Recently in Time magazine, American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten argued, “Far-right advocates of privatizing public education are using Big Lies to undermine public schools.”
However, in an eye-opening resignation letter, Oakland school board member Shanthi Gonzales, a former labor organizer, shows that it is the teachers union that is causing schools and students to fail.
Ms. Weingarten says that “extremists” use a playbook for attacking public schools where “they concoct lies, smears and distortions that stoke fear and anger, such as that eight-year-old white students are being taught to hate themselves because they are responsible for slavery.”
For example, according to the CFER report, a high school in Southern California last year required an article entitled “Why I’m A Racist” in science and English classes. The article begins with the author stating that he is a white American male and because of that, despite his upbringing of treating everyone equally, he is still a racist. Parents complained, but the school district dismissed their concerns as “misinformation.”
And, ironically, it is actually the teacher unions that are willing to use race-baiting tactics to get their way. Just ask Ms. Gonzales.
Ms. Gonzales, a former organizer for the Service Employees International Union, recently resigned from the Oakland school board, where she served a stint as board president. A key reason for her resignation: The use of race-based intimidation by the Oakland teachers union.
In her resignation letter, Ms. Gonzales said that the union and its allies use race to shut down debate by “accusing leaders of being racist or anti-Black in response to disagreement.”
“If there is harm being done that disproportionately affects some groups of students or staff,” she observes, “let’s have that conversation rather than attempting to delegitimize and silence one another.”
What tactics did the union and its allies use to silence its opponents?
According to Ms. Gonzales: “Attempting to silence board members and other community members through acts of intimidation (in my case, contacting my employer to ask that I be condemned for supporting school closures [due to enrollment decreases]); in the case of others, vandalizing their homes, accosting them outside their homes at midnight, cutting their internet cables during board meetings, denouncing them during their church services as ‘Black Judas,’ flyering our neighborhoods with flyers calling us racists, and lots more.”
While Ms. Weingarten and the teacher unions accuse parents of endangering school board members, Ms. Gonzales says that it is union behavior that threatens the safety of board members.
“The union and its allies,” she warns, “need to stop engaging in irresponsible rhetoric that has led to escalating threatening behavior toward board members.”
Ms. Weingarten argues that “unchecked disinformation and dehumanization cause untold damage and suffering.” Yet, Ms. Gonzales points out that the Oakland union has “not condemned any of the recent acts of intimidation toward board members.” Evidently, union concern about suffering depends on who is suffering.
Most revealing, says Ms. Gonzales, is the union’s “refusal to engage on the issue of school quality.” That refusal, she notes, “is hurting our students.”
As the pandemic was winding down, the union “did everything they could to prevent returning to in-person instruction, even though they knew we weren’t meeting our legal and moral obligations, in particular to our most vulnerable students.”
The union engaged in a recent illegal strike, “even knowing how much instruction students missed over the last two years and how critical in-person instruction is right now.”
Further, the union “has resisted change intended to improve our schools,” including the implementation of a successful phonics-based reading curriculum.
No wonder, she says, that nearly half of Oakland high school students “are one or more years below grade level in reading.”
Ms. Weingarten and the teachers unions claim that right-wing boogeymen are responsible for the horrible state of public education. But as Ms. Gonzales points out, the reality is that the teachers unions pose the biggest threat to school quality, student learning, and the civil functioning of democracy.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the recent book “The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic Policies, and Possibilities.”