UNIONS AND CHOICE-When some people become frightened, they’ll say and do some amazingly asinine things. Utilizing that as a guide, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (photo above) is apparently scared spitless. With Supreme Court decisions on the horizon that could eradicate forced unionism and eliminate laws that states have been using to thwart school choice, the union leader could be in for a considerable loss of money and power.
The latest union freak-out started with an event on “school vouchers and racism” hosted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for American Progress, a leftist research and advocacy organization which is financially supported by both national teachers’ unions. CAP had just released a report which claimed that educational vouchers were born in the effort by southern states to resist racial integration after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling.
Seems that in an effort to resist court-ordered desegregation after Brown, Virginia’s Prince Edward County sought to thwart the Court’s decision by closing its public schools, then giving vouchers to white families that they could use to send their kids to segregated private schools. So, CAP takes this (granted, ugly) case and spins it as the “sordid history of school vouchers.” (Interestingly, CAP made no mention of the G.I. Bill, the country’s first significant voucher program, which was signed into law in 1944, 15 years before Prince Edward County’s end-around. But, hey, why ruin your agenda-driven narrative with inconvenient facts?)
Enter Randi Weingarten, who was drooling over the magic elixir she had just stumbled upon. The union leader now had ammo that could be used as a rejoinder to all those annoyingly misguided parents who are trying to get their kids out of the schools that her union has helped run into the ground. When she excitedly took the podium at her union’s biennial convention, just a few days after the release of the CAP report, she triumphantly proclaimed, “This privatization and disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”
Her gratuitous and idiotic comment sent every choicer in the country grabbing for Maalox. Rick Hess, Derrell Bradford, Kevin Chavous, Jeanne Allen, and many others excoriated the union boss for her comments. Allow me to pile on.
First of all, given the rampant racist history of labor unions, Weingarten’s accusations are the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle racist. As Commentary writer Herbert Hill wrote in 1959, in various industries “trade unions practice either total exclusion of the Negro, segregation (in the form of ‘Jim Crow’ locals, or ‘auxiliaries’), or enforce separate, racial seniority lines which limit Negro employment to menial and unskilled classifications… In the South, unions frequently acted to force Negroes out of jobs that had formerly been considered theirs.”
Clearly racism in unions was much more ingrained than it has ever been in the voucher movement. But Weingarten won’t talk about such things. Much too icky.
Another thing Weingarten doesn’t bother acknowledging is the popularity of private school choice among minorities, who are supposed to be the victims of these “racist” voucher programs. She also has no comment on the latest report from EdChoice’s Greg Forster, who regularly surveys the empirical research on private school choice programs. “Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.” At the same time, Think Progress, a progressive news site associated with CAP, reports that American public schools are more segregated now than they were in 1968. Yes, Randi, government- and union-run schools are much more segregated than the voucher schools you love to hate.
One other very telling comment by Weingarten was transmitted via a tweet to her archenemy, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “@BetsyDeVosED says public $ should invest in indiv students. NO we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.”
DeVos retorted: “They have made clear that they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than about individual students. They are saying that education is not an investment in individual students. They are totally wrong.”
Precisely. Weingarten and her cronies are much more interested in propping up the system, keeping the government-union duopoly in place because it allows the unions’ corruptive power and money to flow. But the lives of individual kids are of no great import to them.
At the end of the day, rich people will always have school choice. Parents with means can afford to move to an area with a superior public school or they can send their kids to a private school. Poor parents, many of whom are minorities, don’t have those choices. And she intimates that the choicers are racists!
While I am not claiming that Weingarten has a racial animus, for all intents and purposes, the actions and policies she promotes reveal exactly that.
(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.