By Douglas P. Seaton, JD, Ph.D.
What do Covid closures and mandates, remote learning, Critical Race Theory and its spin-offs, anti-heterosexual and anti-family propaganda in the schools, teacher-centered rather than student-centered education, exclusion of parents from their students “learning,” and often from schools and school board meetings, and declining school discipline, academic focus and student performance have in common? They are all driven by the Teachers’ Union and the politicians endorsed and funded by them, with your taxpayer dollars.
How could this have happened? Aren’t the public schools controlled by the public through their elected school boards? Technically, yes, but school boards are now dominated in almost every district in Minnesota, and in other states permitting public employee collective bargaining, by the Teachers’ Union. Board members are often teachers or administrators themselves, although in years past, that would have been seen, rightly, as a conflict of interest and even barred by law. No more. Now the school boards simply do what the Marxists leading the Teachers’ Union want and ignore parents and students.
Where did this all start? Public employees weren’t permitted to collectively bargain until after 1963. FDR thought the idea of public “servants” having that power meant citizens would lose control of their own public institutions and never supported public government sector collective bargaining. He was prophetic about that, wasn’t he? But once introduced for state and local employees in Wisconsin in 1959 and in 1963 in federal employment, public sector collective bargaining expanded to state and local government employees in many states, especially Northern, Midwestern and Western states. The results were dramatic rises in compensation and benefits for public employees to the point where they are now typically overpaid in relation to their private sector counterparts, except possibly for a few traditional professionals like attorneys, doctors and engineers. Their benefits are also better by far and, in fact, extravagant public employee pensions are ruining the budgets of several states, like Illinois. Public employee unionism is expensive for taxpayers and it is also expensive for and often imposed without consent on public employees themselves. The Janus Supreme Court decision in 2018 held that non-members of unions could not be required to pay anything to support them, but the unions and their weak-kneed public employers often don’t tell them that, and once the employees sign their “Hotel California” agreements, the unions claim their right to resign and stop dues payments is drastically limited. Many such problems with public sector bargaining caused Wisconsin to curtail bargaining rights and mandate employee consent requirements for union membership and dues.
These larger problems with public employee collective bargaining can’t be addressed fully here, but we can explore the one arena that affects every community, much of the time – the schools. Here the influence of the Teachers’ Union is, with few exceptions, an unending tale of bad results, ulterior agendas and self-serving policies. Let us explore a few of these school-related issues.
Covid-19 Mandates, School Closures and Remote Learning
The Teachers’ Union is the real source of the “endemic” school closings, masking, quarantine and now vaccination mandates in public schools. Although state and local government – and the federal government’s “jaw boning” – are often involved, it is the Teachers’ Union which influences both the school boards (dominated by Teachers’ Union “endorsed” and funded candidates) and those politicians and bureaucrats (also endorsed and funded by the Union) to impose or promote the mandates and closures. These are largely pseudo-scientific in that minors have infinitesimally low levels of risk from Covid-19 and similarly low risk as carriers. At the same time, children’s health and learning ability are significantly adversely affected by these practices. But the Teachers’ Union wants “zero tolerance” for any level of risk for its members, envies the remote work options of many other white collar workers, has little concern for students and has the power to enforce its will. Therefore, schools throughout the country were closed and subjected to mandates as a consequence, with the school and government edicts on closures and mandates often drafted by the Union itself.
Critical Race Theory and its Pseudonyms and Knock-offs and the Extreme Gender Doctrines of the Left-Wing
Teachers’ Union proponents of CRT and “alternative” gender doctrine claim that they are only offering “anti-racism” and anti-homophobic/transgender phobic training, but this is false. The Teachers’ Union is dominated by Marxists who promote the re-segregation of students and the explicitly racist doctrines (Whites as inherent racists and oppressors and Blacks as inevitable and powerless victims) of CRT or whatever they are calling it this week (social justice studies, equity and diversity, inclusion, etc.) and a Soviet Era cartoon version of American history as evil Imperialism. I have a Ph.D. in History, demonstrated and was clubbed by police fighting segregation and apartheid, and taught real Black history with a multi-racial team to Minnesota and Wisconsin high school teachers, so I can tell you that what I have seen in the curriculum, classroom “art” and signage, and racially segregated “affinity” groups, and student “audits” inspired by CRT and gender-change extremists is pure racist, anti-American and anti-heterosexual garbage and completely one-sided. The Teachers’ Union, again, is the source of these vile doctrines demonizing whites, America and heterosexuals, and replacing academics with identity politics and Marxist “struggle sessions” designed to intimidate and silence disagreement.
School Boards and Administrators Disregarding and Blocking out Parents
The Teachers’ Union is also the main offender in the national “lock out” of parents from schools and school board meetings, both literally and in terms of any effective input in students’ education. Loudoun County Virginia has gotten a lot of attention, but many if not most Minnesota school boards and school administrators are no better. The Boards are run by radical Teachers’ Union endorsed Board members who hire administrators of the same stamp and don’t want parents getting in the way of their Covid mandates, race-obsessed and racist curriculum and left-wing indoctrination of students, teachers and staff. For many years now, they have tried to keep parents out of school buildings, hid critical information from parents, told them they didn’t know enough to have a say in curriculum, limited their speaking time and subject matter at School Board meetings and locked them out of any chance of running alternative Board member candidates. Those practices have gotten worse over time, not better. UMLC can’t participate in partisan political campaigns, but we can identify sources of the problems we litigate against, and the Teachers’ Union is the main source of school problems. Parents need to oppose “Education Minnesota” endorsed Board members and replace their left-wing administrators, as well as teachers who won’t stop politicizing the classrooms.
They also need to support every type of educational choice, voucher and scholarship which will help end the Teachers’ Union monopoly in education. Public schools will always be with us, and that’s a good thing, but if parents can walk away from their public school, as they can from their bank, grocery store or choice of college, enroll their kids and bring their money to other school options, they usually won’t need to. Competition works, and these monopoly Teachers’ Union-run schools can only do what they now do, because parents, students, teachers and staff have no other choice. Give them choice and many of our current problems with poor curriculum and outcomes, political indoctrination, lack of discipline, and academic rigor, bad morale and unscientific mandates will recede.
Collapsing Academic Outcomes, Dumbed-Down and Politically-Charged Curriculum and the War on Merit and Excellence
For decades, the academic performance of American K-12 students has been declining absolutely and in relation to the students of other nations. This is not unique to unionized school systems, but is far worse in those schools, and catastrophic in big city school systems. Exacerbating this trend is the pervasive dumbing-down and politically correct purging of school curricula and reading lists. In Minnesota, this process has led to a proposed curriculum “standards” re-do which drops any actual material on large swathes of American history and forces the rest through a biased left-wing and anti-American lens. Proponents defend these “reforms” as responsive to student interest and “culture,” especially among minority children, but make no mistake, this is simply the “racism of low expectations,” and bias, laziness and incompetence among teachers and administrators at work. Paralleling the decline in our curriculum and purge of reading lists, there is another left-wing war on excellence and merit-based programs and admissions. This, too, is promoted as “anti-racist,” but is in fact, deeply racist in its assumptions and threatens the education of our ablest and likeliest-to-excel students of all backgrounds. It is no surprise, either, to learn that students who are deprived of serious curricular materials, great books, challenging academic programs and alternatives to the left-wing narrative are easier to indoctrinate and manipulate.
There are similar problems with similar sources in the expulsion of police and the collapse of discipline in public schools and the decline in the competence, professionalism and ethics of many teachers, among other educational problems, but I hope I have provided a method to analyze all these issues in what we have covered. Laziness, fake “anti-racism” and the politicized left-wing Teachers’ Union leadership are also to blame in these areas.
Are Teachers the Problem?
Let me be clear that it is not teachers themselves, or most of them in any case, who are the problem. It is an elitist, unaccountable, intractable Teachers’ Union leadership which is the problem. The value of collective bargaining for public employees may be debatable due to its inherent conflicts, with elected Board members and other politicians pandering to and being “bought” by the unions and thus failing to represent all citizens in “bargaining,” and due to the monopoly effect of “bargaining,” when there are no competitors to impose market discipline on wage and benefit offers for public sector unions. But there is “no socially redeeming value” to public sector collective bargaining, if government unions continue to be the source, as they are now, of the evils we have been describing.
What is to be Done?
The only solution to these worsening problems is for public sector unions to go “back to the basics” in two senses: (1) restore responsible “bread and butter” unionism, without the political endorsements and contributions, CRT, gender and left-wing propaganda; and (2) restore academics, “the 3 Rs,” high performance standards and serious curriculum and stop bashing excellence, merit and discipline and excusing declining academic standards and performance as “anti-racist” and “inclusive.” If the Teachers’ Union fails to return to union basics and academic basics and continues to function as Marxist Commissars for the schools and corruptors of our politics, collective bargaining for them and other public employees should be abolished or significantly restrained, as in Wisconsin and many other states. Nothing short of that may work to address these evils. It would also provide “choice” to public employees themselves, who now, despite the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, find themselves unable to resign union membership and stop paying dues without restrictions which cancel out their constitutional rights. Someone accused of a crime can assert their Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate and to obtain counsel any time, but public union members can only resign and stop paying dues for a week or two every year, according to the unions, sometimes only every other or every third year. There is no involuntary servitude in the U.S., except for union members enslaved to their union! I taught college students for several years at the University of Minnesota, Rutgers University and Montclair State University, taught high school teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin Black and Hispanic History to enrich their understanding, and taught lawyers in Minnesota for 20 years thereafter, so I am not anti-teacher, but after representing teachers, students and parents who are victims of the Teachers’ Union and analyzing that Union’s impact on the issues I’ve discussed in this post, I am sadly but firmly of the opinion that the Teachers’ Union is a bad influence on everything it touches and that every thinking person’s first instinct, should be to oppose and reject everything and everyone the Teachers’ Union supports, endorses and/or funds, until proven otherwise. If you follow this rule of thumb, you won’t go wrong, and you will advance the objective of removing politics, closures, mandates and the neo-racism and heterosexual bashing of CRT and “gender studies” from schools and promote a balanced curriculum, merit and academic standards, discipline and parental control. It is up to you.
Doug Seaton is Founder and President of Upper Midwest Law Center.