It is easy to understand why Detroit Public School teachers are upset and angry about their worsening pay, benefits and working conditions — as well as their frustration with Gov. Rick Snyder’s inability to come up with a learning environment solution that makes sense.
What is incomprehensible is that teachers would launch periodic work stoppages at selected schools in order to voice their legitimate concerns. On this there is no debate: the ongoing series of sickouts causes irreparable harm to students already victimized by abject education failure.
Teacher sickouts, which resulted in several school closures in recent months, are unprofessional and dishonorable. Selectively targeting schools over what may be real bread-and-butter issues is a contemptuous act against parents and pupils. As such, teachers abdicate any claim of giving the education of children a higher priority than their self-interested objectives.
Besides showing a callous disregard for students, defiant teachers taint their image. In many cases, for better or worse, teachers represent the only role model students have.
Students learn lessons about life through both instruction and what they see taking place around them. They lose respect for teachers they perceive as primarily caring about lining their pockets. Even good teachers are seen as the enemies of students.
Students observing teacher misconduct could accelerate classroom discipline problems. The behavior may also give comfort to students on the cusp of disillusionment the final reason to dropout and embark on a destructive life of criminal behavior. It comes, in part, from learning that disregard for the rules pay better dividends than compliance with them.
But let’s not be deceived in believing this action is about the welfare of children or pay raises. What really is at stake is control over the future direction of education in Detroit.
The sickouts are intended is to bring public pressure to bear on the Gov. Snyder as he prepares to take another stab at reigning in the chaos in the district.
In this regard, teachers that violate union contract protocol are showing contempt for his continuation of state oversight and imposition of the latest in a string of emergency managers who tried and failed to bring a new order to a system teetering on collapse.
What is not in dispute is that the school system needs a radical restructuring. Yet every reform proposal recommended by the emergency managers — fiscal or academic — failed to measure up to the public’s educational expectations. The governor’s most recent reform proposal, which needlessly expands the bureaucratic quagmire past his term in office, is evidence that he hasn’t the faintest idea how to fix what’s wrong with Detroit schools.
Parents, for the most part have remained calm in their response to the disruption of classes. Some, I believe, realize that the district needs more efficient, less bureaucratic school governance. In that regard, schools of choice – independently empowered — would seem to be the right solution for the times.
Today, two things ought to concern teachers: First, nobody gains an advantage from these outlaw maneuvers. Secondly, children are the only victims in this clash of wills.
Those participating in the sickouts are behaving in a manner that warrants neither leniency nor forgiveness. Those who continue to demonstrate disrespect for the district’s children are worthy of whatever appropriate punishment is available.
Let’s hope there are enough dedicated professionals willing to resist casually disrupting the transmission of culture, values and ideals. They must fight the external influences and the internal temptations to keep all schools open for Detroit’s kids, who by any measure need the benefits of these teachings more than most.