Pushback against the union’s priorities is not an attack on teachers

For most Minnesota teachers, September is back to school season (some returned in August), and as I wrote here, it’s also the only annual opportunity educators get to evaluate their relationship with the union and decide if membership is right for them. Teachers across the state are letting Education Minnesota and its national affiliates know that the unions’ priorities don’t speak for them as educators.

This pushback against teacher unions turning public education into training ground for political activism is not an attack on teachers or the teaching profession. Rather, it’s an attempt to get the unions’ attention and let them know they are missing the mark on what teachers want them to prioritize. And both teachers and students pay the cost.

The far-ranging political activism unions focus on “deviates from unions’ primary mission to support and advocate for the professional lives of teachers — to the detriment of both their members and our children,” writes Nathaniel Grossman of the Fordham Institute.

This is because the time, effort, and expense needed to fight these political battles cannot also be used to support teachers in educating students. When unions combat climate change, they ignore the chronic absenteeism that has plagued schools since the pandemic began. When they attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict, they lose sight of the scope of learning loss that needs to be overcome before students are college and career ready.

Teachers’ unions can’t take on everything without ending up doing many things poorly, Grossman continues.

“It’s a zero-sum game, and every bit of energy that’s dedicated to these extracurricular projects is taken away from the primary mission of supporting teachers in their day-to-day professions.”

It’s telling when the National Education Association (NEA) — to which Minnesota teacher union members pay dues — fails to pass a resolution that says the union will “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

According to former local union rep and veteran teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, “…[W]hile great teachers work feverishly to educate children in reading, math, and other core subjects,” unions’ control of the conversation around education has Americans believing that all teachers agree with the union agenda.

We do not.

Unions — more aptly named the education mafia — have picked our pockets, exploited our profession, ravaged our students, and dismantled our once-great educational system, all while claiming to represent us.

The track record of teacher unions replacing their labor-related goals with activism and favoring politics over academic achievement should be concerning to all.