Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fear of the Bogeyman

As a lifelong teacher, a parent, and the wife of a member of the Howard County Educators Association, I was heartsick to see that Governor Hogan put in writing the claim that members of teachers' unions who disagreed with his funding choices were "union thugs." Name calling is never the sign of a good leader. And the term he chose to smack down his adversaries is so heavily loaded with a cartoon-like villainesque quality that it basically stops any conversation in its tracks.

"Union thugs" are something evil and to be feared. We don't really know what they are but we know they just have to be awful. Maybe we saw some in a movie. They were bad. Raising a spectre of an amorphous bogeyman to reinforce the hand of the person in power is a tactic to silence opposition. Governor Hogan wants us to believe that he

...respects the work of the state's teachers but believes the leadership of their union long ago "stopped truly representing" them and schoolchildren.

This is "othering", pure and simple. I respect teachers, I respect education, he says, it's just these "other" union leaders thugs I revile.

I have been down this road before, in talking about how HCPSS management treats HCEA in contract negotiations. When management wants to have the upper hand, they engage in a systematic "othering" of the teachers' union. It would look bad to say all those nasty things about actual teachers, but they reason they can get away with it by saying that HCEA leaders are a wholly different entity, selfish and disconnected from actual employees' needs and views.

In a post I wrote about "Teacher Appreciation Week":

But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable. The powers that be know this. That is why we read so many statements that attempt to chip away the faith of parents in their children's teachers, and in the teaching profession.

The simple truth is what people like Governor Hogan are afraid of: that teachers' unions are teachers. They are real people who teach our children, donate their own money for supplies, and work many more hours than we can imagine. They are leaders, mentors, advocates for students and families. This statement from Paul Lemle, current President of HCEA, says it well:

Governor Larry Hogan, I'm a teacher, union leader, adoptive father and fellow lymphoma survivor. We disagree about millions of dollars in education funding, but I will not demean your office or you as a human being by name calling. It is wrong and disrespectful to refer to my colleagues and I - the educators of this state - as "union thugs." Let's have a real discussion about what's best for our kids.

I know that, at least in Howard County, we know better than to fall for old wives' tales about the big, bad union thugs. HCEA is teachers. HCEA members just spent the last year sitting down with community members to listen to what we want from our schools, and worked with PATH to create an agenda that supports our goals. We know our teachers in Howard County because they have made it a priority to know us!

But I don't know if Governor Hogan truly believes the Bogeyman stories about "union thugs" and is 
reacting out of his own fears, or whether this is a cynical attempt meant to distract the people of Maryland from the more complex conversations we should be having about how to fund education. I don't know him well enough to presume.

I'd really, really like to see him change the conversation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.