The Chicago teachers' strike is barely a day old, and the teacher-bashing is already well underway with great gusto. As you may have heard, these teachers are greedy, lazy bullies who are holding kids hostage in their mad lust for power.Yes, it’s exactly the same over he…
Oh. Were you being sarcastic? You were, weren’t you?
Teachers might respond that they're not striking over money: both the teachers' union and the school board acknowledge the two sides are close to agreement on wages. They might point out that their demands that are the real sticking points – smaller class sizes and air-conditioned classrooms – are entirely reasonable things most parents also want for their kids. Or they might point out that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's key demand to tie teacher evaluations to student test performance reflects a bureaucratic zeal to replace more and more of the curriculum with standardized tests (one Chicago teacher says 18 to 25 days of the school year are already lost to testing) – an ethos and aim that many parents, and certainly most students, do not share.They are striking for air-conditioned classrooms..? Seriously?
They could say all of this, but it wouldn't matter. Any union negotiator or human resources manager can tell you that contracts are never settled by who has the best argument. Bargaining is a question of clout, and which side has more of it. Unions have been losing ground for years, public sector unions in particular, and no unionized profession has been more vilified – by politicians, thinktanks and two Hollywood movies so far – than teachers.I must confess, without links, I’d be struggling to work out which two Hollywood movies he is referring to.
But it’s these two, and I can’t say either are likely to be blockbusters…
Looking back, this is remarkable. There was a time when teachers were lauded as local heroes: overworked, underpaid pillars of the community who could – with their credentials – earn more elsewhere, but chose to pursue a career sharing the joys of learning with kids. Politically, they were untouchable, up there with cops and firefighters.And then it all went wrong…
Then, at a certain point, teachers' unions woke up to find their favorability rating hovering somewhere between al-Qaida's and herpes. This didn't happen overnight, but a confluence of state budget crises, urban blight and suburban flight, a well-funded school reform movement and private charter school industry created the need for a scapegoat for bad public schools.And perhaps a large part of it was incidents like this, and parents suddenly realising that even when they weren’t wild-eyed partisan demagogues, they were rule-bound paper-pushers afraid to set foot inside a classroom without a 25 inch thick sheaf of instructions, and capable of the most bizarre rulings as they try to build a socialist utopia within their schools rather than, you know, just teach kiddies to read, write and add up.
In short, hardly ‘Mr Chips’, any longer…
Teachers' unions were slow to realize their scapegating and its (for them) dangerous consequences. They were slow to defend against some of the more salacious – but fact-challenged – charges against them. And they have not responded effectively by articulating why teachers should have pensions, job security and collective bargaining rights when other workers were either losing theirs or never had them in the first place.Is there a good reason, then, why they should be so privileged above all others? If so, I’d dearly love to hear it!
Unfortunately for the Chicago teachers, they are unlikely to see a change in the political weather any time soon. Their union is betting, in no small part, that the embarrassment the strike will cause the Democrats in an election year will push Obama to pressure Emanuel to fix a settlement. Signs point to no such outcome. President Obama sees this as a lose-lose situation – he'll be seen either as betraying his labor allies or as caving to special interests – and has explicitly stated his intention to remain uninvolved.If even Obama won’t touch you with a bargepole, you’re finished.
And if nearly half your Chicago colleagues are sending their kids to private school, they’ve made the judgement about the profession you claim you want to prevent others from making, haven’t you?
I bow to nobody in my contempt for public-sector unions, but in fairness one must point out that in Chicago in summer, air-conditioning is probably not the luxury you might think it is, when writing from the cool and rainy UK.
WY, I don't agree on the air conditioning. Many generations have survived without it.
My daughter is teaching in Africa for her gap year. No air conditioning for her class of 130 kids.
One teacher I knew always said that if you could get rid of the kids from schools they would be great places to work.
Just like over here, the analogy with firemen only works if you assume firefigters frequently stand around burning buildings claiming it would be discriminatory to suggest that a building that's on 'fire' is somehow worse than one that's not.
Like they say, the three best things about being a teacher? June, July and August. Chicago teachers get an average of $76,000 a year before counting their insanely generous benefits package, such as virtually free healthcare and enormous defined-benefit pensions. Anyone with 20+ years in is on six figures. Yet they struggle to get 8% (yes, eight percent) of pupils past all four State benchmarks by the time they leave school. They will go down fighting, but they will go down. The inexorable effect of bankrupt public treasuries will mean a realignment between their fantasy and reality. Ideally public sector unions will be completely destroyed in the process which as a salutary effect will hurt their Democrat enablers.
I don't know when this time of universal respect for teachers was.
I remember most of them as vindictive bastards with an overgrown sense of their own importance, and things have gone downhill since I was at school.
Not a lot to add methinks.
By complete coincidence the figure of 8% correlates with the percentage of Chicago Public School "students" who are non-Hispanic white.
"...but in fairness one must point out that in Chicago in summer, air-conditioning is probably not the luxury you might think it is..."
In times of austerity (even the version of it we seem to be using these days), it really is!
"Just like over here, the analogy with firemen only works if you assume firefigters frequently stand around burning buildings claiming it would be discriminatory to suggest that a building that's on 'fire' is somehow worse than one that's not."
"Like they say, the three best things about being a teacher? June, July and August."
Well, indeed! I do love the summer holidays, though, when the roads are clear and my train journey to work is so peaceful.
"By complete coincidence the figure of 8% correlates with the percentage of Chicago Public School "students" who are non-Hispanic white."
Really? I'd have thought it correlated to those who were true 'Asian'!
Asians and Pacific Islanders are 3.4% of Chicago PS students.
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