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What Wisconsin Taught Me

My mother spent her entire career in elementary education. She never sequestered herself in administration; she spent 35 years in the classroom.

Over the course a lifetime of family dinners, I was forced/privileged to hear stories both humorous and touching, to endure analysis of contract negotiations, and to absorb both the hopes and frustrations of one who was both unequivocally dedicated to the public education system and who truly appreciated the gifts and individuality of each student.

So the last several weeks of watching more than one state government attempt to solve their budget woes by eradicating the collective bargaining rights of teachers, police officers and firefighters has been difficult for me to endure.

In addition, I have been sickened at the ways in which certain media outlets have demonized these public servants, portraying them as selfish or greedy or self-serving.

My own second-row seat to collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and administrators saw as many discussions about things like class sizes as about salary.

I grew up understanding that the local teachers’ union negotiated on behalf of the teachers AND in the service of the best possible school system … not in an attempt to be self-serving, but in an attempt to do a service that they took very seriously.

And (for the record) having been a substitute teacher for a couple of years, I can say (without reservation) that I have never met an elementary teacher that was overpaid.

These were formative experiences, although I didn’t know quite how formative until recent events helped me to look more closely.

People learn all sorts of things from their mothers. It turns out that the influence of mine shaped my politics.

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