Rewriting history. Controlling the narrative. Gaslighting. Damage control. Going on offense.
Whatever you call it, the teachers unions were back at it recently, attempting to wipe clean a whiteboard scribbled with disastrous test-score numbers and evidence of the social and developmental damage incurred in schoolchildren deprived of in-person learning during the COVID pandemic.
The most recent effort came from Glenn Sacks, a union rep who teaches social studies in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Writing for RealClearPolitics on Jan. 10, he admits it is possible history will judge that teachers unions overreacted during COVID, but “at the time, in the face of enormous political pressure and great fear and uncertainty, teachers unions defended the safety of our students and their families.” He adds, “We owe an apology to no one.”
Not to the kids who suffered the worst learning loss in the last 30 years because of school closures? Not to the nine-year-olds whose math and reading proficiency dropped to the levels of two decades ago? Not to the minority kids who scored even lower — by significant margins — because their schools continued online learning longer than those in more affluent areas? Not to the kids who suffered mental-health problems and the physical and psychological consequences of being isolated from their peers for so long? Not to parents who saw society returning to normal but couldn’t resume their daily routines because teachers unions dragged their feet every time it looked like return to the classroom was nigh?
Nope. And Sacks lays out his reasons.
The unions’ goal is teacher welfare. In pursuing their goals, sometimes students suffer.
His Trump card is the first one he pulls from his hand. Big Orange is still the lefty go-to. The president should have been preparing safe protocols for opening schools when COVID hit in February 2020 but instead hectored teachers unions and threatened to cut off funding for schools that didn’t open in the fall.
Also, it’s not the teachers unions’ fault for the learning losses kids experienced during the pandemic, Sacks says, because parents were largely okay with Zoom school. Sacks cites “two nationally representative polls [that] found that between two-thirds and three-fourths of parents believed their children were receiving the proper type of instruction.” Sacks polled parents of his own kids in March 2021 and says only 15 percent wanted their kids back in the classroom.
And about that right-wing talking point that kids were the least vulnerable cohort of all to serious health problems from the virus and should have been back at school way earlier than the unions permitted them to be, we conservatives are missing the point. Lots of public school kids come from impoverished backgrounds, Sacks says, don’t have their own bedrooms, and live in cramped apartments. Kids who get COVID, presumably at school, can spread it to family members, who are most likely more vulnerable than they.
Readers of Sacks’ piece were not buying it. The comments section is filled with antipathy toward union inaction. “It’s fine to say ‘we didn’t know what we didn’t know’ in the beginning of the pandemic,” writes “Everett Brunson re-established,” “but it’s criminal when measures like school closings, the disaster of remote learning, and the deleterious effects masking had on students continued LONG after the adverse effects were known.”
Chimes in “MAloony”: “I guess someone has to try to defend the teacher’s unions. I’ll give anyone a full pass for mistakes made Jan-May 2020. By June we knew who was at risk and who wasn’t. Decisions made after June were agenda driven.” Or “InnocentBystander”: “Another plea for Covid amnesty by one of the perpetrators of the scandal. I’m sorry, but you can’t take a year or two off with pay at the cost of a lost generation and still have people respect you…or even like you. You did that, now own that.” Or “maggiet”: “In fact you were terrified of the virus, which was understandable only for the first few weeks, and you used children to protect yourself, which is horrid and unacceptable no matter what the threat is.”
A generous person would cut the unions some slack — for a few months, max. COVID hits in March 2020; nobody knows what it is, how it spreads, how to combat it. Teachers are as afraid as everybody else, so shutting down schools and having in-person learning for a while seems like a defensible call.
But by June 2020, the fog was lifting. We knew who was at high risk and who wasn’t. Public establishments were opening up, and many private and parochial schools were back to in-person learning, albeit with students masked. Those teachers were teaching school, in classrooms.
Schools could have opened in fall 2020, but instead another whole school year was forfeited to on-screen education. And, even after that school year ended, in 2021, there was pressure still to keep the schoolhouse doors locked, which happened in places around the country.
In February of 2021, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention readied to issue guidance to return to in-person schooling, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) successfully lobbied for language that kept schools closed. In March 2021, when the CDC told schools they could reduce social distancing to 3 feet, the union pushed against that too.
Sacks’ piece is the latest in a string of reclamation efforts by unions reps. AFT boss Randi Weingarten embarked on a reputation-rehab tour after the 2021 school year, hitting the newsrooms of the mainstream media, shilling for, and receiving, puff pieces from the New York Times and Washington Post, trying to make people forget that her union was behind widespread, national school closures that went on and on.
When, last year, she resumed her media rounds to lament the real damage that two years of educational disruption incurred on schoolkids — as if her union had nothing to do with it — the reaction from parents and pundits was volcanic. Tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz: “Remind me again who wanted to keep schools closed. Oh right… teachers union boss Randi Weingarten.” Responded New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz: “No one is more responsible for the damage inflicted on America’s kids than Randi Weingarten…. She blocked the schoolhouse door for so many American kids. These consequences are largely her fault.”
Among the many revelations about our educational system that came from the COVID pandemic is the truth about teachers unions. Their goal is teacher welfare — teacher salaries, teacher benefits. In pursuing their goals, sometimes students suffer. The many fine teachers in the system whose heart is with the children they teach belong to a union whose interests proved to be, during the pandemic, at cross purposes to their vocation as teachers.
As Albert Shanker, former AFT president, famously said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
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