September 11, 2012
Rerum novarum and the Chicago Teachers Union strike
Regular readers of "Mirror of Justice" probably know that I am (to put it mildly) unimpressed by the argument one (too often) hears, in the context of policy and other debates about education reform, pensions and retirement benefits, collective bargaining and "closed shops", to the effect that "Catholic Social Thought supports unions -- see, e.g., Rerum novarum -- and, therefore, Catholics should be supporting the views and programs being advanced by the [fill-in-the-blank public-employee] union." This and similar arguments oversimplify significantly the Church's teachings on the rights of association and the dignity of both labor and laborers.
The recently announced and (at present) ongoing strike by the Chicago Teachers Union illustrate, for me, all too well that and why these arguments misfire. Chicago's public schools -- and the performance of too many of those schools' administrators and teachers -- are a disgrace, and they are causing -- at great public expense -- grave and lasting harm to thousands and thousands of vulnerable, often low-income people. The Chicago Teachers Union, like so many others, resists meaningful educational reform -- including school choice, which Catholic Social Teaching clearly supports -- at (almost) every turn. And yet, they are unsatisfied with pay that exceeds that of their colleagues in nearly every other big city and with a strikingly generous healthcare-benefits and retirement-benefits package, and they resist efforts to somehow hold them accountable for their performance.
Public education, properly understood, is the education of the public, and policies relating to public education -- which takes place in parochial, charter, and government-run schools alike -- should have as their aim the well being and flourishing of those children being educated, not of the adults doing (or not doing, as the case may be) the educating.
. . .Dozens of churches and civic organizations offered activities to children Monday, hoping to give parents' options by keeping their kids off the streets. So, too, did about a quarter of the city schools, although they only had skeletal staffs and limited resources. . . .
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