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What Kids Have Learned from Teachers Unions

Last week, an opinion piece entitled “We have a lot to learn from teachers unions” ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The authors are correct insofar as there are lessons to be learned from the recent actions of teachers unions, but they miss the mark on just what those lessons are.

I understand the main mission of teachers unions is supposed to be to protect the interests of its members, teachers, however these powerful, often political, organizations have time and time again placed their own interests above the needs of teachers. And what we’ve learned during the pandemic is an even more alarming truism—unions will disregard and even trample the needs of children to accomplish their goals.

If teachers unions really championed teachers and students, they would not have diminished the value of teachers by implying virtual school is the equivalent of a teacher in a classroom. So many parents and students have had to live in uncertainty the last two years, wondering if schools would be open or their children would be quarantined over and over again. What does that say about how much we as a society value schools and education? The unions had the opportunity to present teachers as essential workers who knew their job of educating young minds was of the upmost importance. Instead, they devalued public education in a way that will have lasting effects. The proof is in the pudding.

So, what have kids learned from teachers unions these past few years?

Here’s what they’ve learned:

  • In-person education in not a priority.
  • Adults value themselves over kids.
  • Grades don’t matter.
  • Hypocrisy and lying are fine.
  • Everything (and I mean everything) is political.

Those aren’t the lessons our children should be learning. And I know it isn’t what (most) teachers want them to learn.

Why are teachers unions trying to rewrite history now and pretend they always wanted schools to be open? It’s the ultimate gaslighting. Despite what articles like the one in the Inquirer try to make us believe, every teacher, parent, and student knows that the unions were the ones pushing to keep schools closed. Saying Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has been a strong advocate for in-person learning is like saying an arsonist supports the fire department. The desperate attempt to change the narrative is too little, too late.

Even worse is the way teachers unions have affected our culture during the pandemic. It helps the unions if they can keep teachers believing that everyone is against them, because then they must need the union to protect them. Before the pandemic, unions would call lawmakers or administrators the villains, but now, unions have tried to turn parents into the “bad guy.” They have pitted parents and teachers against each other at every turn. This hurts everyone–teachers, parents, and especially students. Only the unions stand to benefit.

Brigette Herbst

Brigette Herbst is the Senior Organizing Director of Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2018, Brigette’s career included working in the public sector for New York State, teaching elementary school, coaching high school sports, and working as a municipal county employee. This unique experience offers Brigette an inside perspective on public employee culture in New York. She focuses on educating New Yorkers about their constitutional rights with regard to union membership and promoting fair treatment of workers. Brigette has her bachelor’s degree in history and politics and her master’s degree in elementary education. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and planning trips for her family.