Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Those Unseemly Teacher Strikes

When teachers strike, there are a number of predictable responses, ranging from rock throwing to pearl clutching.

Nothing like a nice, seemly cup of tea
For rock throwers you can expect folks like the Center for Education Reform, which took to their newsletter to explain that teachers have been duped by their unions (who are to blame for low wages because they extract union dues from teachers) and that pensions are also to blame (so teacher pensions should be gutted). Never mind that these have been wildcat strikes. Over pension gutting. There will always be folks who say that teachers just don't deserve to be paid a bunch of money and that public schools should be as cheap as possible.

But when teachers strike, we'll also hear from the people who just find a teacher strike, just, well-- unseemly. Undignified. Inappropriate behavior for educated professionals.

Derrell Bradford, honcho at 50CAN and other reform enterprises, dropped some tweets of this sort:

College educated people striking, imposing hardship on parents and students in purpose to impose political feels beneath them.

I am for well-compensated educators who are excellent. The strikes feel very line worker to me.

Or take Oklahoma legislator Kevin "Go Ahead and Be Pissed at Me" McDugle:

I'm not voting for another stinking measure when they're acting the way they're acting,

It's just not the right time and place. You're really hurting your own cause through this unseemly behavior. Don't you want to set a better example? I agree that you have a point, but this just isn't the way to make it. All this unrest is just taking attention away from your cause.

This sort of tone-policing concern trolling dismay over the unseemly social movements has been raised against teacher strikes, against Colin Kaepernick and taking a knee, against the freedom riders and lunch counter sitters of the Civil Rights movement, against the suffragettes demanding the vote for women.

Can't you do something less disruptive. Something that's not so unseemly.

The proper response to this complaint is always the same-- what else would you prefer we do?

There's never an answer. Well, there is, but nobody in power want to say it because that answer is "We would like you to just accept things as they are and not complaint about it. Just do as we say, take what we give you, and be happy about it."

See, here's the thing about the criticism that teacher strikes are unseemly and unnecessarily disruptive and not a proper activity for college-educated professionals-- teachers mostly agree with all of it.

I'm willing to bet there has never, ever been a teacher union meeting in which leaders said, "We think they're interested in sitting down and having some good faith negotiations to settle all this" and the members said, "No, no-- we want to strike. Let's strike instead."

Nor do I believe the myth of the outside agitator, popular since the Civil Rights movement when white folks would say, "Well, none of our local Negros would get this uppity on their own-- must be some of them outside agitators what got them stirred up." Union locals invariably put their local interests ahead of the state or national union-- no batch of teachers walk because the NEA tells them to.

Teachers strike because they are out of options. They strike because the other side won't negotiate in good faith. They strike because they feel dismissed and disrespected. They strike because their work conditions have become awful, with no relief in sight. They strike because they feel the future of their profession and their school are in peril. They strike because they can't think of any other way to make things better.

But a strike! Couldn't they get their message across some other way?

Guess what. They've been doing it. In fact, teachers have been engaged in a slow-motion strike for about a decade, walking off the job one or two at a time. But instead of recognizing this as a work stoppage, we've labeled it a "teacher shortage." And instead of responding by asking "How can we fix the job so that it is attractive enough to recruit and retain teachers," states have mostly responded by saying, "How can we lower standards so that we can put any warm body in a classroom."

In other words, we've been in the middle of a not-unseemly work stoppage, and it has yielded zero positive results for teaching.

Look. It's really simple. If you want teachers to pursue other not-unseemly avenues, you have to provide not-unseemly avenues that are not fruitless dead ends, but which lead somewhere productive.

People, in general, want to be heard. If they can't be heard when they speak, they'll keep raising their voices. If someone is screaming at you, it's probably because you refused to listen to them when they were talking to you. I cannot say this enough-- teachers don't want to strike and they don't like to strike, but they will strike if you make it clear to them that you intend to do them harm, and that you won't listen to them any other way. If there are no not-unseemly options, unseemly is what you get.


  1. I want a national walk out week. I want every teacher in the nation to call in sick for a week and go to their state house with signs. I want them to strike, not only for better pay and treatment, but for less testing, better curriculum, less reforms.

  2. So now it's ok for the "reformers" to throw "line workers" under the bus? I can't tell if this is a way to divide teachers from other sorts of workers, or just a tone-deaf example of tone policing...which is also pretty ironic in it's own right.

    I have to say that I've been disappointed in the lack of state and national union leadership WRT these walkouts--while at the same time recognizing that their reluctance to engage with this issue may be the driving force behind its success.

    The state teachers union in FL, for instance, is advising their members not to walkout, because the penalties and sanctions are harsh for those who do. With zero recognition that 1. if *all* teachers walkout, then the state really won't be able to fine or fire them all, and 2. the penalties are no worse than the current working conditions for many teachers in the state (i.e., schools in Miami-Dade are now building apartments with rent subsidies for teachers on the top floors of schools, because the teachers don't make enough money at their jobs to afford living in the area).

    It's almost as though these union leaders forgot what gives organized labor it's power--that when workers band together they have more strength and clout than when they go it alone.

  3. We must stand up to this!
    In Oregon underfunding has caused the gradual layoff of so many teachers that kindergartens have classes of 35 and there aren't enough books or desks for everyone. I had a class of 42 with 32 desks and 25 books. Kids aren't getting what they need to learn.

  4. I’d even go so far as to add, most teachers won’t even strike when harm is being done to them, but when you are harming our students we will strike.

  5. All unions today are not the radical true-believers of the 1930s. Those who established collective bargaining and due process rights embodied the true spirit of the cause. The teachers of today have put up with too much for too long. Conflict is necessary for change and overall improvement. I’m not advocating violence.