(New York World-Telegram & Sun/Library of Congress)
Madison conservative group Reforming Education And Demanding Excellent Results-Wisconsin, or READER-WI, recently put up a billboard on US 12-18 (the Beltline) that uses a quote purported to be from the late Albert Shanker, a former head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The quote?
"When schoolchildren start paying union dues [...] I'll start representing schoolchildren."
There's only one problem: He never said it. If you do some digging on the quote, this is what you find:
The incident in question occurred during a speech Shanker delivered at Oberlin College, while he was still president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (probably during the early- to mid-1970s). Although nobody recalls the exact wording, it went something like this:
I don’t represent children. I represent teachers... But, generally, what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.
READER-WI is fronted by Jeff Waksman, spokesman for the Republican Party of Dane County. The Isthmus reports:
Waksman says he knows that the quote is disputed, but adds that it describes the essence of teacher's unions. "Teacher unions by law are not allowed to represent children," he says in a phone interview. "It describes exactly what they do."
(Continue reading below the fold)
First off, he knows the quote is disputed. But not only is it disputed, it appears to be flat out wrong. It took me all of five minutes to go to Wikipedia, where the quote is listed as disputed and from there follow a link to research which pretty much disproves the quote. It is not just disputed—research leans toward Shanker never having said it. Just because Mr. Waksman thinks the quote describes teachers unions doesn't mean he gets to falsely attribute it to the head of a teachers union, and that attribution is what makes it seem meaningful. A billboard saying that a Republican party spokesman doesn't think teachers unions represent children wouldn't raise any eyebrows. Secondly, the quote does not describe "the essence" of what teachers unions do. If Mr. Waksman would have taken the five minutes I did to find the actual quote, he would have seen how wrong he is. If a teachers union does something for teachers, it does help the students. For example, if a teachers union fights for higher pay and better benefits for educators, then more qualified people will apply for those teaching jobs, thus providing the students with a better education. But the truth rarely matters to conservatives today. It is all about money and power and has little to do with educating our children. So of course they are going to misquote a dead man who said things like:
"Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions, and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it."
I contacted READER-WI to see if they would be taking the billboard down since the quote they are using is not an actual quote by the person they claim said it. The response I got back was typical conservative talking points (and I should not have expected anything else):
[...] In the past few years there has been a huge effort by the anti-education radical left to resurrect Albert Shanker's tattered reputation. The typical talking point is the one you regurgitated—they found a somewhat similar quote, declared "This is the quote you meant!" and assume people will fill in the dots. You didn't do any "research", you just regurgitated what The Isthmus wrote, which has been repeated on just about every other extremist left wing website, from dailykos to media matters. The point of the quote isn't even disputable—it demonstrates what the teacher's unions are required to do by law. If a teacher sexually abuses a child and the school tries to fire that teacher, the teacher's union is required by law to defend that teacher as much as they possible can. If they do not they would be in violation of the Duty of Fair Representation, and would be open to legal action by their membership. School choice is a bipartisan movement. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, can all agree that schools will be better off when students, parents and teachers can work together to provide creative solutions for children. Teacher's unions have been fighting a war against Wisconsin children for decades. It's time for students, parents and teachers to take back the schools. -Jeff Waksman
Now I had to laugh that he mentioned "dailykos" in his email. Evidently he seems to think that any organization that disagrees is with him is extremist. But to point out the issues with Mr. Waksman's email: Point one: Mr. Waksman never really addresses my concern that he is using a quote that is not only in dispute but has for the most part been disproven. Yet instead of admitting that he may actually be wrong or providing evidence to the contrary he attacks the messenger and goes on to say that it is about the message and not the quote. So as long as the message is on target, he can make up anything he wants to go along with it? Seriously? Point two: I cannot find any evidence of Mr. Shanker's reputation being in tatters. In fact, PBS (that leftist home of the socialist re-educator Big Bird) has Mr. Shanker listed as an innovator. Point three: School choice is a bipartisan movement. Really? Giving my tax dollars to a parochial school, whose beliefs I may or may not agree with, is not something I want. Wisconsin Assemblyman Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who is running for congress in Wisconsin's second congressional district, responded to Mr. Waksman's statement that "School Choice" is a bipartisian movement:
Taxpayer-funded vouchers (aka "school choice") are nothing more than attempts to privatize public education. The GOP created a need by allegedly addressing school performance issues in Milwaukee, but time and time again the real reasons have surfaced showing it to be a backdoor attempt to privatize education, usually ignoring standards and performance. Their most recent attempts to expand a program with questionable results shows the program has very little to do with advancing education.
Point four: The basis of our criminal justice system is that everyone is innocent unless proven guilty. Mr. Waksman evidently missed school the day that part of the Constitution was covered. And of course he uses the most heinous of crimes a teacher could commit against a student as his example to drum up sympathy for his cause. Point five: When did teachers become an enemy of the state? Teachers, teachers unions and parents all want the same thing. For our children to succeed. The only war being fought is one driven by ALEC and the idea that schools should be privatized. I did respond to his email, and he in turn called me a liar and that I was caught up in a web of lies ... this from a guy who could not spend five minutes researching a quote before putting up a billboard on one of the busiest highways in the state. The sad thing is, a lot of people will see that billboard and believe it.