The Importance of Teachers' Unions

Bashing teachers' unions has become the latest "fad of the day" among politicians and pundits, who thereby reveal their stunning ignorance of the crucial, seminal role teacher associations (unions) have played in the creation of a professional teacher cadre in the United States. Politicians, including our utterly clueless president, his secretary of education, and most Republicans, have placed all the blame for our poor education results squarely on the backs of teachers and their unions, as if teachers and their unions were separate entities.

The fact is that there would be no teaching profession without the efforts of the National Education Association, The American Federation of Teachers, and their state and local affiliates. Prior to the rise of these associations, working with their colleagues in colleges, universities and legislatures, teaching was a "hit or miss" proposition, populated with people who had had scant professional training in the psychology and pedagogy of teaching, and who often had little more formal education than their students in crammed, multi-age classrooms. Pay, benefits and status were so dreadful that the profession, K-12, was almost exclusively a "pink collar" one, dominated by often marginally educated young women, who were in many cases poorly paid.

Today, full certification as a California teacher requires the completion of over five years of course work and additional credentialing requirements. Teachers are put through course work, student teaching, and then required to complete extensive additional professional development in conjunction with a master teacher in the BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) program. This additional professional development is encouraged by teacher associations, not fought by them, because union leaders, (not a "goon" among them), realize that we owe it to our future to produce and retain absolutely the best teachers we can find. I consider my eight years as a BTSA support provider for the Silver Valley School District in Southern California, working with new teachers, the "crown jewel" of my thirty year career with that district.

Blaming teachers' unions is the latest "dumbed down" easy fix of Republicans, and unfortunately, some of their Democrat counterparts, who see a target far easier to confront than society, with its ubiquitous media distractions, facile access to sex, and indifferent parents. Bashing teachers is easy because it is a "twofer" for the politicians, because the parents can be let off the hook concomitantly with pandering to crybaby taxpayers, indifferent to the future of the country, who want their taxes cut without regard to the victims of those cuts and the long term damage done to both our economy and our democracy. During the great debate in California in 1978 over Proposition 13, the father of a lady friend blissfully and brainlessly informed me when I urged him to vote against Proposition 13 that "my kid is through school and college, so why should I care about the school system?" He spoke for millions of myopic California voters then, and countless American voters now, who want their taxes cut, no matter the consequences, and pandering politicians of both parties are there to tell them that bashing teachers' unions and stripping teachers of their collective bargaining rights are the first steps toward getting those pesky property taxes lowered.

Whatever complaints Americans have with our medical system, no responsible person would argue for the elimination of the American Medical Association, which has been absolutely essential in the setting of professional standards, college curricula, and the lifting of medicine from the level of street corner snake oil salesman to the respected and incredibly successful profession it is today. Yet politicians who would never take on the AMA see in the more diffuse teachers' unions an easy target, and by bashing unions pander to the most ignorant and selfish among us.

Rand W. Scarbrough, Florida