Students Over Unions: A False Dichotomy

The following is a response to this article: Students Over Unions by Nicholas D. Kristof

Statement A: In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty.

To me, that’s like saying, “In fairness, it’s true that the main reason John’s bald isn’t the shampoo he used last week, but chemotherapy.” Kind of a No Shit Sherlock statement, but what’s TRULY puzzling is why these two radically incongruous factors are put in the same sentence at all. That they are placed in the same sentence implies that it’s appropriate to weigh them against each other. And we only weigh things against each other when we believe enough congruity, or comparability, exists. Congruity of harm between teachers’ unions and POVERTY? What an irresponsible and shamelessly incorrect comparison.

Statement B: The single most important step we could take has nothing to do with unions…

This is a false dichotomy: Either we have unions, or we have high-achieving students. In fact, unions and well-served students are not mutually exclusive. The logic of this statement is crude, and I bet even some of our nation’s lowest-performing students can tell you that.

Teachers’ unions are about the rights of teachers, a historically marginalized group of professionals. Their well-being as humans does matter, according to our Declaration of Independence. Any state or district or school that forces you to choose between a faculty’s safety and student success is fucking with you. You shouldn’t have to choose between two inalienable rights. Don’t be imprisoned by the options they offer. “Would you prefer a kick in the right ball or a punch in the left nut?” “Excuse me?” is the correct (PG) response.

Next question, please.

Statement C: Still, some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved.

Many unions are imperfect, but they are not monolithic in that imperfection. The complexity of why unions bristle at accountability measures and swift removal of low-performing teachers cannot – and should not – be summarized by a sloppy byline.


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