Thursday, January 26, 2012

Eroding Teacher Seniority Will Bust Unions

Same Stuff, Different Day
The right-wing debate against public employees has shifted and now it is teachers that are being targeted on all levels. From the privatization of education through charter schools, to misguided movies like "Waiting for Superman." Educators have become the new enemy, responsible for everything from the massive disobedience and lack of discipline of students to the failure of the public education system in this country.

In poor and working class communities the problems of poverty, parental neglect (often due to financial necessity), and the lack of motivation of the students themselves are some of the reasons for this systemic breakdown. But as with other union targets before them, all logic is being tossed aside, replaced with the easy out of a new dog to kick.

Even Obama who is now waxing populist in deference to the Occupy Movement, has raised  and praised the idea of "replacement teachers" as a cure-all for the ills of the education system. This is presented as a simple formula in which the "best" teachers will be rewarded while those who no longer have "passion" and have outlived their usefulness, will be let go. Ending teacher tenure is their new rallying cry.

In reality, terminating the seniority system will destroy the teacher's unions and erode job security, benefits and pensions for the whole profession. It serves as a crack in a door that was previously shut tight, a perfect way to break in and destroy a highly organized, predominantly female, group of professionals. Doing away with seniority means that all ongoing employment decisions will be subjective and open to the ebbs and flows of bias and personal prejudice. Older people will be discarded for their "lack of energy." Teachers who take too much initiative will be replaced for their lack of obsequious and deferential behavior. Unpopular minority group status (LGBTs, blacks, latinos, etc.) will be used as factors in decision making. The list goes on and on but the end result is that people will lose their livelihoods at the whim of those in power.

The teachers who survive this reorganization will be young and full of vigor. But the burn-out rate is high in teaching and, given four or five years in the classrooms, especially those of inner city schools, even the hardiest young, bright-eyed idealist will lose some of her enthusiasm and spark. And so teaching will become a stint kind of job, much like service in the military.

Indiana is now poised to join Southern states in passing a "right-to-work" bill (Brave New World Speak for massive anti-union legislation), the tenured teacher is poised to be a relic of the past.

All union jobs and protections will go the way of the dinosaur if we end seniority protections for some workers. We must stand with our educators in ensuring that they don't have an ax hanging over their heads as they try to perform an already difficult job.