (    

The unionization of America’s teachers has been a very mixed blessing.  As a beneficiary of that movement, I applaud it.  As a grandparent, I fear it and every child in the United States should fear it even more.