Teachers unions are among the most adamant opponents of efforts to reform our public schools. The unions are highly critical of important innovations like Colorado’s popular charter schools, which the unions accuse of “privatizing” public education.
That accusation is wrong, of course, because charter schools are simply independent public schools that answer to elected local authorities — school boards.
These baseless claims of privatization are also ironic coming from the teachers unions — because it is the unions themselves that have been the real privatizers of our public schools. The unions are after all private organizations, tax-exempt under the federal tax code and, like other private nonprofits, registered as “corporations” with the Colorado secretary of state.
It is these same unions that wield so much power over our public schools and over the school boards that are supposed to be governing our schools.
Across our country for half a century, liberal public school boards have bargained away the authority of the people over their local public school districts to these unelected, private unions in all of our big cities, most of their suburbs and in 37 of Colorado's mostly larger public school districts.
Why does this matter?
• We citizens are giving up our foundational American right to govern our schools to this industrial-style union.
• The union must promote among the teachers mistrust of the principal and the parents in order to get teachers to pay the exorbitant dues of the private union: It’s $948.62 annually where I used to teach in Colorado Springs School District 11.
• The liberal public school board in D-11 has bargained away — to a private nonprofit corporation called the Colorado Springs Education Association — 65 special "rights," usurping the authority of the people that is supposed to be conferred on the principal. One of these special "rights," for example, limits principals to 2 1/2 hours per month to lead the faculty. The private union does not want the principal to lead.
• Today, private teachers unions are influencing the decision to keep our schools closed amid COVID-19.
“Consolidation” in the decades following World War II merged small community schools into large schools in large school districts. As we local adults engaged less in our schools, private teachers unions filled the vacuum, using a strike or the threat of a strike to gain special "rights" to control the public district.
Before consolidation, teachers and parents were close. Students took responsibility — even to clean the school. Students stood up for the teacher when he or she entered the class. All students got physical exercise. There were well-planned academic assemblies. There were quality academic and social events. The younger students looked up to the good examples of the older students.
But the influence of industrial-style teacher unionization in our largest and leading districts and in colleges of education have created an adversarial attitude among the adults that replaced the attitude of cooperation.
The principal nowadays is expected to be an evaluator instead of a leader. The principal holes up in an office and handles corrective student discipline, 95% of which could have been prevented if the principal had led with an adult presence in the hallways and classrooms. The principal slinks through the hallways to the next teacher evaluation — head turned and seeing none of the many tardy students. In the classroom, the principal slips silently to the back row to "clinically script" the teacher's every move.
Hats, hoodies, chatting and texting dominate classrooms. Students who raise their hand may be ridiculed. New teachers suffer. The principal is rarely seen. If a student disrupts a class, it is often the teacher who is reprimanded. The teachers have become the children. The parents are in the dark. The quality of adulthood itself has been lost. The students see this. My students sometimes asked me why I would enter so miserable a profession as teaching.
As I watch the rioting and looting in our country's cities, I know why so many of our young people can so easily be led to destroy things, including their own futures. Many of our young people have not been educated — for several generations — to have a positive purpose or the academic and social tools to achieve that purpose. The cause is we local citizens not having understood our responsibility to govern ourselves in our local public schools.
The principal is supposed to work with the parents to lead them together with the teachers to decide and uphold good school-wide adult procedures and student rules. It should be, "Hats off to education!" "Park your cell phone!" And when class begins, "Stand to Greet the Teacher!"
James Sayler is a retired public high school teacher in Colorado Springs. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org