I attended a Seth Godin lecture in Seattle a couple weeks ago, and someone in the audience asked him about the future of unions. He suggested that the future belonged not to unions, but to guilds. In Hollywood, for example, there are various guilds for the behind-the-camera work that require its members to be really, really good. That’s why the production value of Hollywood movies is so high. If you want to make a great movie, you need to hire a cinematographer that’s a member of the guild, because she’s going to be among the very best.
Godin says the error made by the United Auto Workers in the 1980s was not that they didn’t fight hard enough for the right protections, but they fought for the wrong things. He said, “They should have gone on strike and said, ‘We’re not coming back to work until you design better cars.’”
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Teachers unions are at a similar crossroads. Instead of fighting for continued protections, they should be fighting for the right to do high quality work.
Imagine if, at the end of the next collective bargaining, the teachers went on strike and said, “We’re not coming back to work unless you eliminate grades, stop forcing students to take required classes that they’re not interested in, and give us the freedom to teach material that makes our hearts sing.”
I’ve shared Steve Miranda’s conclusion. The Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation always seems positioned on compensation during negotiations. Perhaps this is because the areas available for negotiation are limited. The narrow focus on compensation deprofessionalizes me I think. Salary and benefits do matter to me but so do the conditions in which I work. So much of that conversation unfolds locally at the school and division level. It can be a productive and transformative conversation. It proceeds outside the public sphere though. we need to advocate for high quality work, class size, non-graded classrooms, ending our reliance and obsession with testing, and curriculum reform. We need to advocate, negotiate the necessary conditions for effective differentiation. As Steve says, we could be a strong force.