Jon Ward of the Huffington Post reports that a group of more than a dozen progressive activists and bloggers met with AFT president Randi Weingarten and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. In the course of the proceedings, one of the bloggers asked Gov. Dean a question:
When Digby’s Hullabaloo blogger David Atkins asked him about Democrats who have criticized the teachers’ unions — Atkins specifically mentioned Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic convention chairman, and former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who did not have a role at the convention — Dean dismissed these critics.
“There will be a lot of people who have never spent any time in classrooms who get up and say things, and you can’t stop that. But the core is to organize in communities,” Dean said.
It’s OK to dismiss your critics, but Gov. Dean isn’t on firm ground here. Even if we decide that running a major school system doesn’t count as “any time in classrooms,” Rhee was a full-time teacher for three years – which is incidentally the same amount of teaching experience as Weingarten has.
Villaraigosa, on the other hand, was never a teacher. He was a field representative for United Teachers Los Angeles – the second largest teacher union local in the nation. If union work doesn’t rise to the level of “any time in classrooms,” that would take out the top-third of both NEA and AFT hierarchies.
Gov. Dean is a doctor, and a career politician. He doesn’t appear to have spent any time in a classroom.
All of this, however, is academic. The question was about criticism of teachers’ unions. Spending more time in classrooms might bring greater appreciation for the work of teachers, but only more time in union headquarters would help explain why NEA and AFT do the things they do. Since no one is writing those kinds of invitations, you’ll have to settle for this blog.