This post is just one of many being published a day late as part of the #EDUSolidarity project, of which I am an organizer. After you have read this, please take some time to read the wide variety of posts that were added yesterday at EDUSolidarity.us.
Guest blogger John McCrann has worked with me for the past three years after starting his career in North Carolina, and is currently the Department Chair of our Integrated Math & Science Department. He is also extremely tall.
I am currently in my 6th year in public education and am in the relatively uncommon position of having spent the same amount of time in one of the most labor un-friendly states in the country as well as in a state with a strong and active union. I spent the first three years of my career in two different schools in central North Carolina, a state with a constitutional ban against collective bargaining in the public sector. From North Carolina, I moved to New York where I am a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers and enjoy the benefits and security that come from that membership.
While I tend to be viscerally opposed to political movements that would discredit the organizations that brought us the weekend and child labor laws, the recent outburst against public sector unions by some conservative political and economic figures made question my stance and challenged me to reflect on my experience in the union and non-union environments in which I have worked. I know many great educators in North Carolina, perhaps Scott Walker and his allies are right that unions stand in the way of achievement for students?
A quick analysis of test scores clearly shows that non-union states tend to fair worse than union states on national assessments, but this data is merely correlational and I wouldn’t be a good math teacher if I drew conclusions based on this kind of data alone. So I am left only with my personal experience. In North Carolina, my colleagues and I worked without security and could be terminated without cause. We were shut out of the decision-making process with regard to fundamental aspects of the classroom that effect our students. We were left with very few options to provide our students with the extra help they needed and were often forced to resort to giving our own time so that they could get the help they needed and deserved. This experience stands in start contrast to the work environment the UFT has created in New York. In New York, teacher’s cannot be terminated without probable cause, we have a say in the decisions that effect our classrooms, and the union has fought to provide compensation to ensure that our most vulnerable students get the help they need. I do not have children right now, but if I did, I have no doubt about which environment I would choose for them.
With both test scores and my own personal experience lining up behind union representation, I am left to wonder what could be motivating such vicious attacks against an institution that seems to support our students. I believe that the conservative attacks on unions are not motivated by a desire to help students or balance state budgets. Rather these attacks are coming from people with political and economic interests that are threatened by labor’s voice. They are motivated by the knowledge that organizing middle and working class people will give them the power to advocate for themselves in ways that divert resources away from the rich and powerful towards a more equitable distribution of wealth. This is the reason the right is attacking unions and this is the reason why we all need to support organized labor against these attacks.
So, as Woody Guthrie sang: “I’m sticking with the union”. I’m sticking with the union because I have seen both sides of the educational labor debate and I know that my children would be better served in a unionized classroom. I’m sticking with the union because the only way to get a high quality education for all students in this country is to ensure that highly-qualified, experienced, and well-supported adults are the ones delivering content to them on a daily basis. I’m sticking with the union because middle and working class people have a right to their fair share of the resources of this country, and they can only gain access to that fair share through collective representation. “I’m sticking with the union, till the day I die.”