"Larry, you've got it all wrong... the teachers' union doesn't represent all teachers," said the frustrated voice on the other end of the phone call. "Most of my colleagues want to be back at school. We're pissed at the union leadership!"
It happens every time I discuss the current state of government-run education in America and the frustration-bordering-on-outright-hostility so many parents are feeling toward their school teachers who continue to pretend that gathering a gaggle of 3rd-graders in a video chat room is more than adequate as an educational and social experience.
My almost daily conversation about how our children are suffering through this virtual learning experiment takes place on major talk radio stations in Los Angeles (KABC and Washington, DC (WMAL) and the commonality of perspectives from parent and teacher on both coasts is staggering.
Parents express their anger at teachers union leaders who consistently move the goalposts, jump in line for vaccinations, demand leeway and conditions that no other industry in America has been allowed to demand and still refuse to return to the basic function of their profession: In-person, classroom instruction.
But, the parents' anger goes well beyond that. They are enormously resentful that those who speak for the teachers are wildly indignant of any suggestion that they should step up and meet these parents half-way by bending on some of their more extraordinary demands so that the "kids in the classroom" goal can be met.
All of us have had to figure out a way to change our way of doing business to accommodate the coronavirus protocols over the past year. All of us. The very same teachers who refuse to return to the classroom surely get their food at the local supermarket and see that through masks, social distancing, and properly placed plexiglass, these businesses have figured it out.
If Kroger's can make it work, why can't educators? If banks can make it work, why can't educators? If airlines can make it work, why can't educators? If TV shows can make it work, why can't educators? If doctors' offices can make it work, why can't educators? And on and on and on...
Parents have even changed the way they refer to the school systems they pay for. I hear "public schools" less and less. "Public schools" suggests that we, the people, the public, still have some say in the curriculum and the operations of these institutions. Clearly, we do not. Our desires, needs, and demands are ignored and mocked with disdain by teachers, administrators, and school board members.
These are not really public schools anymore because the wishes and interests of the public are ignored on a routine basis by those in charge. These are government-run schools.
When I take calls on this topic, the frustrated parents vent and beg for solutions. Then, inevitably, I'll get a teacher to call. It always goes the same way.
"Larry, I love your show. I listen all the time. Not all teachers are the same. Most of my colleagues hate what's going on. We hate what's being done to the curriculum, and we hate how the union has refused to bend on getting back to the classroom. Don't paint with a broad brush. The union doesn't represent us."
I am sympathetic to this argument. I was once in an industry dominated by loud, angry, radical voices of the political extremes on the left. I knew that we weren't all like that. I knew there were conservatives among the ranks, but we had no opportunity to speak out. We would keep our mouths shut until we couldn't take it anymore.
In my case, I got out and found a new profession where I could speak my mind. Or, at the very least, not be silenced into submission by the domineering strong-arm of my industry leaders.
So, I get it up to a point.
I was in the entertainment industry. The long-term repercussions of my industry's behaviors result in the decaying of our culture and the dumbing-down of society, and that's a problem. But, not as big a problem as the sorry state of the education of America's children.
"The union doesn't represent us." Doesn't it, though?
Unless teachers proactively speak out and challenge their leadership, the union literally will speak for all of them. Where are the contrary voices?
We've now reached the point where parents are so disenchanted with their elected leaders they've decided to fix this once and for all. They'll no longer sit idly by and ignore their school board elections because they have learned, at the expense of their own children, the kind of dogmatic, feckless hacks they've got calling the shots with their tax dollars and with their kids' futures. No more.
They will no longer whine about the state of their government-run schools, they will get organized and involved in their school boards and they will be a part of fixing this disaster.
So, what about teachers? The leadership of their unions is only in place and making decisions on their behalf because the membership has empowered them to do so. Unions, by definition, are the sole representative of their membership and will continue to speak and act on the membership's behalf as long as they are allowed.
If these unions don't represent the teachers, it is incumbent on the teachers to do what the parents are doing with their school boards. Make noise, be heard and make a change. Teachers can no longer enjoy the protection of silence when such disastrous actions have been made in their name.
It's time to get involved and take your union back from the radical, destructive forces now ruining the good names of the hard-working, dedicated teachers who truly do want to be in the classrooms teaching our children.
I only hope things haven't gone so far this year that there's no possible recovery.
Meanwhile, I've done my best to seek the independent teacher's voice out. Last week, I interviewed a 3rd-grade teacher from New York City schools. Eleni Fillipatos is with an organization called Teachers for Open Schools. Have you heard of them? Sadly, no, you probably haven't.
Listen to the interview here:
Larry O'Connor hosts a 2-hour radio program on KABC in Los Angeles and a separate, 3-hour radio program on WMAL in Washington, DC. Both shows are heard daily, Monday through Friday and the podcasts can be found here.
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