Friday Freakout: AFT on the “Attack Plan of Privateers”

Today’s freakout comes from an exchange between Randi Weingarten, president of the nation’s leading teachers’ union, and a group called the Badass Teachers Association (BAT). The tweet is a picture of Weingarten presenting to around 3,500 teachers at the American Federation for Teachers (AFT) national convention in Los Angeles. 

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Weingarten’s approach is not surprising. As our organization advocates for school choice, many times we’ve been called “privateers” or “corporate reformers.” Our staff members’ character and intentions have even been questioned, if not generalized, stereotyped, or insulted.

Here are just a few examples:

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Despite the nature of those posts, we never shy away from attempting respectful conversations with such commenters. We also have responded to many of the steps in Weingarten’s five-step plan the AFT, BAT, and others accuse organizations like us of hatching. But regardless of where you stand on education issues, the parties in today’s freakout have made clear the lens through which they see education. Let’s look quickly at the verbiage they are encouraging thousands of teachers to associate with school choice advocates.

Starve, demonize, marginalize, seize, impose, power…

Think about the types of interactions these words are commonly used to describe. Our first thought is not an education debate. And the most telling part? The fifth step in what Weingarten perceives to be a calculated series of steps suggests a disturbing way to view education:

“5. Seize power to impose private alternatives.”

First, to seize power, someone or something must already own the lion’s share of power. In this case, it appears the public school system personnel and affiliated organizations, such as the AFT, are advocating that they have and should keep the share of power required to effect change.

On the contrary, we want American education to strive for a fairer distribution of power focused on families and educators at the local level. School choice advocates, most of whom are parents, only desire enough power to choose the best educational setting, public or private, for their own children.

Notice, we didn’t say those advocates crave power “to impose private alternatives.” That’s because the beauty of a school choice system is that it doesn’t afford any one person enough power to force another person’s hand. School choice is completely voluntary. If a school choice parent doesn’t want a “private alternative,” they can stay in their public school or choose another public school, charter school, or public online setting.

And that’s precisely what Jacquelyn and her daughter Kaitlyn did in Louisiana (pictured below). Through vouchers, they were given the power to choose a private setting. But after participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program to attend a private school, they decided to use their power again to choose a different option: LA Key Academy, a public school.

That is an equitable system for students, who, after all, are the most important benefactors of public education. We only desire to empower people like Jacquelyn to make their own choices rather than accept the choices one powerful group thinks they ought to make.

Education is not a “Game of Thrones” with House Union, House Choice, House Government, House Parents, and House Educators all fighting for power in the name of righteousness. No one is at war with evil forces, and public education isn’t under attack.

School choice advocates—namely parents—are simply voicing their critiques of a system based on their and their children’s experiences and collectively attempting to improve that system by giving more families the power of choice. That’s not “demonizing.” That’s democracy.

Although the topic will not be focused on school choice, one of our contributors and fellow school choice advocates Derrell Bradford will appear on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry to discuss education issues along with Randi Weingarten. We hope you will show him support by tuning in this Sunday.