A national teachers’ strike?

Feb 19, 2018

Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It’s been five days since the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida; the 17 dead are being buried, and the story is easing out of the headlines.

This weekend, writing a newspaper column, I started to refer to this as “our nation’s latest school shooting,” and caught myself. Better not say that, I realized.

That column won’t be printed for a few days, and who knows if it will still be the newest school shooting by then? I was more confident about something else I said, that in all likelihood, nothing would change; that angry demands for some form of gun control would simply be ignored by the politicians, who get money from the NRA.

That’s what’s happened, every time, and there’s no reason to think this will be different. Twenty first graders died five years ago in Connecticut, and all the efforts of a sympathetic president went nowhere. Now Congress and the White House are controlled by those who oppose any safety measures.

But over the weekend, Tom Watkins, a former state superintendent of schools, alerted me to a novel idea. He sent me a proposal posted on the legendary Diane Ravitch’s education blog calling for the nation’s three million teachers to all strike unless our leaders move to do something.

The author was not a mere rabble-rouser, but the respectable educational psychologist David Berliner, now a distinguished professor emeritus who has held many leadership posts in education organizations. Basically, he’s saying that we’ve had enough.

What he wants is for teachers to start meeting to determine the type of gun legislation they want, and present it to the nation and Congress by April 20th.

Then, if they don’t get what Berliner calls reasonable “assurance that their legislation for sanity in gun ownership will be acted on soon,” teachers should walk out en masse on the first day of May, a day set aside in many countries to honor workers.

Walk out, and not come back until their demands are met. That, he believes, is the only way we are going to change things. Berliner wrote, “Almost all of America’s three million teachers – nurturers and guardians of our youth – want sensible gun laws.

But they have to be ready to exert the power they have by walking out of our schools if they don’t get what they want.”

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan and most other states. But Berliner thinks that law would be meaningless if all teachers struck. “Neither the NRA nor their legislative puppets will be able to stand up to that," he said.

The online magazine Slate tracked down and interviewed Berliner, who said he has just had enough. He is not against shooting or hunting, but he does believe lawmakers have a duty to enact “the kinds of normal precautions about public safety,” in schools as they have in airports.

I teased Tom Watkins that it seemed odd that a former state school superintendent seemed to be in favor of a teacher’s strike. He responded by quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was asked what his ideology was during the Great Depression.

“As FDR would say, ‘do something, and if that does not work do something else, but for God’s sake do something!”

What we have plainly isn’t working, and that sounds like sensible advice to me.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.