Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

2013 American Values Survey: Libertarians by Michael Sean Winters: “As you can guess, I would place myself firmly in the communalist camp. And, I am not alone. One of the happier findings of the study is that Catholics are only about 11% of libertarians, but a full 29% of communalists. Go Catholics!”

Food stamps will get cut by $5 billion this week — and more cuts could follow by Brad Plumer, Wonkblog: “The U.S. food-stamp program is set to shrink in the months ahead. The only real question is by how much.”

A Reason for Hope in Congo’s Perpetual War by NY Times: “By Saturday evening, after two straight days of pitched battle with artillery, tanks and mortars, the Congolese Army had driven the M23 rebels out of the strategic town of Kibumba.”

Kony 2013: U.S. quietly intensifies effort to help African troops capture infamous warlord by Washington Post: “U.S. troops have forged unconventional alliances, collaborating with members of the advocacy group whose viral Internet video last year made Kony one of the world’s most famous thugs and coordinating with two American philanthropists who are paying for teams of tracking dogs to accompany the African forces.”

Atheists Don’t Get God By Robert Barron: “I often tease the critics of religion who take pride in the rigor of their rationalism. I tell them that, though they are willing to ask and answer all sorts of questions about reality, they become radically uncurious, irrational even, just when the most interesting question of all is posed: why is there something rather than nothing? Why should the universe exist at all?”

A prime time for learning by Arnold Schwarzenegger: “There is a large and growing body of evidence showing that comprehensive after-school programs help inspire kids to learn and help working families. They also give children a safe place to be in the afternoon hours when school is out and parents are still at work.”

Communion(s) of Saints by Rev. Aaron Pidel, S.J.: “If we are now more aware of and articulate about social dimension of our faith, paradoxically, it may be that we are inwardly removed from community to such a degree that it now comes into focus as a conscious object of aspiration. In other words, we may thematize faith’s social dimension more precisely because it has ceased to be the very air we breathe.”

A Saint for Our Times by John Carr: “Who are the Catholic lay men and woman who sees faith as an asset, not a burden; public life as a vocation not war by other means; who stand against the tides to defend the weak, the unborn, the poor and vulnerable. They are there, but there will be more of them if we find ways to lift up the lives, faith, hope and love of people like Sargent Shriver.”

A War on the Poor By Paul Krugman: “So there is indeed a war on the poor, coinciding with and deepening the pain from a troubled economy. And that war is now the central, defining issue of American politics.”

To be in that Number: Death and the Communion of Saints by Andrew Staron: “We can find that in our love for our friends, we are freed from our fearful desire to be the exception and instead embrace the end shared by us all, not because it is inevitable, but because it is the end that comes to our friends.”

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

New Front in the Fight With Infant Mortality By Eduardo Porter: “Pregnant women, across the country and anywhere along the income spectrum, will for the first time have guaranteed access to health insurance offering a minimum standard of care that will help keep their babies alive.”

A Call to Moral Theologians: Biotechnology Needs More Attention by Brian Green, CMT: “Hurlbut’s overarching point of was the importance of moral reflection on our growing biotechnological power. Calling cloning and stem cells issues that have the genuine power to change the course of civilization, Hurlbut emphasized the importance of engaging these issues in the right way, because once a path is chosen we may effectively become locked in to the moral outcomes.”

High-School Sports Aren’t Killing Academics by Daniel H. Bowen and Collin Hitt: “Despite negative stereotypes about sports culture and Ripley’s presumption that academics and athletics are at odds with one another, we believe that the greater body of evidence shows that school-sponsored sports programs appear to benefit students. Successes on the playing field can carry over to the classroom and vice versa.”

Why Russia Is Growing More Xenophobic by Ilan Berman: “More and more, Russians from across the political spectrum are identifying with (and organizing around) a national identity tinged with racism.”

Lead Still Major Problem Worldwide by Kevin Clarke, America: “Even though lead poisoning is entirely preventable, lead exposure causes 143,000 deaths and 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Vatican Insider Interview with Bishop Robert W. McElroy: “The statements, the actions and the gestures of Pope Francis have illuminated the scandal of global poverty not with harshness, but with a gentleness of truth that stirs the conscience to recognize realities that one already knows, but prefers not to recognize.”

Don’t abandon the women of Afghanistan By Paula J. Dobriansky and Melanne S. Verveer: “The international community must work to ensure that women’s gains in recent years are protected and that Afghan women continue to make political and economic progress. Any future support for the country’s government must be explicitly tied to continued defense of equal rights and continued progress of female citizens.”

Remembering Genocide in Kigali by Kerry Weber: “Perhaps one of the most notable characteristics of the Kigali Memorial Centre is its simplicity: a small fountain; a stone courtyard; some gardens, with water fixtures flowing through them. And the long, brown slabs of brick marking the graves of 250,000 of the men, women and children who died in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.”

Vatican’s media adviser offers ‘Top 10′ ways to understand Pope Francis by Carol Glatz, CNS: “No matter how some media may want to spin it, Pope Francis won’t fit into the political categories of left or right, and he will challenge everyone with the truth of the Gospel, said the Vatican’s media adviser.”

When We Don’t Feel Like Loving Our ‘Loved Ones’ by Michael Wear: “In some areas of Christian culture, our vision of loving the stranger is expanding while our vision of loving those closest to us is restricting.”

Assad’s War of Starvation by John Kerry: “The world already knows that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, indiscriminate bombing, arbitrary detentions, rape, and torture against his own citizens. What is far less well known, and equally intolerable, is the systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies, and other humanitarian aid to huge portions of the population. This denial of the most basic human rights must end before the war’s death toll — now surpassing 100,000 — reaches even more catastrophic levels.”

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Poor Get Poorer by Michael O’Loughlin: “Now I don’t call attention to this extraordinary wealth to begrudge those who have money. Having spent a few years working in the nonprofit sector, I see firsthand the immense good that wealthy individuals create with their financial resources. The problem is, as the upper class gobbles up more of the nation’s wealth, the middle class is being depleted and the working class falls further behind.”

First Impressions of the 2012 Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance Data by Jared Bernstein: “Yes, the economy has expanded over these past few years, but to use a seasonal analogy, today’s report is yet another piece of evidence that this growth has once again done an end run around middle and lower income households on its way to the top of the scale.”

The Habits Of Supremely Happy People by Kate Bratskeir: “And while it might sound like a big feat to to tackle great concepts like meaning and engagement (pleasure sounded much more doable), happy people have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss. Joyful folk have certain inclinations that add to their pursuit of meaning — and motivate them along the way.”

Death of an adjunct: “Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty.”

The Theology of Breaking Bad by Jordan Monge (Spoilers): “And so, too, Breaking Bad is the study of change—of a change from moral indifference to horrendous evil. It paints a picture of the development of sin in a way unparalleled in today’s television story-telling.”

Congolese nun wins U.N. prize for work with internally displaced women by CNS: “‘It is not my work only. It is the Lord’s.’ Such was the summation of Sr. Angelique Namaika, a member of the Augustine Sisters of Dungu and Doruma, as she spoke to reporters in an international conference call upon winning the Nansen Refugee Award bestowed annually by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.”

Brazilian rancher found guilty of ordering American nun’s death by Reuters: “A rancher in Brazil’s Amazon was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the 2005 killing of American nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang, an emblematic case for the many conflicts over land use in Brazil’s resource-rich interior.

Anatomy of a war crime by CNN: “In Syria, the death toll from chemical weapons pales in comparison to that from conventional warfare. Britain’s Channel 4 has the chilling story of a massacre in Al-Bayda.”

I’m a 35-Year-Old Veteran On Food Stamps by Jason Kirell: “I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn’t risk it so I could come back and go hungry.”

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Put Social Justice Back in the Social Contract by Tiziana Dearing: “We desperately need problem-solving rooted in the principles of human dignity and ‘right relationships’ today. And we need to teach people that using social justice in our policies should not be something special. It should be baseline.”

Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings John Tierney: “Dupes fork over their hard-earned money for the rankings to see how their kid (and, thus, they themselves!) stack up against the kid down the street. Ha! Sweetie, did you see that Bowdoin is ranked 20 spots higher than Oberlin?! Ah, the smug satisfaction and inner glow that come from having bested the Joneses. No matter how ludicrous that ‘besting’ is.”

Liberation theology finds new welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican by RNS: “Francis, who has called for ‘a poor church for the poor,’ will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.”

Congolese bishop says he hopes international pressure helps his country by Francis Njuguna, Catholic News Service: “A bishop from eastern Congo said people in the area continue to suffer from an ongoing government-rebel conflict, and he hoped pressure from the international community would help relieve the situation.”

Mindlessly Gutting Food Stamps by NY Times: “Instead of providing aid for the hungry, House Republicans want to reduce the food stamp program — the most basic part of the social safety net — with $40 billion in cuts across the next decade.”

The Paradoxical Commandments by Paul Brian Campbell, SJ: “A version of the commandments below became famous because they were on the wall of one of Mother Teresa’s homes in Calcutta, but the original — part of a booklet for student leaders — was composed by Kent M. Keith in 1968. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway…”

Pursuing the Dream by John Carr: “Pope Francis’ new leadership and example offer a way forward. He calls us to get out of ourselves and our ecclesial corners and into ‘the streets.’ Pope Francis also has a dream, ‘a church which is poor and for the poor.’ If we truly pursue Francis’ dream, it will help realize Dr. King’s dream as well.”

No Child Should Die Of Things We Can Prevent by Caryl Stern: “More than two decades ago, UNICEF had a crazy idea: Focus on simple solutions, and you’ll save millions of children. Immunize them, so they don’t get diseases we know how to prevent. Encourage their mothers to breastfeed. Monitor their growth, so we know if they’re malnourished. Get them insecticide-treated mosquito nets, so they don’t get malaria. If they get diarrhea, give them an inexpensive solution of salts and sugars that will prevent them from dying of dehydration. It worked. Since 1990, 90 million children have survived because they had access to such simple, life-saving solutions, according to a new report released today by UNICEF…Those are heartening numbers, but they’re clearly not enough.”

Hannah Arendt, Augustinian by Fr. Robert Barron: “The great moral lesson — articulated by both Augustine and Hannah Arendt — is that we must refuse to be beguiled by the glittering banality of wickedness and we must consistently choose the substance over the shadow.”

Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian by Malcolm Moore: “Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.”

Meanwhile, in the Refugee Crisis by Gershom Gorenberg: “Whether or not the United States uses arms in Syria, it needs to use money and visas to relieve suffering.”

Forgetting Ourselves Completely by Matthew Warner, The Radical Life: “So humility is not really thinking less of yourself as much as it’s thinking of yourself less. We live in a culture that celebrates, encourages and applauds shameless selfishness, self-absorption and individualism. The antidote is genuine humility.”

Malala at the UN: Education for All

Today is Malala Day, named after the extraordinary, courageous Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.  Malala remains a fierce proponent of education for all, even after being shot in the head by members of the Taliban and seeing her friends murdered.  As she said earlier today, “They thought that the bullet would silence us…but they failed.”

Malala was honored by the UN today and responded by giving one of the great speeches in UN history.  She began by thanking God and reminding us that all people are equal before God.  She highlighted the efforts of human rights activists around the world and signified her commitment to speak for the voiceless.  She denounced poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism, and the deprivation of basic rights.

The speech revealed the generosity of her spirit, as she spoke without malice toward the Taliban, instead putting forward a vision of peace and justice.  She endorsed the philosophy of nonviolence and expressed her commitment to love and forgiveness.

At the same time, she pulled no (rhetorical) punches in denouncing the terrorists’ myopic worldview.  She challenged their interpretation of Islam and understanding of God.  She discussed the power of education and pointed out how much it frightens the extremists, especially the education of women.

She called upon the governments of the world to ensure free, compulsory education for every child.  And she asked “the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world.”  She noted, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” And she called upon her “sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

She ended with this passionate plea:

So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.

The full speech can be viewed below:

Pride & Protectiveness: A Parental Lesson

[This post by Joe Simmons, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post, where the author is a blogger]

A few weeks ago I got a glimpse of the pride – and protectiveness – I think a parent might feel for her child. And it felt awesome.

It happened because we were rolling out the first-ever Kairos retreat for the seniors at our Jesuit high school.

But before I get ahead of myself, a little background info: this Kairos retreat was the first we’ve ever had because I work at a new Cristo Rey school in the Twin Cities, which means that the students who come to our school are… not rich; they have real financial needs. But financial need is just one node in a much larger web of needs they often have. Some others? A need for positive role models. For stability. For direction. For a patient love that returns insult with encouragement. Over the two years I have been teaching here, most days I go home spent, and not just physically but emotionally as well. Working at Cristo Rey I’ve got to be ready to give both.

Last year a student (I’ll call him “Sam”) wouldn’t stop acting up in my class – and it was only day three of sophomore religion.  Now I’d taught before, so this wasn’t a total surprise and I asked him several times – first politely, then firmly – to quiet down.  The third time I reminded him, he stood up and shouted, “man, fuck this class.  I hate this school!”  He threw his chair aside and stormed out of the room.

I fancy myself a tolerant sort, but up to then a comprehensive “fuck this” was not on my radar. And my initial reaction to Sam was indignation, an anger that I quickly realized was masking a fear: the fear that a student was bold enough to name me a fraud.  There stood I, trying to win over a roomful of religion students, and all it took was one outburst to shake me.

After composing myself and restarting class, I could feel that anger slow-boiling within, soothed only with thoughts of retribution. I wanted to show Sam who was in control here. I wanted him punished, expelled – okay, maybe just suspended – but something.  Anything other than the usual “kids will be kids” shrug. So, after a few days of in-school suspension for him and few days of prayer for me, it was time for Sam to meet with me and an Assistant Principal before returning to classes. It did not begin easily. Sam ducked and weaved, refusing to apologize or recognize that anything he had said was out of line. As calmly and rationally as I could, I detailed exactly what it was that was inappropriate with exhorting a class to – what was that word again? – “fuck” itself.

Sam met my efforts with a stone-faced silence. He glared right back at me, leaning back in his chair, and I could feel the urge for retribution rise again. “What a smug little such-and-such,” played the now-familiar notes inside my head, “he can’t act like this.” But our Assistant Principal – who’d seen this movie before – looked at him calmly.  “Sam,” he said, “do you get what Mr. Simmons is talking about?”

“I hate it here.”

“Sam, do you really hate this school?  Sounds like Mr. Simmons was being reasonable to you, don’t you think?”

It took a moment before Sam’s lower lip began to quiver, then his nostrils flared and his eyes welled with tears. He began to sob the way people do when they don’t care who’s looking. He broke down and wept. It was only after catching his breath that he could talk about all the awful stuff going on at home. About absent parents and sporadic love. About basketball being his favorite escape and now he was afraid he’d lost that because of his blow up in my class.

Sam didn’t hate me. He didn’t hate the school. He hates the cards life dealt him and he doesn’t know how to respond. He was testing us – testing me – to see if I’d return hurt for hurt. And, even though I wanted to, I didn’t. And I’m so glad I didn’t. As Fr. Greg Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”


Fast forward to our first Kairos retreat. As everybody who’s been on a Kairos knows, it’s a retreat of tradition, led by the peers of the students who attend them. And since it’s peer-led, the retreat gets shaped and reshaped each year, riddled with new surprises as it passes through the hands of the students (and supportive faculty and parents) who run it. Since this was our first retreat we needed someone to bring this tradition to our students; so we asked some college students to come help our students get a feel for what Kairos meant and how they could be leaders of it themselves.

Now, even though these college leaders didn’t know our students well, things went well at first. The college students got up and modelled their talks, the kids listened and learned. But after a couple hours or more the students in my small group were getting squirrely, chatting and fidgeting. One of the frustrated college leaders started to reprimand our students for their lack of attention.

A fellow teacher gently stepped in, saying, “don’t worry about disciplining the students, we’ll handle that.”

“I can do it,” he replied tartly, ”you just need to tell them to be more respectful. It’s not that hard.”

Maybe I’ve grown soft (or just inured to the constant undercurrent of chatter), but in that moment I felt a surge of defensiveness for my students that I can only describe as… parental. Because compassion is that hard. And patience is that hard. And, for our kids, giving respect is that hard – especially when you’re not used to receiving it.

I felt proud that, despite all the needs and life-limiting challenges they face, our students have made it this far. I felt proud that they were willing to give up a weekend to be vulnerable before God and one other. I’m just so proud of them – and that makes me protective.


Our kids bring their burdens and hurts. And, in that unconscious way of teenagers, they’re crying out for someone to hear them crying for attention and love. Writes Boyle:

Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.

Sam’s a junior now, and he’s still no angel. But now he seeks me out and throws his arm over my shoulder as we walk down a crowded high school hallway, and tells me about how life is going.

Compassion is that hard.  But it’s worth it.

How Can Teachers Unions Be Engines of Progress?

How can teachers unions be engines of change and progress?  This question is vital as unions look to define their role in the 21st century.

Today, unions’ roles have changed. Many unions are no longer fighting battles for a 40-hour work week, healthcare, or vacation time. They are no longer struggling against child labor and dangerous working conditions.  Unions are morphing into something else entirely. The issues are much more complex. Unions are now fighting for relevancy in a world that takes the last one hundred years of labor struggles and achievements for granted.

Let’s look at the recent events in Chicago. The teachers union there was striving not for more money, but for the idea that teachers’ careers should not be jeopardized by how their students perform on a standardized test. This is just one example of what unions, specifically teachers unions, have morphed into—a collective group of employees striving to make their profession more professional.

It is easy to demonize. All one has to do is to check the latest news to find stories about a teacher-student sex scandal or search out a YouTube video of a teacher berating a student, shot on a cellphone by another student.

But we need to stop for a minute and think. Are these really our teachers? Do they represent the profession? Or are they the outliers? I am sure you can think of a person with whom you work who is not up to par—the one who “mails it in” and does the bare minimum to keep up. This is not the product of the teaching profession or teachers unions, but human nature.  In all professions, one can find someone trying to get by with minimal effort. What’s unique about teaching is that it is so highly scrutinized, because it involves our future, our children, and every scandal is deemed newsworthy because of the setting.

But let’s look at what is not newsworthy, what goes unnoticed. For every horror story you hear about a teacher, there are countless positive ones that you will never hear. There are teachers who make students believe they can achieve something they never thought possible. There are teachers who put in seventy or eighty hour work weeks. There are teachers who perform on a stage every day, multiple times, evolving and adapting to every unique set of students in order to get their students to believe that what they are studying is, in fact, important in life. These are faces lost in the crowd. These are the stories that are not told.

But what does this have to do with unions and striking? When we think of teachers as human persons rather than the embodiment of popular stereotypes, we have a very different view of them. Let’s try an experiment. Ask your friend or neighbor how they feel about teacher unions. Write their response down. It will most likely be negative. Then let some time pass. After that, ask the same person how they feel about their child’s teachers. Ask them if they support their schools and teachers. Write down their response. The responses to these two prompts will likely be radically different. Why is there such a disconnect between the way the individual teachers are seen and the collective group of teachers are perceived? Why do we love Mr. and Ms. So And So but then demonize these same teachers when we think about them as being a part of a group?  For every bad teacher that unions “protect,” (which in many cases involves ensuring due process with opportunities for professional development and growth) there are many more good teachers the unions protect.

A teachers union’s goal is to be the force that changes education. We teachers know the research. We know what works and what doesn’t work. We know that a man in a suit who has never taught or been in a high school classroom since high school should not be judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to pedagogical decisions. Do not blame teachers for the bureaucracy that is forced upon their careers through the federal department of education, the state, and the county, in addition to the district and local board of education. It is not the individual’s fault when it is the system that is broken.

Let’s look at how this system works for teachers in an average community and school, such as my own. The idea is to hire someone who seems like they would be a good fit. Then, give them two years with observations, to make sure that they are disciplined and effective. The problem lies in the fact that after these two years, the principal has only two options: hire them with tenure or blackball them from the district (which in my case includes multiple high schools, more middle schools, and even more elementary schools) for life. That is the difficult choice these principals face.

The absurdity of the ban for life is clear when we consider the diversity that exists in many school districts.  The schools in my own district vary from those where over half the students receive a free or reduced lunch to those where that number is under 10%. Some schools have many students for whom English is a second language, while others have only a handful.  Can we say that it is impossible for a teacher to be effective in one of the situations, but not the other?  Of course not.

Beyond this, the question arises: how do you judge teachers in those two very different situations? Is he or she more “successful” at a site where test scores are high and poverty levels are low?  Should he or she be fired because test scores are low, while poverty is high? We know that poverty and language skills influence educational outcomes.  So much of what influences test scores occurs outside of the classroom’s walls.

At one site, the teacher need not worry.  They will inevitably be fine.  They could show up, do a decent job and the test scores would take care of themselves. Parents will be checking their kids’ homework every night and maybe paying thousands of dollars for tutors or test prep.  On the other end of town however, this same teacher could come in every day and work tirelessly battling and helping to resolve problems for students, including those outside of the classroom, while receiving little help from parents, who are working a second job, trying to make ends meet and escape poverty. In the former, a mediocre performance might translate into high scores, while in the second scenario, an outstanding teacher might fail to lift test scores.  These test scores cannot possibly be an accurate form of evaluation.  The evidence shows that they are simply not an effective measure of teacher performance.

This is the battle teachers unions are fighting. For teachers, the concerns are not about losing a hand to dangerous work equipment in a factory. They are about a system in which it has somehow become acceptable to use appallingly unequal criteria to judge educators. Such a system is profoundly unfair.

Yet some unions feel compelled to preserve the status quo.  On one hand, they realize tenure will most often be granted.  On the other, they see that collective bargaining is under fire by antagonists on the right, and they fear a return to the days when teachers were not given preparation time, lunch was an unpaid luxury, sick days were nonexistent, and the first way districts would save money was by cutting teacher pay or firing quality, experienced teachers and replacing them with low-paid novices.  However, teachers unions should have the courage to get beyond this legitimate concern and work to generate and bargain for ideas on how to create a system that provides security for established quality teachers, assists those hoping to get better, allows teachers to move to other jobs within the district that are a better fit, and makes it easier for principals to let a teacher go without ruining his or her career.

Unions must be a force for change. The status quo is not good enough.  Smart, progressive teachers recognize this and are ready for change.  What is essential is that teachers unions lead the way on this change, not those who seek simple solutions to complex problems.  Most legislators have spent a microscopic amount of time in a classroom (outside of quality photo-ops) since they graduated, yet they make decisions that teachers have to implement daily. The board of education, legally, cannot be made up of teachers.  Without teachers unions, the valuable lessons learned inside the classroom, where theory meets reality, will be lost.

Unions must be the ones at the bargaining table asking the difficult questions.  Statistics show that homework in elementary schools does not work.  Similarly, statistics prove that evaluating teachers based on test scores does not work, and that you do not need to evaluate teachers based on test scores to get high test scores.   Just look at Finland, a country whose test scores have soared even though their teachers are never evaluated based on those scores.  We know that the school day often starts too early, negatively impacting students’ ability to think productively. Most studies suggest classes should start later, perhaps at 9:00 am.  We know that the food we serve our students is not a healthy and well-rounded lunch (I’m sorry but nachos and chocolate milk is not lunch).

We know that what teachers want more than anything else (even money) is time.  Time to collaborate.  Time to talk with other professionals.  Time to plan and share best practices and discuss what worked and what didn’t work and why.  Unions should be creative in developing new ways to ensure this collaboration.  We should be the idea-generators when it comes to all of these issues including professional compensation, evaluation, and development; the structure of the school day; and all of the little details that can improve not just the education, but the lives of our students.

Why then are unions being attacked on all sides? Part of it is that we have not been dynamic enough.  We need to do more and become more innovative for the sake of our students and fellow teachers.  But an even bigger part of it is that people are buying into a false narrative of unions as nothing but a special interest group that “protect bad teachers” and seeks its own interests, while turning its back on the children they teach.

Yet teachers are there to educate, inspire, and change the lives of our students through public education, and countless teachers live up to these expectations. Our goal is, and always will be, to fight for our students.  Teachers unions cannot and should not ignore the interests of teachers, but we must always fight for what’s best for our students. Who else would you want fighting for your students?

Andrew Christian is a English teacher and department co-chair at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose Unified School District CA. He is a union representative of the San Jose Teachers Association, a member of the California Teachers Association and National Education Association.