Teachers, Go Home

Joe Mathews has been hammering the teachers and others who’ve been protesting budget cuts at the state Capitol for wasting their energy in the wrong place. (Especially when, as he notes, the protestors didn’t even recognize Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway when she walked right past them. Comedy writers couldn’t make this stuff up.)

So where’s the right place? How about back home, where teachers have the chance to teach the voters a thing or two?

The last time I looked, the California Teachers Association was supposed to be a labor union. And what labor unions used to understand, at least before they became full-time political action committee/lobbyists, was that direct action was their most powerful tool. The advice that teachers give to their writing students—don’t tell me, show me—applies equally in writing a political story.

Don’t tell me that failure to extend the temporary taxes will result in big cuts in schools, including a shorter school year. Show me. Announce that, beginning Monday, every teacher in every school in the district of every Republican legislator who has failed to vote for the Governor’s budget plan will be out sick. So will every other school employee. There will be no janitors to unlock the school doors, no bus drivers to pick up the kids, no principals to shuffle the papers. Everyone will be laid up with an epidemic of heartsickness over what will happen to the schools if the current temporary taxes aren’t extended. And the epidemic, they can make clear, is sure to last through the remainder of the school year.

This direct action is sure to cause some hardship. Students will miss some lessons. Seniors who had counted on receiving a diploma next month will not get one, and many will find themselves, as a result, unable to go college. Teachers will risk losing some pay (although their fellow union members in the Democratic districts will surely be willing to share some of their own money in solidarity).

But these hardships are no different than the hardships that will come from further budget cuts. Without the tax extensions, the school year will be shorter and students will learn less. Fewer California students will be admitted to the University of California and California State University, and there will be fewer classes at community college.

The hardships that would come from a school sickout would be different in only one way: those affected will only be in the parts of the state represented by Republican legislators. Direct action will treat voters in those districts as adults, who must be assumed to intend the consequences of their own acts. And that is far more likely to trigger a response than more Kabuki protest in Sacramento.