Thursday, July 16, 2009

A "Reformer" Unmasked

It's illuminating to read those that damn teachers with faint praise. This isn't the first writer I've seen who feels generous by admitting teachers shouldn't embrace every "reform" that comes down the pike (failing to note the largely unproven, and often counter-productive nature of such things), but then inserts a line like this one:

The real problem is that some unions oversimplify their function to protect teachers, creating a blanket protection for all teachers without accounting for teacher effectiveness.

Perhaps the writer feels the union should protect only those teachers it deems worthy. Who gets to make that choice? Extrapolating from that oft-repeated point of view, perhaps only those deemed innocent by the police should receive lawyers. The problem, of course, is that those making charges consider everyone guilty, or they wouldn't bother to make the charges. It's a hallmark of our justice system that everyone is entitled to a defense. In the case of some "reformers," they seem loath to extend that right to teachers.

As usual, the rationale is protecting the children. Of course, if these people get their way, children won't have those rights when they grow up either.

And sometimes, unions collaborate with them. In 2005, the UFT agreed to allow teachers to be suspended without pay or health benefits for up to 90 days (and I've been told it can go longer) on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. I've now heard of at least two cases in which these charges were proven false. This isn't the first voice of the "reform" movement I've seen advocating that teachers are defended selectively. The writer goes on:

On the face of it, this egalitarian aim may seem favorable to its membership but the reality is that it does more to decrease the professionalism of teaching, backfiring on unions in the long run. A “protection for all” attitude may do more to delegitimize demands for higher compensation and increased funding, which is in everyone’s best interest. As in any profession, accountability is absolutely necessary to ensure productivity.

First of all, demanding that charges are sustained before people are removed from their jobs is not remotely unreasonable. I'd hardly wish to depend on the judgment of this writer over whether or not my case merited a defense. But what I hear in this argument reverberates of things I heard when I was a kid, from the racists who populated my sleepy little neighborhood:

"Black people are okay, but the bad ones spoil it for the good ones."

That little pearl encapsulates the prejudice and racism one generation passed onto another, and for all I know, the kid who said that to me is passing it onto his own children. To tell you the truth, I see little fundamental difference between his philosophy and that of the person who wrote the column. My elementary school acquaintance discriminated against people based on their skin color, and the writer of this column discriminates against people based on their occupation. It's tough not to notice there are both good and bad people in virtually every and any group.

This notwithstanding, the theory, in this country, is that we're all innocent until proven guilty, and that we're all entitled to a defense. Those who question this concept, for one particular group or another, are garden-variety bigots, plain and simple.
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