I protested in the name of education once. I was in high school in Canada and I honestly don’t remember what horrible fate was going to befall our teachers, but students organized in our city to walk out of school at a certain time and march on city hall to let our voices be heard in outrage against the now forgotten injustice. I promised my mom I would not participate.
Then all my classmates stood up and our teacher nodded his approval and we all left the room. I left too. I even marched half way to city hall with thousands of my fellow students, clogging up major roadways and causing all kinds of havoc. Then I realized that I didn’t really know why we were doing it and I’d promised my mom I wouldn't. So I went home early. As punishment, she made me go to some of the public hearings, which were mind-numbing and I don’t remember them, because I cared SOOOO much about being involved.
Well, this week the spotlight is on Wisconsin teachers and other public employees as teachers from around the state have spent the last several school days “out sick,” protesting at the state Capitol, causing a shutdown of many public schools.
The difference between me and them is – they know what they’re fighting for, or at least what they’re fighting against. Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed to cut the state budget deficit by requiring state workers to increase pension contributions and double premiums for health care. Also included in his proposal are new restrictions and limitations for unions, including teachers unions in the state. Under the new law, unions would only have power to negotiate salaries.
President Obama calls the proposal an “assault on unions” and it’s not just happening in Wisconsin. EdWeek.org recently reported that “In Idaho and Indiana, Republican leaders are proposing bills that would limit collective bargaining to wages and benefits, excluding education policy issues. And in Tennessee, a recently introduced bill would abolish altogether teachers’ ability to bargain collectively.”
From what I understand, it’s the loss of collective bargaining power that has teachers and union leaders so upset, even more than the loss of income. Teachers support students. Unions support teachers. The question is – do unions by association also support students and, if not, should they hold so much power in deciding the way education is run in this country?
A poll made public today shows that nearly half of Wisconsin voters support Governor Walker’s proposal while 38% side with the unions. Many are undecided and I can see why. We want to support teachers but we also want to put the best interests of children and families first and this kind of political warfare makes those two goals seem mutually exclusive. So, which side do you choose?
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, urged teachers to return to school this week but the fight is far from over and what happens in Wisconsin is expected to affect policies in states around the country. Schools in Madison are scheduled to reopen today.