Without unions, who will stand up for science?

The state of education in Wisconsin in turmoil at the moment due to a bill introduced by our governor that will reduce teachers’ benefits and essentially break up our unions.

The latter concerns us the most and it was the topic of discussion at the start of our most recent episode. In Episode 59 – The Courage to Teach, we speculated that without a teachers’ union, it would be more difficult and riskier for teachers to stand up for science.

For example, suppose an environmental science teacher was teaching global climate change and a principal objected. Without the due process that teachers’ unions ensure, we suggested that a teacher might retreat from the attacks from their employer since they now know that they can be terminated more easily.

The scenario above was only hypothetical but we can look to the past for real-life examples.

Dover Area High School

Dover Area High School

In 2004 the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania announced that their science teachers would be required to read a statement to students that discredited evolution and showcased intelligent design as a valid scientific theory.

Eight Dover science teachers stood together and sent a memo to their school superintendent that outlined their objection to the policy and explained that they would not read the board’s statement to their students.

The decisions in Dover, Pennsylvania quickly erupted onto the national scene when a lawsuit was filed against the school district in Federal District Court by eleven parents of students at the Dover high school. The suit resulted in a landmark case on the teaching of evolution known today as Kitzmiller v. Dover School District.

I explained our worries about what may happen in Wisconsin to Jennifer Miller, one of the science teachers who stood up to the Dover school board, and asked her if their teachers’ union provided any assistance when they took a stand six years ago.

Below is her response:

I would say that you have VERY valid concerns!!! Our union helped us tremendously!!! When we went to trial, our superintendent tried to tell us that the school board’s lawyer (the Thomas More Law Center) represented us because we were part of the school district. We demanded our own lawyer and our union provided one for us. This was invaluable because none of us had ever been to trial before including subpoenas and depositions. Our union lawyer met with us many, many times to go over things and let us know what to say and what not to say and to guide us in the whole process, including being our support the day we testified. I think I would have stood up anyway without the lawyer and the union, but it would have been much, much more difficult. Our union representatives went with us to the many meetings we had with the school board. We always felt protected!!

We are watching the Wisconsin situation very closely and know that you have our complete support!!!

We saw in Dover that government can get it wrong. Sometimes workers need to stand up against injustices perpetrated by government. However, without a union to stand beside you, this is much harder to do. Would you risk your career and your livelihood for what you believe is right? Maybe. But it’s the maybe that worries me most.


  • I’m not a teacher, and while I find the above proving a very good point, its only one occurrence. Where were the unions when TX rewrote textbooks? Where were they when science funding was and is continually being slashed? Where were they when standardized testing become more important than a students education?

    Perhaps they were there, but their voices were overrun by the majority. Perhaps their best function is dealing with things locally. On the other hand with major pushes towards centralization, how much can they really hope to accomplish? Certainly a group taking a stand is more powerful than an individual who ends up fired or resigning, but to me it seems unions are vastly underpowered, especially when up against for profit business out to make a killing. Such was not the case many years ago… what has happened?

  • Lynda Lawson

    The idea that a wealthy few, can legally, and totally fund any candidate, without limits, and force a false agenda on to teachers is wrong. Often these large donations go along with “sharing false opinions”, which are self serving, and in the donor’s own financial interests. This is both immoral and dangerous.
    These large amounts in campaign donations, now in the amount of 1 billion, by the Koch’s alone, are not done without expecting something in return. At risk are not just scientific facts, but our future survival on this planet, as well as a teacher’s own moral values and integrity.
    Science is critical to children for many reasons. Union busting and teaching misinformation to children, for a clear motive that is profit based, is immoral. At the least it cheats our children as much as it could force some teachers to teach misinformation and outright lies. It is imperative that people realize that voting in local school board elections, are critical to making certain our schools aren’t taken over by a wealthy few, with the sole motive of controlling what is taught. FSU is another example of Koch millions insuring how “Economics is taught”, and also buys control of who teaches it. These are some of the many reasons teachers need Unions. Unions do more than insure fair payment, and safe working conditions. In this time of “Citizens United”, Unions are needed even more to insure teachers keep their integrity and keep the facts a priority, over the paid for opinions of those with a motive solely based in profit. Climate Change is real, so says 97% of those who study this science. Teachers should teach known facts, and no one should be able to force them to teach misinformation, in any public school anywhere.