Maggie, your fears are well grounded. There is tremendous support among
conservative politicians to blame teachers unions and tenure for virtually all
the problems in education. The almost irresistible urge to make education
conform to the corporate management model has been brewing for years in this
country. If you were to listen to the political “reformists”, you would come
away believing that the typical teacher’s union member has a guy named Guido in
the front seat and a body in the trunk! We have been characterized as “thugs”
with an iron fist ready to crush any and all attempts at education reform.
I spent most of my career as an art teacher with a dual role as not only an
educator, but as a union official, building rep., negotiator and grievance
chair. I saw first hand the very real threat to educators who were held in low
esteem by Board members and administrators, talked directly with red-faced Board
members angry about tenure and union pushback concerning educational policy. In
many instances, the only checks and balances that exist at the state and local
levels when it comes to education ARE the professional teachers unions.
Faculty members need a voice and tenure protects that voice. Any teacher can be
fired. There is no law or contract that protects a teacher unconditionally.
Tenure merely gives due process by which a fair hearing is provided, and
prevents firing teachers for political reasons or on a whim. This goes to the
heart of academic freedom, which is constantly threatened by legislatures, who,
once elected, become instant experts on all things educational. Academic
freedom is rarely mentioned now days, but I feel it is an enormous issue and it
must be protected if we as educators are to be able to come together as a
working community. This is particularly important to art teachers, who spend
most of their careers on the periphery of education as it is. (Ever been used
as planning time?)
If teachers lose the ability to collectively bargain, they may well find
themselves back in the 1880s, where teachers went hat in hand to the boss and
begged for a few dollars raise each year. That means no advancement or cutbacks
in salaries, elimination of pensions and insurance. I’m sure this is exactly
what politicians want, because, after all, we are so fat and rich over union
largess that we need to be taken down a few pegs. Apparently, union busting is
the agenda here, not improving education for kids.