COLUMN: Amid teacher tantrums, educators' heroism is obscured

Friday, March 4, 2011 | 11:52 a.m. CST; updated 12:10 a.m. CST, Friday, March 11, 2011

While I appreciate good theater, the hundreds of educators protesting in Wisconsin and elsewhere are depicting us teachers as a bunch of spoiled brats.  The general public, the legislators and the governors are already abreast of the common gripes. This current spectacle at the capitols makes us seem unreasonable.

Every profession comes with its downsides. Others complain less because they have less influence. Nonunion onlookers observe union supporters with the ability to turn legislators into fugitives and hold working parents hostage and come to the conclusion that public workers could stand to lose a little collective bargaining power.

We all make our choices. Construction is not for me because I do not like to sweat involuntarily; truck driving would not facilitate the home life my wife and I envisioned; and modeling was out of the question since my personal fitness preferences at a young age led me down a road of lonely evenings that better developed the gift of sarcastic introspection I would need to be a writer.

People often choose careers because they become skilled in what they practice and they practice what they enjoy. Sounds good — but then later those same people, without realizing it, get stuck in the daily duties of horrible destinies like nursing, supervising, organizing, repairing, landscaping, computer networking, typing, accounting, et al. Notice these professions all involve gerunds — verbs disguised as nouns. It's a trick. I foresaw the fate of the teaching gerund and I liked it.

There are not many other gerunds that give a person the opportunity to help future adults in the most malleable moments — for better or worse. While sometimes teaching feels more like policing and babysitting, it is more often leading, counseling, instructing and other gerunds more fitting for people like me.

Plus, let’s be honest. I like the freedom afforded by an English degree to blink like an Amish boy in the electronic section at Walmart when friends show me their computers or cars and ask for help. Seldom has a friend called on a Saturday morning for an emergency poem. No one calls me at 3 a.m. to come quickly. People have no expectations for me with toilets or sniffles or taxes or confessions or bail bonds. No reason to call the English teacher.

Occasionally I do get an e-mail and to be fair it is usually not to just say “Hi” — there always seem to be files attached.

We teachers would do better to remind people why we purposely chose teaching as our gerund.

My colleagues and I were asked in a faculty meeting to write down why we wanted to be teachers. We were then supposed to seal it in an envelope and save it for a day when we forget the answers. I wrote that I hated hearing all the victims of 9/11 referred to as heroes. The term should be reserved for people like the firemen that were running into the building when everyone else was running out of it. I came to the field of education because I perceived young people as being trapped and I wanted to join the other heroes running in to save them.

That letter was written nine years ago and since then I’ve experienced highs like National Merit Scholars graduating and lows like three students dying. The goal is even truer now.

While this point is debatable, it is my belief that the teaching gerund is the most critical, except for maybe parenting. I would gamble that if we better communicated our motives, instead of throwing temper tantrums, the public would reward only politicians who do not need collective bargaining.

Brad is an area high school teacher for a school that wishes to remain anonymous and a father of a family that wish they were, too. Brad has been contributing to the Missourian for nearly one week.

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Shelley Powers March 5, 2011 | 1:45 p.m.

Spoiled brat? Is that what you think?

What I see is people standing up for their rights. Not sitting down passively. Not willing to be abused because the people of the state elected a pontificating bully.

Perhaps you should have taken a few history classes to go with your English coursework--say, the first fifty years of American history, and the reasons why unions are necessary.

Perhaps if you thought of others as much as you think of yourself, you'd have a little more empathy for the teachers in Wisconsin.

And your use of the word gerund...seriously?

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 5, 2011 | 2:34 p.m.

Shelley P. - "Spoiled brat? Is that what you think?" In my case, absolutely!

Your only attention to the problem in Wisconsin is to name the one leading the effort to correct the problem a"pontificating bully", a common occurrence among progressive liberals having nothing else in their never ending fight to continue to take without ever giving.

I don't have the "right" you write about and neither do the workers of the Federal Gov't, which Democrats also hold closely to assure their share of the dues money pumped to the union bosses. If unions were necessary, the private sector would be embracing them rather than showing near total rejection. The State of Wisconsin is near bankruptcy. "Perhaps if you thought of others as much as you think of yourself"?

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 5, 2011 | 3:06 p.m.

O yes, Shelley - the horrible oppression of having to pay 5% toward your own pension, and 12% of your healthcare.

Why, it's a regular Upton Sinclair novel. "The Jungle Gym."

(Report Comment)
William Duker March 5, 2011 | 3:15 p.m.

Ms. Powers,
I wish you were as concerned about the children who suffer under the abuse of the teachers' unreasonable demands for compensation and tenured employment based not on performance but negotiated contracts.

The current financial argument has been co-opted by the unions. The real argument should not be financial but how socialism and central planning have crippled a once proud teaching profession, our educational system and failed our children. Shame on the few selfish union leaders.

Having a job is not a right, it a privileged and responsibility but not a right.

Brad, I'm not sure communication alone is enough. Depends on what you mean by communication. I believe the real problem is not teachers and unions but uninvolved/apathetic parents and citizens.

Good government, and schools, require active citizens. When parents abdicate their responsibilities, the interest of the teachers fill the void. We still live in a representative government for the time being. Active, informed, unselfish citizens could quickly correct the problem.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers March 5, 2011 | 5:36 p.m.

The teachers have been willing to contribute more to their pension and health care. The sticking point is giving up their collective bargaining rights.

There's no reason for this, other than wanting to bust the union. The union said they would be willing to suspend these rights temporarily during the so-called financial crises, but they didn't want to lose them permanently.

They have been willing to compromise, to work with the governor, but all he's willing to do is threaten layoffs and demand he gets his way, and only his way.

And as for that crises--he actually created it with a bunch of sweeping tax breaks and other financial decisions he made as soon as he went into office.

His actions are like those of the state legislature in Missouri--voting to kill corporate franchise taxes, without providing any hint or clue where the 80+ million dollars that we normally get from these taxes is going to be recovered.

And the myth of "overpaid" public workers, does not stand up to fact checking. For instance, in Missouri

More importantly, ublic workers are not Other. They're your neighbors, your friends, and your family. They're from the fire department, the police, the inspectors that ensure you have safe food, and safe places to live.

They're a heck of lot more like you, then the rich people you all keep wanting to give more money to.

And it's The Jungle, not the Jungle Gym. You can download a free copy of the book online. I suggest you read it.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 5, 2011 | 6:00 p.m.

I have read it, Shelley. It was a joke, at your expense. A wasted one, apparently.

Private sector unions balance the interests of workers against the power of (primarily) companies and corporations. Public sector unions balance the interests of workers against...whom? Taxpayers. They take dues money from members to donate almost exclusively to "progressives", basically attempting to elect their own bosses, with whom they can then "negotiate" (wink, wink).

Your nostalgia for the worthy causes of private sector unions is admirable, but a tad misplaced in the case of the present Wisconsin dispute.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers March 5, 2011 | 6:33 p.m.

Tony Robertson, I wondered at that. Ha ha, so funny.

Public workers are workers, just like you and me. Forget who pays the bills, they're workers just like you and me. They have the same rights, as you and me.

This question came up in Missouri.


"In a 1947 case, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that provision “can only be construed to apply to employees in the private sector.”

But Chief Justice Michael Wolff, writing for the majority, specifically overruled that decision Tuesday, saying it contradicted the plain language of the constitution.

“‘Employees’ plainly means employees,” Wolff wrote. “There is no adjective; there are no words that limit ’employees’ to private sector employees.”


(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 5, 2011 | 6:44 p.m.

Shelley- so you are cool with the arrangement I described?

Color me oh so surprised.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 5, 2011 | 8:28 p.m.

Shelly - Another problem with your sage posts. "And as for that crises--he actually created it with a bunch of sweeping tax breaks and other financial decisions he made as soon as he went into office." Really? 137M$ in tax cuts imposed after January 2011 created a 3.6B$ deficit for that State and that is why Walker is warning of dire job cuts in public work force? Not true. Try to forget the Supreme Court and the ideology provided by the Democratic Party that creates the base for elitist domination, with union soldiers controlling the populace for them. If you'd like further discussion about "the ideology" so state.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 5, 2011 | 10:31 p.m.

@Shelley Powers: you had me at "Forget who pays the bills".

I would try, but I'm reminded every April 15 (and every quarter, and every December 31 locally), who it is, who pays the bills.

Forget who pays the bills. You could print that on a bumper sticker, slap it right over your "Hope and Change '08" sticker, and not miss a single beat.

Forget who pays the bills. Indeed. You may very well have unwittingly written the epitaph for "progressivism."

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers March 6, 2011 | 8:45 a.m.

frank christian,

Tell me something: when the unions agreed to the pension and wage plans, then what does collective bargaining add monetarily?

It doesn't add to the income, it doesn't add to the outcome.

When the unions were willing to make the fiscal compromise, why remove their collective bargaining? What does this have to do with budgets?

As for the budget, well, I'd link several items that deconstruct the so-called "crises", but you'd just accuse them of being liberal propaganda, so what's the point? If it doesn't come from Fox network, it can't be real, right?

Regardless, you can look up more on the budget via Google.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers March 6, 2011 | 8:46 a.m.

Tony Robertson, people who work for the public do not have fewer rights than people who work for private industries.

That's all there is to it: workers have rights in this country. It shouldn't matter who their employer is.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 6, 2011 | 9:41 a.m.

Shelley Powers: Federal employees, too? Should President Obama extend collective bargaining rights to all federal employees, also?

What about those whose employer is the Dept of Defense? Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines?

I mean, if you are going to be such an absolutist on the issue, then by all means go whole hog (pardon the agrarian expression).

You disagree with the patron saint of the modern left, FDR, on public sector unions?

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers March 6, 2011 | 10:54 a.m.

Tony Robertson, soldiers are a different story, and it's absurd that your fixation against unions causes you to group them in with teachers and other civilian workers.

You must be talking about FDR's letter on public unions

Again, I understand the concerns. The key to withholding collective bargaining from federal workers is that the power of a strike by federal workers is disproportionate to the power that they, as citizens, should rightfully hold. It's a compelling argument. At the same time, I have to return to the Missouri judge's decision: an employee is an employee.

But, this isn't about federal employees, this is about public sector unions in Wisconsin. Unlike federal workers, the power of their strike would not be disproportionate.

Revoking collective bargaining has no impact, one way or another, on Wisconsin's budget "crises". Add to this the fact, that the governor is arbitrary--demanding concessions from some public sector unions, but not others--shows that this is a political move, more than a fiscal move.

He has targeted unions that do lean Democrat, but left other unions that lead Republican alone. This is an abuse of his power--not in the interests of serving the people, but his own political agenda. As was so profoundly demonstrated with the "phone call" from "David Koch".

However, both the fire and police unions have marched in support of the other unions--good for them.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 6, 2011 | 11:22 a.m.

Shelley P. - Walker says the Wisconsin deficit will swell to 3.6 B$ over next three years. Last D' administration announced it would be over 2B$. Seems that Governor overlooked 1B$ of deficit. Walker says the average union negotiation takes 15 months and local gov'ts won't be able to handle the cuts he must make while waiting for union agreement. Would you bet that unions would not put rejection of this agreement first on the list of a future negotiation? They will still be able to negotiate "salary".

Yes, before I read it I heard Walker say it on FOX News. Your assertion is, Walker lies. Right?

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 6, 2011 | 11:53 a.m.

@Shelley Powers: So, in conclusion, we cannot "forget who pays the bills", and it does "matter who their employer is."
Looks like my work on that score is done here.

Dems claimed Walker and Koch were in cahoots, thick as thieves. Well, not so thick as to know his cohort's voice on the phone, it seems. Funny how much fun the left has had with this particular "punking", but Keefe's ACORN stunt, not so much. Maybe Dan Rather can fake a memo, and that too can make TPM's blog.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 6, 2011 | 11:59 a.m.

One more thing, I have no fixation against unions, as I pointed out above. My father was a Teamster - I have seen firsthand the worth of their role in balancing the interests of labor with the power of management. My concerns are with the role of public sector unions. Hardly an extremist or absolutist position.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 8, 2011 | 10:52 a.m.

Well done, Brad. You've raised the ire of those who "suffer under the abuse of the teachers' unreasonable demands."
As if teachers don't have enough obstacles that you have to call them "spoiled brats" for exercising their First Amendment rights - remember the whole "peaceably assemble" to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Are there other Constitutional rights that should be considered only by spoiled brats? Should voting be considered a tantrum from spoiled brats, too? Perhaps you'd like to call the NRA and those concerned about protecting the 2nd Amendment spoiled brats, too? Pathetic.

Alas, in the land of Breitbart the one-dimensioned man is king.

(Report Comment)
William Duker March 10, 2011 | 12:25 a.m.

The teachers have not been denied their 1st amendment rights. It's disingenuous to pretend that the only way people can petition the government is through collective bargaining.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 10, 2011 | 5:30 a.m.

In the days when large unions meant organizations like the UMWA, USWA, IBEW, etc., attaching labels like "spoiled brat*" would have almost been viewed as terms of endearment. Those are the union organizations some of us associate with collective bargaining, picketing and strikes.

[I believe John L. Lewis was a great American, regardless of anyone's opinion of the United Mine Workers of America.]

We might want to remember some reasons why membership in those unions decreased. In the case of UMWA a significant decrease was due to replacement of people by machines, but decreases have also been because jobs have gone elsewhere.

It's not likely we'll see state jobs in Wisconsin transferred to China or India, but it's not likely taxpayers in Wisconsin or other states can endlessly shoulder runaway costs of state government.

*- Some terminology used on picket lines and even at the negotiating table could not be employed by a family newspaper (and it wasn't always the union that was using obscene terms).

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 10, 2011 | 8:27 a.m.

The land of Ed Schultz, et al, has an even more one-dimensional monarchy, it seems, with the attitude that a union is a union is a union, and the same attitude toward employers.

The analogy of the NRA to a union is an apple-to-orange comparison worthy of the very best fruit experiment station scientist.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 11, 2011 | 8:12 a.m.

William: To deny teacher (public employees) their rights to peaceably assemble, or to deride them for exercising those is unconscionable. Furthermore, in the NAACP v Alabama (1958), the US Supreme Court held that freedom of association is integral to freedom of speech - there's that 1st Amendment again.

Tony: the NRA would be nowhere without the same provisions used to protect their rights to association. Remember, laws prevent both the poor and the wealthy from sleeping under a bridge. If the unions don't have a right to associate, then neither does anybody.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 11, 2011 | 8:20 a.m.

Gregg: the right to association is not the same as the right to collective bargaining. No one - not Scott Walker, not the Wisconsin legislators who actually show up to their jobs - is denying anyone's right to association.

I would also add that derision is an exercise of free speech, as well.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 11, 2011 | 10:39 a.m.

"Gregg: the right to association is not the same as the right to collective bargaining. No one - not Scott Walker, not the Wisconsin legislators who actually show up to their jobs - is denying anyone's right to association.

I would also add that derision is an exercise of free speech, as well."

If laborers can freely associate with whomever they choose, then they may freely associate with a labor union and democratically choose their negotiated employment contract. In math, it's called the transitive property. Employers get to associate at the Chamber of Commerce - they pool their capital resources. Since labor doesn't have capital, they have labor, then they get to pool their labor resources. While collective bargaining is "not the same" as right to associate, it is impossible to collectively bargain by oneself.

And yes, the First Amendment protects derision, satire and even "yo' momma" jokes. The freedom of speech doesn't protect only "tasteful" speech. Again, the First Amendment protects words from the sensible and blather from the thoughtless. Was anyone here suggesting otherwise?
Also, water is wet.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 11, 2011 | 11:34 a.m.

Gregg, does the freedom to associate also encompass the freedom to not associate, for a company to tell workers their union is not recognized and they can leave it they don't like that?

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 11, 2011 | 12:17 p.m.

Gregg: Can you point me to any state governments legally required to negotiate contracts with the Nat'l Rifle Associataion, which affect present and future outlays of taxpayer money? 'Cause, I must have missed that. And that is where your analogy is apple-to-orange.

The Chamber of Commerce analogy is almost as off-base.

Interestingly enough, most of the union members I knew growing up were also NRA members, including my dad, and myself (briefly in the former, still in the latter).

Sadly, I know very few "yo' mamma" jokes.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 11, 2011 | 3:08 p.m.

Where would liberals like Gregg Bush be without the 1st Amendment to hinge their damaging, destructive actions and abusive, inane, speech upon?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 11, 2011 | 4:32 p.m.

I don't know Frank, but can you tell us how that's relevant considering there is no First Amendment right for Gregg or any of us to comment on Missourian stories?

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 11, 2011 | 5:13 p.m.

The same freedom enjoyed by the US Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, political parties, and labor unions is the freedom to associate. If there was no freedom to associate, none of these groups would have a Constitutional basis to exist and could be declared illegal.

Mr. Schultz, while I'm no labor lawyer, what you are describing is, as far as I know, illegal. Similarly, you may not fire - or refuse to hire - a person because they are a woman, gay, black, Asian, married, widowed, pregnant, Republican or Jewish. There's a few more, but you get the idea.

As someone who has spent a large part of his adult life working as a free-lancer with contracts, I'm always stunned by the antipathy directed towards those who want to work under a contract voted on in a democratic fashion.
I love democracy. I know the Edmund Burke's out there think that democracy is nothing more than mob rule. But I'll take a messy, loud democracy over the tight fist of authoritarianism anyday.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 11, 2011 | 6:26 p.m.

Gregg: Once more, no one, not Scott Walker, not those jackbooted Repubs in Madison, not some sinister cabal of them together with the Tooth Fairy, Santa, Elvis, and the ghost of Hitler, is trying to deny anyone the right of assembly and association. Most certainly not me.

You seem to be trying to chop down the mightiest tree in the forest with...a red herring.

Surely you are intelligent enough to understand the differences between associating, assembling, lobbying, and public-sector collective bargaining.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 11, 2011 | 6:59 p.m.

Please don't call me, Surely.

TIMBERRR! "Once more, no one, not Scott Walker, not those jackbooted Repubs in Madison, not some sinister cabal of them together with the Tooth Fairy, Santa, Elvis, and the ghost of Hitler, is trying to deny anyone the right of assembly and association."

Well, you've succeeded with your own red herring. I'll stick to my transitive property over your imaginative condescension.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson March 11, 2011 | 7:39 p.m.

Gregg: And I'll stick with Burke's Britain, over Robespierre's "messy, loud democracy", thank you very much. Though I like our Republic better than either.

Any luck finding any state governments legally required to negotiate contracts with the Nat'l Rifle Association, which affect present and future outlays of taxpayer money?

I don't think my condescension is nearly as imaginative as your analogies.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 11, 2011 | 8:07 p.m.

Gregg Bush - I understand some of the "rights" the union is being asked to relinquish: right to have an employee lose job if will not join union. to have State of Wisconsin deduct union dues from member pay checks. Have secret ballot annually to make sure majority want to be in the union and the real reason for the whole mess, the Wisconsin Education Ass'n will no longer pick the health care co. for its members. This will cost the union a fortune, while saving Wisconsin at present least $200 per month per employee. This is mine from another post. The pertinent words came from a Wisconsin newspaper. The writer I was answering referred to the union losses as "rights". You seem to prefer "freedoms". Do you contend that these union "bargained" freedoms may not be taken away by the State of Wisconsin, though, near bankruptcy because of, what?

Water is wet, and the well can run dry, even in America.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 11, 2011 | 9:35 p.m.

Gregg, yes, denying unions is illegal to some degree, but only because government said so. Should it be? I don't think unions should be in the same category as minorities, but then I also think people have the right to discriminate against anyone (and also to lose business because of those beliefs).

(Report Comment)

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