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Zena Sharman. Catherine Walshe. The fundamental question facing teacher unions,however, comes down to whether teachers will unite behind a new vision ofunionism and elect leaders who will implement such a vision. Chase is arguingthat teachers unions need to take responsibility for improving the performanceof teachers, students, and schools. Such a perspective stands in sharp contrastto that of the four union presidents in Wisconsin, who defend current unionpractices and the emphasis on bread-and-butter issues such as wages andworking conditions. There is also a third perspective which adopts the callfor union involvement in school reform but takes it further.
This perspectiveemphasizes the need for union collaboration with community interests andcalls upon teachers to take up issues of equity and social justice. In this essay, I refer to three kinds of unionism that articulate these various perspectives: "industrial-style," "professional," and "social justice. As with any schematic classification, these modelscan not be applied rigidly. Not only do they sometimes overlap but individualunion members may hold views that don't neatly fit into just one of thethree models.
Nonetheless, if viewed as three points on a spectrum, thesecategories may help clarify debate around teacher unionism. The old industrial-style teacher unionism can bestbe described as a bread-and-butter unionism that has been dominant sincethe late s and early s. In , with Wisconsin's passage of thefirst public employee collective bargaining law in the nation, teacherssaw increased opportunities to enter into collective bargaining agreementswith their employers.
The AFT initially was more willing to go on strikeand was more successful in convincing teachers from large cities to joinits union. This helped propel the NEA toward a more militant industrial-unionmodel. For the NEA, this meant a huge change; until the mids, its nationalleadership was dominated by superintendents and administrators who tendednot to see teachers as "workers" in the traditional union senseof the word. By the late s and early s, both the AFTand NEA were conducting strikes to ensure better wages, benefits, and pensions,as well as job protection from dictatorial principals and school boards.
This forced most school districts in the country to bargain collectively with the South being the notable exception. The two unions grew in sizeand strength and in many ways held "dual power" with local schoolauthorities in determining a wide range of policy. Such relationships tendedto be antagonistic, with teacher unions and school authorities viewing eachother as adversaries. Unions gave priority to protecting the rights of teachersand subordinated what might be in the best interests of school children.
The weakness of this model was that its visionwas narrowly trade unionist, with wages, working conditions, and job securitydefined as the outer boundaries of appropriate concern. Industrial modelsof collective bargaining agreements are not sufficient in education, however. Teachers are not building widgets or processing beef but teaching childrenwho have a broad range of social and cultural needs.
The failure to understandthis meant, in practice, that professional concerns such as the qualityof learning were minimized, and relations with the broader community suffered. The breach with community interests occurred mostvividly during the Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike in New York City. The conflict centered on the extentto which local communities could control their schools, particularly withrespect to staffing. Shanker's UFT, which had cut its teeth fighting thecentralized New York City school authority, became that centralized authority'sbiggest advocate in order to ensure that community control would not impingeon what he and many teachers saw as fundamental teacher rights.
The teachersunion won, and "community control" was lost forever in New YorkCity. In ensuing years, school policy was determined in large part throughbilateral negotiations between a highly centralized administration and ahighly centralized union. This mirrored the labor-management model of privateindustry and didn't take into account the public, quasi-democratic natureof schools.
To this day, professional matters have been subordinatedto protecting teachers' rights as workers, particularly in issues involvingteacher competency and assignment by seniority.
The Future Of Our Schools Teachers Unions and Social Justice
The protection of unionmembers through lengthy evaluation and dismissal processes has made thefiring of even the most incompetent of teachers an overly cumbersome andalmost impossible process. As for the issue of staff assignment, in mostdistricts teachers are assigned by seniority rather than on the basis ofcompatibility with a school's programs, philosophy, and needs. While allthree union models recognize the need to protect teacher rights, the industrialunion model often fails to distinguish between legitimate bread and butter,and the moldy bread and rancid butter of protecting incompetence and narrowprivilege in the name of teacher rights.
Comprised of 21 local teacher union leaders from both NEA and AFT affiliatesand funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, this grouping has regular meetingswhich focus on how to get local unions to take a more active role in educationalreform. TURN describes itself as a "union-led effortto restructure the nation's teachers' unions to promote reforms that willultimately lead to better learning and higher achievement for America'schildren.
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The primary goal of TURN is to create a new union model thatcan take the lead in building and sustaining high performing schools forall students in an increasingly complex and diverse world. In a statement calling for internal uniondemocracy, education reform that serves all children, collaboration withcommunity organizations, and a concern for broader issues of equity, a groupof 29 teacher union activists issued a "working draft" of socialjustice unionism. The draft argued that "reform should be drivenby standards of equity and social justice, including high expectations andeducational excellence for all.
The ideals that led us to organize our unionsand fight for economic justice indeed, that led many of us to enter teachingin the first place are no less compelling than in the past: a desire tohelp children; hope for the future; service to community; and a convictionthat public education is a cornerstone of society's commitment to equalopportunity, equity, and democratic participation.
But these ideals cannotbe served by business-as-usual in our schools or in our unions. There is one major problem with their perspective. Public education is at a crisis point: attacked and criticizedfrom many sides and steadily losing public support, its very survival isin jeopardy. Many attacks are by people opposed to the very idea of a publiceducation or of the right of teachers to organize. But teachers unions needto recognize that there are serious shortcomings and inequalities withinthe public schools.