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Waiting for union reform

There’s this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony amongst adults.

-Michelle Rhee, Waiting for Superman

I’m applying for work at Columbia University in the hopes of getting a free education. I’ve submitted quite a few applications but because many jobs are restricted to members of certain unions, I am unable to apply even though I’m qualified for the positions. I expressed annoyance to my mom and to my chagrin she labeled me a Republican, suggesting I go to Wisconsin and help out. She also stated that unions were the only things keeping people from working for slave wages and breadcrumbs. “Bullshit,” I mumbled and since I didn’t know much about unions, I only had one line of defense, “Waiting for Superman.”

Let me begin by saying, I’m not an expert on unions. I am not against unions. My annoyance was more panic, related to being unemployed than some grand statement on the state of unions in America. For the record, I think groups are great. However, I still think the teachers’ unions, in their stubbornness, as portrayed in Waiting for Superman are giving the Republicans just the fuel they need to wage this kind of war.

One of the kids featured in the Waiting for Superman documentary doesn’t like school, or so he says. Upon further investigation it appears he struggles with reading, he’s not receiving help from them on either end.  As one of many public school students who were slighted throughout the course of their educations, I find it hard to believe there are laws that protect some of the teachers who were responsible for imparting knowledge to me and thousands of other kids. It’s a sad thing to see kids lose the desire to learn and it is often no fault of their own. I could see my own classmates move from being really engaged with instructors to competing amongst themselves to doing just enough to get by. Of course, the students have a role in this. It certainly helps for a kid to have a personal standard to live up to, but it is hard to keep such a resolve in the “dropout factories” called educational facilities.

As a parent, my mom felt entitled to her anger. Of course, she knows all too well the range of schools; the good to the terrible. And teachers who often times have to deal with an array of problems beyond the classroom are often taxed as well but they still have a responsibility. No teacher should sleep in class (as my math teacher did throughout 7th grade) and be allowed to keep their job. Unions should support and advocate for, but not protect those who aren’t remotely qualified for their positions. Waiting for Superman called it “the dance of the lemons” where unqualified teachers are moved around with the hope they will be effective somewhere else.

My mom’s anger wasn’t about this, as she refuses to watch the documentary. She was more concerned about Democrats and since she loves Rachel Maddow, I’m pretty sure this is what she was watching.

Thanks Rachel. I get the political fuckery of the Republicans and how doing away with unions would virtually spell the end of the Democratic Party and quite possibly a number of workers’ rights. The Republicans have their corporations, why can’t we have our unions? They have their own dance of the lemons, except they usually make a lot more lemonade than the average teacher. But the principle is the same–fuck the consumer, the student.

I typically believe the best way to deal with any flawed structure is to do away with it completely. Which is why I think the Egyptians are on to something. However, I do know this is pie-in-the-sky thinking and that smaller steps and/or regulations would probably benefit us all and do less harm than trying to start from scratch. Republican’s self- (and selfish) interest has been enabled by the stubbornness of teachers’ unions unwilling to make regulations necessary for the greater good.

I close with a link to Andrew Rotherham’s piece in Time Magazine that offers a few tips on what teacher reform could look like.


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