A teachers union giving an award for social justice is like Miley Cyrus handing out a medal for modesty.

The term “social justice” has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but these days it refers essentially to a progressive vision of the world. Its paramount issues include income inequality, sexual discrimination, the mere existence of the Koch brothers and a whole gaggle of “rights.” (Interesting that in all my reading on the subject, rights are mentioned aplenty, but personal responsibility is rarely broached.) Perhaps the always dependable Urban Dictionary has the most accurate current definition of the term,

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. F*** those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what.

But whatever your political orientation is, and however you define the term, I think we would agree that it is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to have a teachers union bestow a “social justice” award, but that is just what the National Education Association is doing. And it will be a yearly event. The winner will be afforded a sumptuous package of events to revel in:

The award will be presented annually by the NEA President at NEA’s national Representative Assembly. The awardee will receive an all-expense paid trip to attend and address both the NEA Representative Assembly and the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. The winner will also be invited to attend Educator Empowerment Day as part of the pre-Representative Assembly activities.

I’m sure the recipients will be thrilled, but let’s take a look beyond the faux union rhetoric.

Union boss pay

An ongoing mantra of the teachers unions is that corporate bosses are greedy swine who steal money from their workers. As they boldly charge others with exploitation, you’d think that teacher union leaders would set an example. But according to NEA’s own website, median teacher pay in the U.S. is $51,381 per year. However, in his last year as NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel made $541,632 – more than ten times what a teacher makes. (American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is no better. That self-righteous social justice advocate has almost the exact same socially unjust income of $543,679.) But corporate CEOs – allegedly the fat cats – make $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.

And another inconvenient tidbit – most of Van Roekel’s and Weingarten’s hefty salaries come from dues that teachers are forced to have deducted from each paycheck. Sounds as if the union bosses are getting rich “off the backs of teachers,” doesn’t it? It is also interesting to note that due to the proliferation of charter schools and other non-unionized forms of school choice, the traditional public school teacher population is shrinking. Therefore each teacher is paying more to support the union leaders’ extravagant one-percenter lifestyles.

Outsider money

The first ones to cry “foul” when “outsider” money flows into local schoolboard races are the teachers unions. Last month, via Mike Antonucci, we were treated to a Washington Post letter-to-the-editor from Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union (an AFT affiliate), and Delvone Michael, director of DC Working Families.

Across the country, wealthy business interests and conservative political operatives are buying up local boards of education. And if we don’t stand up and say no, D.C. will be the next notch on their belt.

Otherwise sleepy races for school boards have been drowned in cash from outside interests who want local candidates to support charter schools and oppose the protections of unions. Now it’s happening here in the District, too.

What is all the bellyaching about? A $31,000 donation from an unspecified “outside group.” At the very same time, an October 28th story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune informs us:

The American Federation of Teachers has spent almost $450,000 on the Jefferson Parish School Board elections, recent campaign finance reports show. That’s more than all individual candidate contributions combined.

The union’s local political action committee calls itself the AFT Committee for School Board Accountability in Jefferson Parish. It received two payments totaling $446,000 from the AFT Solidarity Fund in September and October.

Sad to say, the union’s efforts were successful in Louisiana, and the reform-minded schoolboard majority exists no more; the union is now in control, thanks to AFT’s “outsider money.”

War against families

Then we have a war against parents and kids in Florida, where the Florida Education Association, an NEA affiliate, is doing its best to keep economically disadvantaged kids from using tax-credit scholarships to attend schools of their parents’ choosing. In August, FEA and a few allies challenged the state’s popular 13-year-old Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. “The suit claims that the scholarship violates the ‘no aid’ clause and the ‘uniform public schools’ clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with religious affiliation.”

The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

No matter. More privatization means that fewer public school teachers (read union members) will be needed, thus hurting the unions’ bottom line. And when that happens, all their social justice preening flies out the window.

These are just three of the latest examples of what I referred to in a prior post as teacher union hubrocrisy. Hubris and hypocrisy are their natural state. Social justice is something they conveniently glom onto so as to appear “progressive.” But there is nothing “progressive” about the unions. And as their victims are learning, there is nothing especially “social” or “just” about them either.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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