Myths About Teacher Unions and Political Lobbying

Oct 11, 2016 by

Two of the most stubborn and bedeviling fallacies about teacher unions are that they divert members’ dues to political action and that they pursue an agenda based solely on self-interests that are at odd with those of their students.

No amount of truth-telling will purge the air of deliberate misrepresentation. But most people are open-minded enough that they will be persuaded by reality, even if it clashes with what they’ve been told by a Wagnerian-sized orchestra of virtuosi who play that very brassy instrument called the “myth.”
Teacher unions and student welfare go together like love and marriage and horse and carriage used to. And they are active behind the scenes and on the political stage because that is how things get done these days. There’s nothing implicitly sinister or suspicious about that. Unions play by the rules; they don’t  make them. It’s a practical necessity to have a voice that is heard in Washington, Albany and City Hall. Decisions are made there that impact the lives of students and their teachers.

Fighting for students and advocating for their profession are simultaneous operations of teacher unions. The fates converge and overlap. Never does the teacher union leadership and its rank-in-file place adults above children.

When teacher unions lobby, they never seek gain for themselves at the expense of the children they serve. They are advocating for these kids by availing themselves, through the existing democratic machinery, of the means to achieve what is fair and reasonable and often morally necessary.

Their political action budget is dwarfed by the astronomical treasuries deployed by the organized opponents of public schools and everything the teacher unions and the middle class stand for. And unions dues are not used for these initiatives. Many people are ignorant of this fact, thanks in part to the tabloids that know better but pretend otherwise because the truth doesn’t fit in with their hard-nosed biases.

There is a fund called COPE, which is specifically dedicated to political action. It complies with the spirit and letter of the law.  Members can contribute to it on a strictly voluntary basis. The recommended sum is very modest and there is no coercion whatsoever. And participation has no bearing on their standing within the union.

Battling for the rights of students can be expensive and it’s true that teachers unions have committed big bucks to that purpose. That was unavoidable during the Bloomberg administration, when legal costs to resist the de-facto persecution of children were stratospheric.
The list of issues over which the teachers union went to bat for children is longer than the catalog of Don Juan’s apocryphal conquests.

Right now, for example, the union is participating on a commission on Common Core Standards. They believe in high standards but at the same time appropriate. Imposing mandates mat sound like educational “tough love” but it is not suitable to force children with certain disabilities or who speak not a word of English, to take state exams exclusively because of their chronological age.

Do you want to discover or refresh your memory as to where teacher unions are “coming from”? Then get a hold of readily-available transcripts of UFT testimony at lawmakers’ hearings. The union’s righteous concerns will come as a revelation to the minority of citizens who had genuine doubts.

When I was growing up, the teachers union was in its infancy. It was new and growing and the public wasn’t sure what to expect.  The Hedge Fund Philharmonic had not yet taken over the orchestra pit. But the myths were already taken root and since then they have sprung branches.

We were reading a book called “Bullfinch’s Mythology”. The “Bull” remains. The “finch” has changed!

Ron Isaac


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