Are Teachers Union Members Wasting Time and Energy on Radical ‘Occupy’ Protests?

CHICAGO – American public schools are in trouble, both financially and academically.

One might expect the nation’s teachers unions to be focused on addressing those problems and creating better opportunities for our nation’s students.

But the unions spend little time or money addressing the decline of public education. Instead they dig in and fight for higher wages and benefits at a time when schools can’t afford them, and involve themselves in radical political causes that have nothing to do with education.

A good example is the unions’ current fascination with the “Occupy Wall Street” (or whatever street in whatever town) movement.

teacher arrested ows
Chicago teachers union member arrested

But the leadership ranks of our nation’s teachers unions – at the national, state and local level – are clearly dominated by left-wing radicals who are more concerned about social revolution than student achievement.

Their brazen political views are illustrated by the millions of dollars they traditionally spend on political candidates, mostly liberal Democrats. Their effort to sell their radical philosophy has spread to our nation’s classrooms. Consider the recent words of Bob Peterson, a noted Marxist and president of the Milwaukee teachers union:

If teacher unions want to be strong and well-supported, it is essential that they not only be teacher unionists, but teachers of unionism. We need to create a generation of students who support teachers and the movement for workers rights, oppressed peoples rights. That’s our responsibility.

Peterson has since established a Facebook page called “Teach OWS (Occupy Wall Street),” which he bills as a resource to help teachers instruct their students about the righteousness of the Occupy movement, according to the Huffington Post.

Other union radicals have joined the anarchists, communists and other anti-capitalist groups in the “give us more handouts” street demonstrations occurring throughout the nation.

There’s a lesson to teach our kids – when times are tough, don’t roll up your sleeves and work harder to survive or prepare yourself for the challenges of the future. Just take to the streets and whine about an economic system that creates all the wealth that the progressives so desperately want to redistribute.

Forget that private property taxes, paid by a million different businesses large and small, provide billions of dollars in revenue for public schools every year. And those dollars are used to pay millions of teachers and provide opportunities for students.

Forget that many large corporations donate millions of dollars to help struggling public schools. Forget that private investors create most of the jobs that the students of today will eventually fill when they graduate.

The “fat cats” are the enemy, no matter what they do.

A local teachers union official from Michigan was recently photographed wearing a t-shirt with the words “Eat the Rich.” That pretty much sums up the teachers union attitude regarding hard work and individual achievement, and they’re sharing their feelings with your children.

Whining in the streets

A video produced by our own EAGtv crew captured members of the Chicago Teachers Union working with radical organizer Lisa Fithian last week to stage a protest featuring the prearranged arrests of certain members, to provide dramatic fodder for the gathered media.

In New York, teachers and everyday Wall Street protesters planned to “storm” a Department of Education meeting last week. No word on how this unproductive mass temper tantrum turned out.

In Los Angeles, thousands of teachers union members joined Occupy Los Angeles demonstrators in a march from city hall to the school district headquarters.

The always-radical California Teachers Association recently endorsed the Occupy craze, explaining in a statement that “the wealth inequities are stark and the concentration of wealth among the nation’s top one percent of earners is hurting the quality of life for the other 99 percent of us.”

The Oakland Education Assocation’s Executive Board voted to support “the national grass roots Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed.” Union members participated in an “Occupy Oakland” rally at City Hall to demand “economic justice.”

“The OEA has long advocated for a fair tax structure that would require corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share to sustain the society from which they profit,” a statement from the union said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association also endorsed “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston and similar protests across the country that are calling attention to political and economic systems that unfairly reward the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.”

Union apologist Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian, said she has heard from teachers “coast to coast” who are participating in various Occupy activities, ranging from “teach-ins, grade-ins, lessons and Facebook groups.”

Just think, all of that energy could have been poured into teaching kids the fundamentals they will need in the future. Teachers could even spend some classroom time discussing the Occupy protests with their students, while carefully and responsibly presenting all points of view. But how boring and unrevolutionary would that be?

Of course it’s all about money

If there’s any connection between public education and the Occupy demonstrations, it’s the call for higher taxes, which presumably would raise more money for public schools.

We watched this idea gain momentum last year in Springfield, Illinois, when a huge crowd of union teachers beseeched state lawmakers to “raise our taxes.” They obviously weren’t speaking for the millions of unemployed or underemployed property owners who really can’t afford another tax levy right now.

The teachers unions want us to believe that nothing is wrong with public schools that a few more billion dollars would not cure.

But as we’ve learned, more money for public education usually only means higher wages and more expensive benefits for union members. It certainly doesn’t equate to higher student performance or larger budgets for school districts.

In 2010, for example, a good portion the $10 billion federal “edujobs” bill, which was supposed to save thousands of teaching jobs, was frequently used for teacher raises and bonuses, or to temporarily replenish sagging teacher pension funds.

In situations where the jobs of younger teachers were saved with “edujobs” money, it was generally because local union leaders refused to make contract concessions to free up dollars to keep them employed.

Union labor costs tie up as much as 75 percent of a typical school’s budget, but too many union leaders would never consider giving up any perks – even temporarily – for the benefit of students.

There are schools laying off younger teachers and cancelling student programs, but are still giving teachers automatic annual salary raises, seniority bonuses and reimbursement for unused sick days. In the 2009-10 school year, the Paterson, New Jersey school district spent more than $1 million on extra pay for teachers to monitor lunchrooms!

Our education priorities are clearly out of whack. And nothing will change until taxpayers demand that public schools set aside the union agenda and force teachers to focus on the task at hand, which is properly educating students. Our children will be able to form political viewpoints of their own in the future, as long as they’re able to read and write.

But one thing is clear. We’re wasting our time if we’re counting on the powerful teachers unions to play any role in the improvement of public education. They’re too busy promoting a Marxist revolution in the streets. Don’t bother them with silly questions like “Why can’t Johnny read his own high school diploma?”