Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen’s Handbook – LIEBERMAN (CSS)

LIEBERMAN, Myron. Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen’s Handbook. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers and Social Philosophy and Policy Center, 2000. 220p. Resenha de: BRILEY, Ron. Canadian Social Studies, v.36, n.1, 2002.

In Understanding the Teacher Union Contract, Myron Lieberman, chair of the Education Policy Institute and senior research scholar of the Social Philosophy Center, continues the argument made in previous studies such as The Teachers Unions (1997) and Teachers Evaluating Teachers (1998). While often assuming the voice of objectivity, Lieberman is hardly a disinterested observer, for the Social Philosophy and Policy Centre supports privatization, vouchers, competition and the market system as the solutions for the problems of America’s public schools.

Lieberman argues that collective bargaining is by definition an adversarial process between unions and management. According to Lieberman, in public education management is the school board, the party that is theoretically and legally responsible to the electorate for representing the public interest (p. xiii). Thus, advocacy between labour and management in the public sector is very different from espousing such a position in the private sector. Lieberman concludes that in taking a pro-management position he is really advocating a stance in favour of the public interest for Lieberman asserts that teacher unionization is the principle factor blocking educational reforms. Accordingly, this handbook is intended for use by school board members, school administrators, state legislators, parents and taxpayers. Much of the volume is technical, addressing such issues as grievance procedures, release time for bargaining, union access to district buildings, payroll deduction for union dues, union recognition, and no-strike clauses.

Perceiving the public interest as being represented by school management, Lieberman holds little promise for such teacher union initiatives as peer review and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. He insists these proposed reforms are dominated by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, who want standards that most teachers can meet rather than extolling excellence. Like diplomats who insist that they are opposed to another nation’s government but not the people, Lieberman denounces union representation for teachers but is sympathetic to individual educators suffering under the yoke of union domination. In fact, Lieberman seems to have little use for teachers. He seems to assume that teachers are seeking the lowest common denominator and are motivated solely by self-interest. Missing from Lieberman’s analysis is any consideration of the long arduous hours put in by teachers after the classroom day as well as their commitment to improving the quality of life for young people.

Any indication that Lieberman is opposed simply to teacher unions and unionization in the public sector is dispelled by the handbook’s conclusion. Lieberman observes that unionization in the private sector has been declining steadily in the United States since 1953. Lieberman asserts that The fact that unionization tends to depress profits and weaken the value of stock in unionized companies is another factor in the decline of private sector unions; more and more employees recognize that their individual welfare is partly dependent on company welfare, and that company welfare is threatened by unionization (p. 192). However, Lieberman fails to acknowledge that the decline of unions has contributed to the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States.

Lieberman laments that unions continue to flourish in public education because individual teachers lack the resources to compete against powerful union monopolies in decertification campaigns. Yet he also believes that the power of the teacher unions is on the wane. Clearly Lieberman trusts that his handbook will contribute to this outcome. Nevertheless, the ideological market approach championed by Lieberman and his associates fails to acknowledge the it is smaller classrooms, decentralization, and increased teacher compensation and empowerment which would really change the face of American education.

Ron Briley – Sandia Preparatory School. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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