Monday, December 10, 2012

Unions, RTW, and the teaching profession

Full disclosure: I'm a union guy.  If (when) RTW passes the Michigan legislature, I will still pay my union dues.  I think unions are a net positive force, both in terms of economics and in terms of productivity.  If occasionally they end up on the wrong side of history, or defending somebody stupid, or killing the business they purport to serve, well, you can't be right all the time.

After I wrote the introduction, I've spent the last 4 days trying to write something intelligible about the subject.   Every tme I think about it, though, I frankly lose my breath at the sheer audacity of what has happened here in Michigan.  I can't be rational about it; I don't see the other side's point of view; Gov. Snyder's justification for changing his position is so flimsy as to be laughable; Sen.  Schuitmaker's assurances that she is not anti-teacher no longer seem like pleasant half-truths, they seem like insults to my intelligence wrapped in stationary.* 

I'm scared for the following reason: every year I have been a teacher, my job has gotten harder, more demanding, and more complicated.  I champion many of these changes, and I think that if there's any work force on earth that should embrace lifelong learning as a professional quality, it should be teachers.  But it's also gotten less well compensated, and the profession is being systematically denigrated.  Public schools are seen as the problem, most notably in situations where poverty is the problem, both with the students and with the public schools.  It's as if I were, I don't know, a butcher, who is told he has to become a surgeon, who will be compensated like a lumberjack, and treated like tripe.  And I feel that way WITH the union protection.

I saw the union as a way to restore some measure of dignity to the profession.  We're never going to be paid what we're worth; we're public employees, after all.  But I get the distinct impression that people resent us for even ASKING.  Look, my job is 30% harder than it was last year; my retirement health care has more than doubled in cost, my pension has gotten more expensive (yes, I know about private-sector pensions going the way of the dodo; maybe if you'd had a union, your employer wouldn't have been able to steal all your money with no guarantee of repayment), I am less likely to retire before I stop being an effective teacher than I ever was before, and dammit, I'm still good at my job. 

But now the official policy of the state of Michigan is that solidarity is wrong.  Unions are not a force for good to be respected, they are a cancer to be broken.  There is no way for me to see this as anything other than a political attack and a battle in the class war.  (The rich are winning the class war, by the way.  I just expected to be able to put up more of a fight for longer.)  And right now, there's no way for me not to take this as a personal insult. 

*During the Great Teacher Purge of 2011, when Michigan passed a state law that made being a teacher much more expensive, I wrote Sen. Schuitmaker an e-mail imploring her not to vote for the package.  She sent me a 2-page typed letter in response, with her signature in actual pen at the bottom.  It was very nice, it expressed her opinions, and assured me that her children go to public schools, and she wants nothing but the best for them.  I believe this; I no longer believe that she thinks public schools are what's best for them.

1 comment:

JohnCosby said...

Not exactly coherent; I count at least 1 mixed metaphor and exactly 0 thematically consistent paragraphs. Like I said, I was angry. I'm not going to edit it for the time being, though.