If you were counseling a friend on whether to take back a partner who had repeatedly lied to them, gaslit them in response to their concerns, and done things known to have caused them serious harm, you would likely express skepticism about the likelihood of repairing the relationship.

At the very least you would urge extreme caution and insist on a serious commitment from the offending partner to mend his or her ways.

This is the position in which parents find themselves in their relationship with teachers’ unions. After more than a year of unions’ successful efforts to keep many American public schools closed, despite the serious harm, both mentally and educationally, that these closures caused students (and the minimal risk that staying open posed to teachers’ health, especially after teachers pushed to the front of the line for vaccination as “essential workers”), union leaders are asking parents to believe that none of this ever happened and urging us to trust them again.

Or, as the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg (who is evidently moonlighting as an image consultant for American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten) argues in yet another column praising the union leader, “Randi Weingarten Still Wants Schools Open.”

With Goldberg as her amanuensis, Weingarten offers an interesting thought experiment:

“Assume for a second there was not this toxic environment,” said Weingarten. “I think what you’d actually see is a lot of people feeling pretty good that schools are being opened, and that the communities are coming together to do what we used to say we should do, which is: schools should be first priority.”

It’s bad enough that Goldberg continues to try to rehabilitate the image of someone who represents everything that is wrong with public education in this country. She writes that Weingarten told her, “Last year at this time, you had 40 percent of the schools opened during that surge…. This year at this time you have 96 percent.”

What’s worse is Goldberg’s willfully ignoring the fact that schools are open in spite of teachers’ unions, not because of them. And in some places, they still are not open. The Chicago Teachers Union effectively went on strike over the winter break, refusing a return to the classroom until today, and holding children in the nation’s third-largest school system hostage until its unreasonable demands were met. The union’s position was so extreme that it prompted a response from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot that made her sound more like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis than a liberal mayor who not long ago was sanguine about the impact of closures. In New York and Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., teachers’ union leaders continue to threaten walkouts and other actions to disrupt children’s education.

In other words, the “toxic environment” Weingarten laments was created by her and her fellow unions’ own policies; listening to her wish it away now is like a BP executive after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill telling beachgoers, “Pretend the water isn’t thoroughly polluted. You’d swim in it, right?” Given Weingarten’s record of behavior during the pandemic, giving her duplicitous rhetoric the benefit of the doubt now is not just poor journalism; it’s poor sense.

In fact, as parents know all too well, the people lamenting the “toxic” attitude toward teachers are the very same people who protested and picketed the return to school of special needs kids; who threw fake body bags at the office of Washington, D,C.’s mayor; who partied in Puerto Rico poolside and maskless while insisting it was unsafe for them to return to a classroom; and who still don’t want to go back to work in cities like Chicago, leaving children who are among the most vulnerable in the nation and academically behind their peers, without schooling.

In deep-blue cities such as Washington, D.C., where the mayor sparred publicly with the teachers’ unions about keeping schools open this year (and briefly caved by closing schools for two days so students could pick up rapid COVID tests) the change of heart was likely influenced by the political risk of staying closed: Across the Potomac River, parents’ justifiable frustration with the school system in Virginia swept Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, into the governor’s mansion and nearly unseated a Democratic governor in New Jersey.

As for the many teachers who might not have fully approved of unions’ tactics and school closures last year but stood by and did nothing: If you are still a card-carrying member of a teachers’ union, you are complicit in their policymaking and its impact, including the significant learning loss and emotional turmoil this country’s public-school children unnecessarily endured on your watch.

As for parents: Remain vigilant. Hold elected officials accountable; hold school boards (and the city councils and mayors who oversee your public education system) accountable. Lobby for change in the form of vouchers that would shift power back into the hands of parents and students and away from corrupt unions and their Democratic allies.

And don’t believe the milquetoast rhetoric of “we want schools open” that the Biden administration has parroted when pressed on the issue. The people most beholden to the unions (Democrats) still refuse to fully acknowledge their role in school closures or take responsibility for what those closures did to America’s children. And while Biden doesn’t control local school boards and officials, he did allow the teachers’ unions to interfere with federal policymaking by influencing CDC recommendations and guidelines (which were then used by local schools). He took cash hand over fist from the unions to win the election in 2020. Unless he disavows their policies, he is also complicit in their continuation—and in the inevitable harm those policies will cause more children.

Public-sector unions are a blight on our educational system. Taxpayers pay public employees’ salaries, a portion of which is then given to the union in the form of dues. The union then bargains actively against the interests of those same taxpayers with publicly elected officials who themselves (if they are Democrats) are reliant on the campaign contributions the unions give them. At no point in this ethically murky process are parents granted a seat at the table, even though it is our money that is being spent and our children who need an education.

So when you see union leaders and their sycophants in the media saying to parents “We’re all in this together!” understand that they think you’re foolish enough not to recall the last two years. When it comes to the behavior of teachers’ unions, a better rule to follow would be: Don’t forgive. Don’t forget.

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