Labor Watch

Teachers’ Unions vs. Teachers, Parents, and Children: The COVID-19 Lesson

Teachers’ Unions vs. Teachers, Parents, and Children (full series)
The NEA and AFT | Political Juggernauts | Electing the Boss
“Racial Justice” Ideology | The COVID-19 Lesson

The COVID-19 Lockdowns

They say character is revealed in a crucible, a trial of the spirit. The teachers’ unions sure revealed their character during the COVID-19 crisis of 2020–2022.

They successfully kept kids out of schools, made sure that the children were all wearing masks, began implementing the teaching of Critical Race Theory in our schools, and even lowered the standards for graduation to not include reading and writing. They had a broad agenda, but it didn’t include caring about our kids.

The first graders Aubree is teaching haven’t known school outside of COVID. These kids struggle to get through a full in-person school day. The boys and girls she is teaching today are far worse off than the kids she was teaching two or three years ago—pre-COVID, pre-lockdown, pre-Dr. Fauci. Kids should be in school full time, interacting with their schoolmates, without any remote learning. It just doesn’t work. We don’t need to be  protecting teachers from a variant such as Omicron, which 99.99 percent of people survive. Most teachers agree. They want to be back in the classroom.

Think back to March 2020, when most of us first heard of COVID-19. Before that, coronavirus sounded like something you’d have the morning after drinking one beer too many.

The newness of this virus and the uncertainty of its virulence made pretty much everyone understandably cautious. The media acted as an accelerant, portraying COVID-19 as the bubonic plague of the twenty-first century. They pounded home the message night after night that we were all at risk of death or serious illness, and that only by listening to and obeying the authorities might we escape this nightmare with our lives.

As I said, we were all nervous. No one quite knew what to do. Certainly, steps to limit the spread of the virus were justified. But we learned pretty quickly that COVID-19, unlike many infectious threats of the past, didn’t affect children much. It cut its deadly swathe through the other end of the age spectrum.

Largely by the end of the 2019–20 school year, and absolutely by the beginning of the 2020–21 school year, we knew that children could safely attend schools and be taught in person.

The teachers’ unions pretended not to know this. To borrow an annoying phrase of the woke left, they did not believe “the Science.” So they acted in the most sickening and cynical way. Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago who earlier served as senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” What he meant was that politicians ought to take advantage of the momentary confusion and even hysteria of a crisis to ram through measures that in ordinary times would have no chance of success.

The teachers’ unions, following Emanuel’s jaded advice, used the COVID-19 crisis to shirk work and punish children. In cities from Los Angeles to Chicago, first they said they would not return to work until a vaccine was available and every teacher had been vaxxed. (Oh, and by the way, they demanded that teachers be first in line!) After the teachers had taken the jab, their union said they would not return to the classroom until the children had been vaccinated. Some parents might prefer not to have their kids vaxxed because “the Science” had found that they were at minimal risk from COVID-19, while the risks associated with the vaccine were less certain. Well, too bad: the wishes of parents had to be overridden by government mandates.

At every step of the way, the teachers’ unions dragged their feet, resisting the reopening of schools for in-class and face-to-face learning. The kids could have been encased in bubble wrap and that wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy the union bosses. Even in 2022, as all but the screechiest Chicken Littles began returning to a semblance of normality, hardcore radicals such as the United Federation of Teachers of New York City, the United Teachers Los Angeles, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Chicago Teachers Union fought kicking and screaming to keep the schools closed or to keep children out of the schools. They were opposed in this effort by some of their liberal allies, who had seen the writing on the wall—or, rather, the numbers in the focus groups and opinion polls—and knew that the public was sick and tired of lockdowns and would make those who engineered them pay on Election Day.

Even a radical left-wing mayor like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot pleaded with the teachers’ union to go back to class: “I’m urging teachers. Show up to your schools. Your kids need you.” Many teachers agreed—but their unions did not.

The teachers’ unions also saw in COVID-19 a rare and inviting opportunity to push the most radical elements of their agenda. On the West Coast, this meant a loud call by the United Teachers Los Angeles to defund the police. The AFT seized upon COVID as a Trojan horse with which to attack what it called “the structural racism embedded within the social fabric of the United States.”[1]

The virus proved very useful to radicals. It was almost as if they were glad it happened.




The status quo of mediocre schools in which reform is blocked by powerful teachers’ unions may seem eternal. But as the economist Herbert Stein once laid down in Stein’s Law, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

The shock of COVID-19 and the resulting overreaction of the education establishment—the lockdowns, the refusal of the unions to permit teachers to teach face-to-face, the snarling man- dates—so upset and disarranged the landscape that things once thought impossible have now drifted into the range of possibility.

This article is abridged version of chapter 4 of Freedom Is the Foundation: How We Are Defeating Progressive Tyranny by Aaron Withe (Post Hill Press, 2023). The citations were renumbered for this version. Subheadings and images were added for the web version.

This article is abridged version of chapter 4 of Freedom Is the Foundation: How We Are Defeating Progressive Tyranny by Aaron Withe (Post Hill Press, 2023). The citations were renumbered for this version. Subheadings and images were added for the web version.

[1] “Teachers Unions: From Academics to Activists,” Government Accountability Institute, p. 14.

Aaron Withe

Aaron Withe is the chief executive officer of the Freedom Foundation.
+ More by Aaron Withe