Sure there will be tension. Of course, there will be disagreements. One of my favorite quotes, source unknown, is, “Where there is unanimity, someone is not being represented.” But, let me assure everyone that when it comes to a shared vision of great public schools for each and every child in America, there is no distance between teachers and their unions and President Barack Obama.
This President does not take a good education for granted. Governor Romney is so privileged that he assumes a good education happens because parents just take care of it. President Obama knows firsthand through his life experiences what it means to be underprivileged, to struggle, and to experience the life-changing trajectory of a good education. He is genuine in wanting that for every child, and he has been willing to invest tremendous resources in improving our public schools in these tough economic times. Teachers not only appreciate the sincerity and determination of our President, but most can personally relate to it.
I thought the approach to the Chicago teachers’ strike was most telling. Governor Romney immediately took the side of management, and he was willing to throw teachers under the bus without knowing the circumstances or the details of the strike. Just as he had done at Bain Capital, his approach to workers was to trivialize their existence and to fail to acknowledge that they made any meaningful contribution to the success of the enterprise. To him, they were just a dime a dozen.
President Obama did not publicly weigh in on this local matter nor should he have done so. He was not willing to score political points at the expense of the greater good. He understood that the system would be stronger if management and labor worked through the process to reach a settlement in service to students. I suspect that he and his administration offered encouragement behind the scenes to settle in an expeditious and fair manner. After all, it was his hometown of Chicago, and he cheers not only for their sports teams but their schools as well.
I know that this blog will be disappointing to media personalities who are itching for a fight between unions and the administration. For example, Jonathan Alter of Bloomberg News, tried his best at the Democratic Convention to goad politicians into beating up the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. All he got was politicians telling him how important it was to have the unions at the table and how things change when unions are involved at the early stage of reform to help shape it. Teacher union members can be change agents, can lead significant transformation efforts, and can collaborate with management, parents, and the business community to educate taxpayers as to the needs of their public schools. That has always been the invitation from President Obama.
For those teachers who are stuck in their dislike of the Obama administration for too much emphasis on testing, too much competition in funding, and too much praise for programs that undermine the profession, I will not minimize your concerns by telling you the alternative would be worse. I will invite you to contribute your voices to ongoing conversations with this administration, all toward the goal of encouraging different tactics that are more effective in achieving our shared vision. President Obama listens and respects the diversity of ideas. To be silent or on the sidelines for this election will not serve our students well.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.