by Beth Richardson
I have been a middle school special education teacher for 18 years. Every day I spend in the classroom is a joy – the work is hard, but so rewarding – and with almost two decades of experience, I know how my students learn best.
Imagine my surprise when the California Teachers Association – which spends zero days per year with students – tries to tell teachers how to run their classrooms.
Like many teachers across the state, I have watched nervously as schools begin to adopt curriculums that include Critical Race Theory – a concept I believe would do incredible harm to our children and our country, as it requires every lesson we teach to be presented and understood through the lens of race. While my school, thankfully, has yet to embrace this unproven theory, I fear it may only be a matter of time.
Adopting CRT certainly seems to be the direction our state union is taking, following the lead of the National Education Association, which recently announced that it will promote the theory and actively push back against anything it sees as “anti-CRT rhetoric.” We’re already seeing how these kinds of ideas can creep into the classroom and harm student education. Some educators in my state are pushing to redefine math, taking the focus off of the “right answer” because pointing out a wrong answer is supposedly a form of white supremacy.
If we can no longer teach the difference between correct and incorrect, what is the point of teaching? I’ve been a dues-paying union member for about three years, and while I frequently disagreed with the political direction of my union, I maintained my membership because I thought it necessary to keep my benefits.
This desperate push for critical race theory, and the forcing of teachers to adopt this curriculum, no matter our beliefs, is the final straw. I could tolerate being told whom to vote for. I could tolerate paying for legal representation that is, frankly, subpar. What I cannot tolerate is being told how to teach by people who have never stepped foot in my classroom.
So I’m leaving my union. Or at least I’m trying to leave. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus, which states that collecting union dues from non-members is a violation of the First Amendment, my request to leave the union was met with: “Sorry, try again.”
After submitting my request to forgo membership, I received a letter from the CTA informing me that I must continue to pay my dues. “While you may drop your membership through your local,” the letter says, “the agreement to pay dues continues… regardless of membership status.” Indeed, a teacher can only “revoke [their] dues authorization by sending written notice… not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of the agreement.”
Let me get this straight: I have to continue paying dues to an organization I do not support for an entire year? Next time I’ll make sure my political breaking point lines up with the union’s arbitrary 30-day period.
I’m not alone in this battle with the union – at least eight other teachers in my district are trying to leave, for various reasons. They, too, missed this arbitrary 30-day window and are stuck financially supporting a radical political platform for another year.
As the educator entrusted to lead my classroom, I should have a say in what and how I teach. I want to make sure all my students succeed and are set up for a life of purpose and fulfillment. CRT threatens that future, replacing equal opportunity in the classroom with a curriculum that pits groups against one another. I feel that it’s my responsibility to stand up for my students. The day I’m told that I have to change my curriculum is the day I’ll retire. Until then, I’d rather not be compelled to give part of my paycheck to an organization that puts its political agenda above the education of America’s kids.
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Beth Richardson is a middle school special education teacher in San Diego, California. She is a contributor to RealClearEducation.