A pair of nearly identical columns written by West Virginia teacher’s union activist Christine Harrison exemplify the extent to which unions sometimes assume a political authority in speaking for their membership far beyond their actual mandate of negotiating employment contracts including pay, benefits and the terms and conditions of employment. The two articles which can be found here and here, typify the manner in which unions often push ever more and ever bigger government “solutions” to perceived and real social problems. Rarely do such efforts have any obvious connection to the union’s stated purpose in representing its membership. Usually they simply advance leftist political and policy perspectives.
Ms. Harrison claims that “the responsibility to fix the ills of society has fallen squarely on the shoulders of our public schools.” Not to understate the difficulties that many teachers and administrators face on a day to day basis, but claiming the responsibility to “fix the ills of society” seems more than a bit hyperbolic. But the hyperbole enthusiastically sets the stage for her demands for more authority and more money.
Of course, she omits any mention of the fact that public policy has been intentionally designed to create in schools a central location for providing public assistance and aid to children. Public schools’ transition from institutions strictly focused on education to institutions focused on the social and psychological well-being of the whole child didn’t happen by accident. It happened by design and was motivated largely by the same “big government can solve every problem” attitude we see exhibited in Ms. Harrison’s articles. Accordingly, Ms. Harrison might have focused her demands on reversing this decades long public policy trend in order to return public education to its original and rightful purpose – education – but that tact wouldn’t serve her union’s purpose of expanding, rather than shrinking, the authority, scope and cost of public education.
Ms. Harrison urges a change in public schools from “an education model” to a “medical/behavioral/tactical model” where teachers will become well versed in medicine, fire arms handling and psychology so as to be better able to do the government’s work of treating, protecting and molding the minds of the state’s children. Of course, it’s all tied together with more training, more administration and more money for the public school leviathan. So it goes. Big government grows bigger by creating legions of government employees represented by big government supportive unions who have a vested interest in supporting even bigger government. The rest of us are left to watch and experience government’s continual incremental takeover of just about everything.
Ms. Harrison writes that “there is no doubt that educators across the state will be ‘United 55’ if teachers and service personnel are not given proper resources to deal with this impending crises. If ignored, there will be another statewide revolt which will make the recent strike look like High School Musical 2.” Her intentions are obvious. She hopes to set the political stage in an election year and inflame her fellow union membership to take up political arms in favor of expanding public education’s authority, broadening public education’s mission and increasing public education funding. In the process I’m confident she hopes to enhance the electoral prospects of Democrat candidates. I suspect that Ms. Harrison’s views are not shared by a majority of her fellow union members. I hope those who disagree with her will make their voices heard within their unions and with those members (like Ms. Harrison) who assume the mantle of speaking for everyone else.