Refusal of teacher unions to have a ‘mea culpa’ moment

Personal responsibility plays an important role in education. The public school institution has a responsibility to create an environment for learning. The student has the responsibility to engage in learning and master the material. Parents are responsible for fostering a culture of responsibility.

But what about the importance of personal responsibility among others, whose decisions also impact student learning? In this case, I’m referring to teacher unions’ complete lack of self-reflection on how their push for extended remote education/school closures greatly contributed to the setbacks students are facing today.

Take this recent tweet by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten: “What we have seen in public education is that technology can’t replace teachers. Remote education didn’t work, in part because you have to have relationships. You have to build trust.”

As I detail out here in my education report here, pausing how schools normally operated when COVID-19 first began in the spring of 2020 was an understandable precaution. But what started as a public health intervention soon expanded into a political response that brought considerable and unnecessary costs upon our next generation of leaders.

Ms. Weingarten has claimed that her union “tried to reopen schools,” but there is a treasure trove of evidence on how “AFT unions offered more resistance than cooperation” even in districts where schools eventually reopened, documented Mike Antonucci for The 74. Efforts to reopen schools were branded as racist (even though remote learning harmed students of color most), and demands for funds to “safely” reopen resulted in $122 billion in federal money that has largely gone unspent. Emails between AFT and CDC officials also showed the influence the union had on school reopening guidance that made it challenging for schools to stay open if they even could reopen.

“The refusal to take responsibility is a way to once again protect the feelings of adults over the basic rights of children,” wrote teacher and former union representative Alex Gutentag in Tablet.

And while I am pointing out an example of the teacher union engaging in the recess of responsibility, Gutentag’s piece with the same name rightly reminds us that many with a say in education have skirted accountability for their decisions, particularly those who advocated for school closures. “The very least we can do now is stop making excuses and be honest about it,” he concludes.