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The teachers stubbornly refusing to reopen US and UK schools are selfish, cowardly, hypocritical and avaricious – as always

The teachers stubbornly refusing to reopen US and UK schools are selfish, cowardly, hypocritical and avaricious – as always
Even though children are far less contagious than adults over Covid-19, teachers are refusing to get back in the classroom, while expecting shelf stackers, delivery drivers and nurses to put themselves at risk. Plus ça change.

Well it’s taken them 41 years, but it looks as though teachers have finally taken Pink Floyd’s advice and decided kids don’t need no education. Educators in the UK and the USA are having a particularly bad war during this pandemic, obstinately resisting attempts to reopen schools.

Their colleagues in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, France and even China have all happily gone back to either full or partial re-opening of schools, but British and American teaching unions have proved militantly intractable over the issue.

Despite there being mounting evidence that children, particularly those under ten years old, are nowhere near as likely to spread the virus or be seriously ill, teaching unions in the UK are refusing to even discuss reopening classes.

The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson is keen to get kids back into education from the start of June, but rather than have a grown-up discussion about it, Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union (NEU), Britain’s largest teachers union, told his 461,960 members not to “engage with planning a June 1 return.”

Not wanting to be outdone, Britain’s second largest teaching union, The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has gone further and threatened to sue the government if teachers are “put at risk.”

Across the pond, President Trump has also expressed a wish for schools to look into reopening, but has been met with the same resistance from American teaching unions. The American Federation of Teachers issued guidance, which the organisation’s president Randi Weingarten described as “a stark contrast to the conflicting guidance, bluster and lies of the Trump administration.”

The liberal media on both sides of the Atlantic have both been sympathetic to this supposed plight of teachers. The New York Times published a piece discussing the extra “demands and hours” teachers are having to put in to cope with the challenges of online learning while schools are shut. The Guardian has published a piece titled “Patient, amusing, inspirational... teachers are aceing lockdown”. Really?

Pardon my French (I got a B in it, you were wondering), but give me a sodding break. More than 40 million Americans are currently unemployed and 7.5 million Brits are on furlough, uncertain about whether they will get their jobs back when this is all over, but teachers are the ones suffering because they’re sat at home on full or 80 percent of pay and having to learn to give the same lesson they’ve given for the last decade over Zoom rather than in front of a blackboard?

This is all so much as always with teachers and their unions. What is it about them that makes them absolutely believe that their lot at work is infinitely worse than everyone else’s? Maybe they should try a month or two working at an Amazon warehouse. Or being a hospital cleaner. Or being a cruise liner steward.  Any sign of a slight sniffle –let alone a plague– or a snub over pay and conditions, and they’re ready to down tools and sit at home, in the belief teachers’ rights always trump children’s rights.

The UK’s teaching unions have always been militant, with barely a year going by without some sort of industrial action being threatened or some ludicrous pay rise demanded. Earlier this year (when they were still bothering to turn up), the NEU in Britain called for a seven percent pay-rise for all teachers, even after the government had agreed to an inflation-breaking 2.5 percent bump. Nowhere in the private sector would you see such an increase without a promotion. 

In 2014, the NEU’s predecessor, the NUT, staged two walkouts, shutting thousands of schools across the country, again over pay and conditions. They walked out again in 2016 and threatened similar actions in 2011 and 2018. Their American counterparts are little better, staging their biggest strike in a generation in 2018, also citing pay and conditions.

I accept that we shouldn’t wantonly put people at risk of fatal illness, but children are far less infectious than adults when it comes to Covid-19. A global study has found not one solitary case of a child passing the infection on to an adult. Experts have said kids’ role in spreading coronavirus is unclear “but it seems likely they do not play a significant role.”

Switzerland is even letting children aged 10 and under see and hug their grandparents again, such is the minimal risk they have of transmitting the disease. In view of this, there seems to be no logical reason why primary school children at least shouldn’t be allowed to return to class.

Schools not being open has a knock-on effect to the wider community. Suddenly child-care arrangements need to be brought in, and with the lockdown measures enforced in the UK and some US states, the usual fall back of grandparents looking after them is off the table.

This may not be a huge issue for white collar workers who can work from home, but is a major issue for blue collar workers who need to be physically present to do their jobs. Many of these workers are in low-paying jobs on zero-hour contracts or are self-employed. In the US, Walmart is on a massive recruitment drive for shelf stackers, warehouse workers and checkout staff and the same is true in UK supermarkets.

These people are dealing with adults, who are far more likely to spread the disease, but the liberal broadsheet op-eds worrying about their safety have been conspicuous by their absence. But I suppose their editors don’t go to many dinner parties with shelf stackers.

Teaching unions seem to have looked at the pandemic and decided that they shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste. As a result of their selfish, cowardly and avaricious attempts to either get more money or more time off, children are paying the price. At the less extreme end they are being deprived of vital time in their education which they will never get back; in the worst case, they are being afforded no respite from terrible home lives.

Teachers aren’t being asked to go over-the-top at the Battle of the Somme, just to tell some children about it so they don’t grow up ignorant. As teachers were so keen on telling me when I was a schoolboy: pull your fingers out and do some bloody work for a change.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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