OAKLAND, Calif. - Apparently we've reached a new low in public education.
School children, parents and taxpayers can only count on classes being taught if the teachers don't have some political cause to march for that day.
It was sickening enough last winter, when the teachers in dozens of districts in Wisconsin left their students hanging while they fled to Madison for several days of public whining. The students had nothing to do with the legislature's decision to tighten the terms of collective bargaining. Neither did their parents or the taxpayers at large.
But the students had to pay the price.
Now we have Oakland, California, where a group of radical teachers plan to shut down three schools that we know of Wednesday (and quite possibly more) because they want the day off to join a general national strike called for by the Occupy people.
If you recall, the Occupy people are largely motivated by their belief that the wealthiest one percent of Americans should pay more taxes. That means at least some students of Oakland will miss a day of school because their teachers don't like U.S. tax policy!
"Evening all," read an email from Steve Neat, communications chairman of the Oakland Education Association. "I've been talking to Caitlin Esch from KQED radio and she's enquiring [sic] which schools are honoring the one-day general strike Nov. 2 as an entire staff. At this point I am aware of Bridges Academy and Maxwell Park. I know Oakland High is working on it. Any others that we know of?"
We hope the teachers of Oakland spell better than Mr. Neat. We're sure he meant to spell 'inquiring' rather than 'enquiring'.
This statement came from a flier distributed to the parents of students who attend Oakland's Bridges Academy: "We, the teachers at Bridges, are joining the Occupy Oakland protest on Wednesday, Nov. 2. We will not be in our classrooms that day, all day. We are the 99%!!"
Apparently some teachers will use personal days, which means their schools will have to hire substitute teachers. Substitutes cost districts extra money, and are only supposed to work when teachers legitimately need time off.
One school apparently has a shortage of subs, so its having a lottery to determine which teachers will be allowed to leave and protest.
What about the taxpayers who have already coughed up hard-earned money for classes to take place on Wednesday? Shouldn't they they have a say in this, or at least get a refund? And what type of precedent is this setting?
Will the teachers be allowed to walk out later if they're upset about foreign policy, interstate commerce regulations or the price of license plates in California? What if, to the teachers' great horror, the Republican nominee for president is elected in 2012? Should they have the right to take a month off from work?
Public school students have an absolute right to an education uninterrupted by adult political concerns, whether those concerns are related to collective bargaining or government policies that the teachers find objectionable.
Any teacher who is willing to sacrifice five minutes of student instruction time over any political issue does not deserve to call himself or herself an educator.
If political issues are more important to these people than their students, they should go find a job in the political world and make room for new teachers who actually want to teach.
Teaching is a public service, and public service comes with a degree of self-restraint and sacrifice.
In this case, the obvious sacrifice would be to save political activities until after school, so the students get the instruction that taxpayers have funded.
The law in every state should allow local school boards to immediately fire any teacher who fails to show up for work for any type of political cause, including collective bargaining issues.
The students of America should never be second priority to politics.
Unions will only have it their way
The Oakland Education Association has released a position paper, outlining its reasons for endorsing the Occupy general strike.
Their main point is that "On Wednesday, Oct. 26 the OUSD School Board voted to shutter five schools in Oakland. Unless we build a movement to demand that the top one percent pay their fair share, more school closures will follow."
When school districts raise taxes, it affects far more than the top one percent. The teachers fail to understand that many taxpayers are either unemployed or underemployed at the moment, and many of them make a lot less than school employees.
Meanwhile, the school employees keep swamping their local districts with unsustainable labor costs that were created through irresponsible collective bargaining.
A typical public school in America spends about 75 percent of its overall budget on labor.
When it comes time to cut costs, you would think the local labor unions (particularly the teachers) would be willing to make a few temporary sacrifices to keep younger teachers on the job and student programs intact.
But in hundreds of districts across the nation, teachers unions have refused to sacrifice anything for the common good.
Many unions continue to insist on automatic, annual step raises (regardless of performance), free or low-cost health insurance, free or low-cost pensions, seniority bonuses, retirement bonuses, extra pay for having a few extra kids in their classrooms, full salaries and benefits for union presidents who don't teach, and reimbursement for unused sick days.
Meanwhile their school boards are forced to lay off dozens of low-seniority teachers and cancel the tennis, cross country and debate programs for students.
And it gets sicker than that. Instead of leaving their political viewpoints in the street, pro-Occupy teachers are insisting on indoctrinating their young, impressionable students with their political beliefs.
"In the union stronghold of California, teachers have begun to take the fight into the classroom with a lesson plan titled 'Who are the 99 percent? Ways to teach about Occupy Wall Street,' " one report said.
Way to go, teachers. Don't give the kids a balanced look at the Occupy movement and present all sides of the debate. That would be too fair and downright educational. Instead you're going to present your point of view as the correct point of view, and allow students to leave your classroom believing your words are gospel.
How would the unions react if a public school teacher gave daily lessons about Dick Cheney's plan for America, and how he was right about every issue? Do you think labor leaders would object to that?
Parents send their children to school to learn the fundamentals - not to be indoctrinated into any political movement.
Lawmakers in states around the nation must put their foot down and make one thing clear: If politics are going to be allowed in the classroom, they must be presented in a balanced, educational way that allows students to view issues from all perspectives and make up their own minds.
And under no circumstances should teachers be allowed to miss school to participate in any sort of political demonstration. If they do, they should automatically sacrifice their right to teach in any public school ever again.