Sometimes It’s Okay to Be Divisive

Sometimes It’s Okay to Be Divisive
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Last week I was labeled a “vociferous” critic of teachers unions. I was even called “divisive.” You can be the judge as to whether these epithets are appropriate.

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First, let’s review what the leaders of these unions have recently demanded before they allow their members to go back to work:
·       Reopenings funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street
·       Police-free schools
·       The canceling of rents and mortgages
·       A moratorium on new charter or voucher programs

Ask yourself who these ultimatums really benefit— students and parents, or politically powerful union bosses.

The unions’ so-called National Day of Resistance is aptly branded. Union bosses are interested more in resisting than in teaching. In an extraordinary crisis, they’d prefer to play politics than to help kids. Protecting the bloated education establishment is more important than advancing innovation and opportunity.

As the Wall Street Journal observed, “The phrase for this is political extortion … Children, who would have to endure more lost instruction, are their hostages.”

If criticizing these things is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

What about that “divisive” label? Here’s the backstory. Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, leveled this charge because I didn’t think it was productive to invite charters’ arch enemy, American Federation of Teachers (A.F.T.) head Randi Weingarten, to the NAPCS’s annual conference.

This view was not just mine; it was shared by several minority leaders in the civil-rights community. They noted that an invitation for a fireside chat flies in the face of the unions’ longstanding efforts to deny families — especially minority students — educational equity.

Ultimately, the backlash was so strong that Rees rescinded the invite. In her announcement, she said she was simply seeking “collaboration.” That’s noble and important; we all want to find common ground. But once again, if we look to the facts on the ground, as they so clearly exist, we see that union bosses are advocating an approach that’s as inflexible as it is radical.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles threatened to strike unless charters were shut down. Is that collaborative?

The A.F.T. calumniated the leader of the Chicago International Charter School, spreading vicious lies about her and the schools she led. Is that collaborative?

I’m all in favor of building bridges. But the unions’ relentless campaign against the very idea of progress is a bridge too far. They oppose competition. They attack alternative approaches. They resist any kind of change. In the ideological eyes of Randi Weingarten and her ilk, charter schools are an “existential threat.”

It’s difficult to partner with people who’ve devoted their lives to calling for the destruction of everything you’ve spent yours building. As Vice President Dan Quayle once said (in a different context), “I wear their scorn as a badge of honor.”

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