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On Wisconsin Teachers and Education Support Professionals

I know the teachers and education support professionals in Wisconsin are discouraged after the recall election of their nemesis, Governor Scott Walker, was not successful. I, too, have been on the losing side of elections that consumed my time and energy and left me exhausted. I know the inclinations are to point fingers, cast blame, question strategies, and declare your hatred for politics. Wisconsin educators are better than that. They will do what all good teachers do: reflect, learn, and make course corrections. In that spirit, here are my reflections.

First, money matters. Wisconsin saw up close and personal the manifestation of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case commonly referred to as "Citizens United." Billionaires can contribute millions without thinking twice about it, and they invest in elections in anticipation that it will yield greater dividends for them personally or for their businesses. That is their definition of capitalism. I believe that American capitalism can and should have a greater commitment to the common good and our democracy, but I am not seeing that from the likes of the Koch brothers.

The course correction I suggest is not to be intimidated, but to be emboldened. If every educator in the United States gave ten to twenty dollars a month to the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, we could build a war chest to match those who are working against public education.

Second, message and messengers matter. Many pundits and even some of my friends are saying that recalls should not be used to settle differences in policy or politics. Exit polls in Wisconsin showed that 60% of those voting felt this way. That was a powerful message. Timing is everything in politics, and much reflection should be spent on the timing as well as the reason for the Wisconsin recall.

No message in our current world of politics is more powerful than the economy. The message that this Governor converted a huge deficit to a surplus permeated the campaign. The counter message of "smoke and mirrors" budgeting and balancing the budget on the backs of teachers and other public employees did not resonate. We have to take solace in the adage that eventually the truth will prevail over the distorted messages.

Not only is the message important, but the messenger is equally as important. Self-interested messengers, partisan messengers, or unlikable messengers are never the best ones to carry the message. Candidates, neighbors, and trusted non-partisan community figures are always the most influential. When it comes to education, children and their parents are the best. The course correction is discipline in delivery. And, frankly, sometimes you just have to keep some folks from going on a talk show.

Third, solidarity matters. There is so much power in a union of like-minded people who can rise above their own personal preferences for the common good. Unions work when members unite behind a cause, issue, or candidate. The attacks on unions are a testament to their effectiveness in representing the middle class. The demise of the middle class in this country is a testament to the current plight of unions. The course correction is to invite anyone who is eligible to join a union today. Our solidarity is the only thing that will save the middle class.

Thank you, Wisconsin colleagues, for fighting the fight and not giving up. I always say that if you do not win, make sure the other side knows they have been in a fight that they would not want to repeat. No governor in his or her right mind would want to put citizens through the ordeal that Wisconsin citizens have experienced over the last year.

Let's all take the time to reflect, and in the future, governors should engage everyone--even those with whom they may disagree--to design a path that leads to a strong economy for all and respect for teachers and education support professionals.

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