Editor's Note: This piece was authored by Garion Frankel.
The fight against critical race theory (CRT) in classrooms is raging across America. Led by the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo and Reason’s Corey DeAngelis, parents and students around the country are pushing against the academic practice, which teaches children that thanks to their skin color, they’re inherently evil. It’s racism in its most obvious form.
Enter Randi Weingarten, a lawyer, longtime union executive, and the current president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Weingarten has argued that those forces pushing back against CRT are part of “radical circles” that seek to censor teachers. She also directed the AFT to boost its legal defense fund, indicating that they are willing to take these claims to court.
And it’s increasingly clear that they couldn’t care less what parents think about CRT. In her formal response to their concerns, Weingarten accused them of being “culture warriors” who “want to deprive students of a robust understanding of our common history.”
To families new to education policy debates, the hostility of the AFT toward parental concerns may come as a surprise, but Weingarten and any union under her control have always been interested in power and political gain first and foremost. Parental concerns are far, far down the list.
This is who she's always been. The AFT’s political actions and statements have proven that the union is only interested in their own welfare, not that of students, and that Weingarten herself only appears to be concerned with her own political prospects.
Weingarten’s first position of note in union leadership came in 1998 when she was elected treasurer of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT), for which the AFT is an umbrella organization, but it would be only a year before Weingarten assumed full control.
The UFT was no stranger to wheeling and dealing in New York politics, but this only intensified under Weingarten’s rule. She quickly became a close ally and personal friend of Hillary Clinton, who was running for Senate at the time — a fact which must have weighed heavily against failed Senate candidate and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as his eventual successor Michael Bloomberg, during her first round of collective bargaining negotiations.
The end result of these negotiations, as well as similar rounds of collective bargaining in 2003 and 2006, were substantial increases in teacher pay — and minimal concessions on the union’s part. The union’s endorsement became a prized political tool, with The Sun newspaper reporting in 2005 that “Ms. Weingarten has become something of a kingmaker.”
Little changed when Weingarten assumed the presidency of the AFT in 2008. She had already endorsed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president, personally donating thousands of dollars to her campaign, while the wider union donated $15 million to their political allies in state and federal campaigns.
Each succeeding cycle saw greater and greater political spending from the AFT, including over $44 million in 2016, which also saw another endorsement of Clinton. Weingarten herself was much more active, even threatening to “go after” the National Nurses United for daring to endorse Bernie Sanders in that cycle’s Democratic primary.
Weingarten spent 2018 lobbying for gun control and precipitating teacher strikes nationwide. While 2020 and now 2021 have been overwhelmingly dominated by the much-maligned national, and union, response to COVID-19, the AFT still found time to endorse Joe Biden for president that March.
The point is not about who or what Weingarten and the AFT donated to, but why. After all, in their very own mission statement, the union claims to champion “high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities.”
As such, one would expect that students would be central to the union’s policy goals, but, aside from general platitudes relating to COVID-19, the union’s selection of New York Times columns reads more like a reinterpretation of a national party platform than a genuine attempt at pro-union advocacy.
Meanwhile, back in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been unwilling to do anything without AFT support. The union has used their political sway to block the expansion of non-union charter schools — greatly desired by the working-class families whose interests they claim to represent.
All in all, Weingarten’s actions reveal a modern day Boss Tweed who treats taxpayers as pawns in a complicated political chess game rather than as humans with human needs. What parents want is irrelevant, as is what would be good for students.
Randi Weingarten doesn't care about critical race theory. She doesn't care about in-person school in the fall. She likely doesn't even care whether or not kids learn to read.
All she cares about is power, and the methods of maintaining it.
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He serves as the policy director for the Texas Federation of College Republicans, and a contributor to Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter at: @FrankelGarion.