By Johanna J. Haver
As a retired Arizona teacher and former member of the National Education Association, I am disgusted regarding the teachers unions’ recent solid support for instruction based on “critical race theory” – a point of view that promotes divisiveness based on race and/or ethnicity. Although recent state legislation outlaws CRT instruction in public schools, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is advising the teachers to break the law and continue with it nevertheless. She promises that the union will pay any fines imposed on them.
CRT instruction is not new to Arizona. For several years, the Tucson Unified School District has implemented a program referred as “ethnic studies,” specifically “La Raza” for Hispanic students. This course of study promotes racial hatred toward whites, much like CRT. For example, the book Occupied America used in La Raza classes includes a speech by a Mexican leader who calls upon Chicanos To “kill the gringo” and end white control over Mexicans.
In 2008, several Tucson students reported that the director of the La Raza program had called a popular Mexican-American teacher a “White man’s agent” because he did not agree with the anti-white instruction. The students added that they were advised to “not fall for the White man’s trap” and to attend college to attain the power to take back “the stolen land” and return it to Mexico.
Tom Horne, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction (2003-2011) and then State Attorney General (2011-2015), opposed this instruction so much that he wrote a bill prohibiting it. The legislature passed it and Governor Jan Brewer signed it into law in 2010. However, in 2017, after Horne had left office, a liberal federal judge found the law to be unconstitutional. No one in public office at that time bothered to appeal this judgment so it has continued in Tucson schools.
People do not realize teachers unions have failed the public in other ways. While still a teacher in 1998, I left the union myself in response to its involvement in replacing a competent Phoenix high school principal who valued student achievement with an incompetent one who favored equity over equality. This leadership-change resulted in the gradual demise of advanced placement instruction and the watering down of other classwork. A once-orderly high school turned into a teenage day center. This high school never recovered. Presently, Great Schools ranks it, out of a possible “10”, as “3” in academic progress and “2” in state test scores.
Several years ago, in a community column for the Arizona Republic, I compared Phoenix school districts with high union enrollment with those with low or no union enrollment. The highest paying district had the greatest number of union members, yet turned out to be the one with the lowest rate of student achievement. Other factors such as poverty come into play when making these evaluations, but not as dramatically as the unions claim.
In one large low-income, predominantly minority Phoenix elementary school district, the superintendent successfully persuaded her teachers to invest in mutual funds instead of spending thousands of their hard-earned money every year on union dues. She realized that a powerful union would make it impossible for her to do anything about low achievement, a consequence of poor-performing teachers. Soon, the schools showed remarkable academic progress and the teachers were quite proud of what they had accomplished.
In a “right to work” state like Arizona, unions have to work diligently to build membership among teachers because no one can be forced to join. Thus, in order to gain support, the unions focus on salary, benefits, job-protection, and political action against anyone who disagrees with their union causes.
School boards and administrators are supposed to be a force of opposition to union control. Unfortunately, that seldom happens because unions themselves often handpick and fund the campaigns of those board candidates – whom they can count on to hire superintendents of the same mind.
Parents would be wise to seek out the dedicated teachers who realize that union policy has become detrimental to student success. Together, they could establish a better way – either through reform or total abolishment of teachers unions.
Johanna J. Haver is a retired teacher with 32 years of experience. She was a member of the Maricopa County Community College District board (2015-18) and has written three books, most recently Vindicated: Closing the Hispanic Achievement Gap Through English Immersion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).