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National Teachers' Unions


Q. They say the 3.2 million member National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers form the biggest influence of all on public schools. What should parents know about these powerful labor unions?


Even though these unions are an enormous influence in local, state and national elections, often giving the biggest campaign contributions that many candidates receive, and even though union contracts shape school activities more than even school boards do, most citizens know little about them.


Ironically, neither do most teachers. Although the national, state and local union organizations spend a lot of money on public relations, newsletters, websites, conventions, advertising and other media activities, teachers are as vague as the general public about what the unions do, and the ideology behind them.


The unions define themselves as determined advocates for teachers and students. No one would argue that they believe in their claim that they are seeking the best for American education.


But there is dissent about how they are going about it, and how they define what's "best." According to critics such as the respected Sam Blumenfeld, author of the book, N.E.A.: Trojan Horse in American Education, the unions exist to consolidate political power for themselves and hold on to the "educational monopoly" that churns out more jobs, higher pay for education workers, and thus more members and more union dues and fees for the union elite.


Another critical book, The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education by financial journalist Peter Brimelow, describes the unions as a destructive restraint on trade similar to the big business trusts of a century ago.


Seriously, now, teachers' unions do a lot of good. The people who work for them are just like everybody else. Most union leaders really are sincere about wanting the best education we can possibly give our children.


But it's also disappointing to learn about waste, corruption and scandal within union ranks, how far afield of most teachers' views their leftist political stands are, how little contact they have with the public they supposedly serve, how little they know about what parents and employers really want from schools, and how union policies often are working at cross purposes to what really is best for kids.


What we really need is for there to be more of a . . . union . . . between teachers and the communities they serve . . . and a little less interference and complications from the labor unions involved.


Homework: Update yourself regularly through the National Education Association,, and the American Federation of Teachers, And for a website full of constructive criticism about teachers' unions, see


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 13 2008


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