Nearly everyone will forever remember some admired or even beloved teachers whose insight, enthusiasm, and caring pointed students in the right direction. Of course there were and are some mediocre, incompetent, and even malicious teachers too, but they are easily forgotten.
So even as society becomes more fractious and angry, there is still a cult of respect around the teaching profession.
But that cult may not last much longer as teacher unions, most notoriously in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but also in most states, including Connecticut, obstruct normal school operations amid the virus epidemic. The unions insist on perfect protection against the virus when there is no perfect protection, though risk of transmission is far lower in school than in other places that continue to operate normally.
Of course the damage to schoolchildren from the loss of in-person schooling has been catastrophic — not just in education but also in their mental and physical health. Recovering will take years.
The teacher unions long have proclaimed the importance of education and the dedication of their members to students, so now maybe the country will see how empty this prattle has been. In effect the unions now are proclaiming that education and children don’t matter that much at all.
In pursuit of the greater good during the epidemic, risks are being borne by hospital and nursing home employees, emergency personnel, postal and delivery workers, and supermarket clerks and cashiers. But according to the teacher unions, their members cannot bear any risk. No — if even one student or school employee contracts the virus, even without showing symptoms, the whole school must be closed for a week or two and everyone in it must be quarantined, though children are the least susceptible to the virus and fatalities from exposure in school are rare.
The “remote” learning offered as an alternative to regular schooling is a joke, since as many as half the students don’t show up and many of those who do show up are impossibly distracted. But while education is destroyed, everyone employed in its name remains on the payroll anyway, compensated many times better than the supermarket clerks and cashiers without whom no one would be fed.
Governor Lamont and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, are part of this pretense. The governor and the commissioner have been hailed for favoring normal operation of schools, but most of Connecticut’s schools have not been operating normally.
Though he has ruled by decree under his emergency powers since last March, the governor has failed to order schools to do anything in particular. Local school boards are free to be intimidated by the teacher unions, as they usually are intimidated along with state legislators and as the governor himself seems to be, since keeping government employee union members happy long has been the primary objective of government in Connecticut.
Some people say teachers are not pleased with the intransigence of their unions amid the destruction of education. But if teachers are displeased with their unions and are ready to take the same risks as supermarket clerks and cashiers, they have yet to show it. Teacher union leaders may know better than anyone else what is required for election to their offices — better even than people with happy memories of beloved teachers from many years ago. After all, back then Connecticut’s public schools were public — that is, administered by elected officials. Today, not so much, as even most school administrators are unionized in a conspiracy against the public. School management is not really management.
There’s no harm in cherishing memories of old school days. But they should not blind anyone to the huge change in public education since then, a change that invites the sort of reflection with which the journalist William L. Shirer prefaced one of his books about modern European history. Shirer quoted the German writer, scientist, and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“I have often felt a bitter sorrow at the thought of the German people, which is so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality.”
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.