It was one of the few positive things about the pandemic that COVID targeted adults and the elderly and, for the most part, didn’t impact children. But thanks to the selfish adults in charge of America’s teachers’ unions, COVID wound up having a serious impact on children nationwide, one from which many children will never recover.
Last week Tablet published a piece written by a former Oakland public school teacher. He describes himself as a former union supporter who worked as a union representative for several years. But in 2020 he began to have issues with some of the things the union was doing. And looking back, it’s clear that those decisions were a disaster for students, many of whom lost a year of school that can’t be made up because the schools themselves still haven’t recovered.
Although union bosses like Randi Weingarten continue to obfuscate their role in school closures, the historical record is clear: The union repeatedly pushed to keep schools closed, and areas with greater union influence kept schools closed longer. Politicians, public health officials, and the media certainly had a hand in this fiasco, but the union egged on dramatic news stories, framed school reopening as a partisan issue, and directly interfered in CDC recommendations. Teachers saw firsthand that virtual learning was a farce and that children were suffering. While there may be plenty of blame to go around, teachers’ abandonment of their own students was a special kind of betrayal.
I am well aware that there were many problems plaguing public education before school closures, and that teaching was a challenging and exhausting job. Today, however, the crisis teachers face is an order of magnitude worse than it was in 2019, and this crisis is almost entirely self-inflicted. Public school enrollment is plummeting, kids are refusing to go to school, and disciplinary problems are spiraling out of control…
Nationally, the chronic absence rate doubled, and it is not showing signs of improvement. In one San Francisco elementary school, almost 90% of students were chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year. In New York City, 50% of all Black students and 47% of all Latino students were chronically absent. Parents have no idea how far behind their kids really are, and schools cannot repair learning loss on a mass scale because the available workforce is simply not up to the task.
The author was willing to return to school in the summer of 2020 where he taught students with disabilities. He was told by the union that wasn’t possible. By 2021 he set up an in-person literacy group after being asked to do so be parents. The union didn’t like that either.
A union representative called me, and she told me that seeing any kid in person would make the community “unsafe.” If I did this, she said, it would be equivalent to crossing a picket line. At this time, private schools in California were open, and public schools had been open for many months in Europe and other U.S. states.
In the fall of 2021, the Oakland union supported a vaccine mandate for students that would have pushed 3,000 unvaccinated kids back into online learning (40% of whom were Black). Later that school year, Oakland teachers staged a “sick out” to demand N95 masks, and at the behest of the union, Oakland schools maintained an indoor and outdoor mask mandate until April 2022. On the Instagram page of my old school, which serves low-income students of color, about half of all the kids and staff pictured this year were still wearing masks, even in April 2023.
The author concludes that the unions are the way they are because they are fundamentally a beauracracy.
Over time, the people who rise to power within the union are not those who care most about improving schools and teaching conditions, but those who are most devoted to expanding the union’s power. Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle described this process as the Iron Law of Bureaucracy: “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals that the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”
Randi Weingarten and her ilk cared a lot more about demanding money from the federal government and throwing their weight around in the midst of a crisis than they did about teaching which is why they behaved as they did. Her efforts to rehabilitate her image by gaslighting the country with the idea she was also for re-opening schools is a sign that her actual behavior during the pandemic is indefensible in light of what we now know.