Saturday, February 14, 2015

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, Sweetwater Education Association

Out of something like thousands of employees I was the only to resign from the union. Me. Just me.

The then president of the union, a nice guy, was shocked by the lone display. He made an appointment to see me. While on other business he swung by my room. 

We hear you’re a good teacher. Collegial, easy to work with. Why did you resign? he politely asked.

It was contract negotiation time, and there was a sense my resignation could pose some kind of trend. No, no, no. 

People I worked with liked to hang out with me probably because I was different from other teachers. I loved what I did for a living, though I hated working for the state government – this gave to a creative tension that allowed me a kind of freedom to do what I wanted. 

I did what I wanted. I rarely asked for permission. 

In turn this further allowed cool innovations, great collaborations, and new ways to attack common problems. I never gave money to a board candidate or member. I never got involved in stupid district politics. I focused on the students and parents, trying to get a sense of their needs. I was viewed as an eccentric. That was it. Other teachers were either careerists looking to not rock the boat, or they became teachers because they’d get summers off – in neither case did they ever want to upset the union.

I assured him no such trend existed. He needn’t worry. 

I explained I greatly valued the freedom to associate with whomever I wanted. The union forced me to hand over support to politicians through the taking of dues. I loathe ALL politicians. Every. Single. One. I also resented the idea the teacher down the hall from me, the one who’d been employed for THIRTY FUCKING YEARS, doing nothing but sedating kids, was making nearly TWICE what I was – I was better, I told him, and I deserved to be paid more. That other teacher should’ve been fired years and years ago.

He saw an opening. 

Though the official view of all unions is to poo-poo merit pay, he told me one of the union’s committees was drawing up a proposal to introduce a merit-pay-like idea. 

You should be a part of that committee, he insisted.

I immediately conjured Oscar Wilde’s quip about socialism being a bad idea because it would take up most of one’s evenings. Hahahahaha. 

Yeah, THAT is the answer. Committees! Oh, joy, a group of lazy, fat, stupid teachers sitting around complaining about their lot in life … for HOURS and HOURS. Just what I want. 

Good god, NO, save me from committees. If you want to torture me, make me go to committee meetings. I became notorious for ditching them, finding a way out. Actually got good at it. I’d physically be there, but use the time to catch up on grading or what-have-you. Fucking hated meetings. 

I’ll go it alone, I whispered.

He smiled.

They told me my coming to you was a waste of time, he laughed.

We parted amiably, and I suspect he followed up with teachers around me to make sure I wasn’t spoiling the bunch. 

As contract negotiations continued, and as the tone around campus was souring due to a change in management, I’d occasionally get teachers who’d confide in me they too wanted to dump the damn union. They couldn’t, they’d explain, because of this or that reason. But me, they were glad at least I was taking a stand. 

One of the funniest scenes ever was when I picked up an extra check toward the end of the first semester each year. 

Right around the birth of the Baby Jesus, the extra few hundred dollars would come in quite handy. Colleagues would wonder aloud WHY the extra check was floated to me. 

I’d then tell them the union siphoned off dough to swing to politicians, especially those in the Democratic Party. Beyond that the money was also used for soul-killing propositions, media buys to major conglomerations, and so on. Eyes rolled. Polite smiles. 

At the time, not being part of the teachers union, and actively working to make sure I wasn't part of the union, meant a half measure to allow myself a tiny protest against the grossness that is public education.

It was a small protest, a revolution of one.

And I mean it.
Craig Edward Kelso is the author of Anarcho-Capitalism (2014), a primer on the philosophy of peaceful, stateless cooperation. His curriculum vitae include a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a Post-Baccalaureate secondary education credential in both Social Science and English Language Arts. Kelso taught for nearly a decade in the American public school system, and was voted by colleagues Teacher of the Year, twice in his short tenure, earning numerous accolades from chambers of commerce, mayors, state assembly persons, governors, congresspersons, senators, and even Wal-Mart. Currently he struggles to earn an opportunity to be employed, working as a laborer, dishwasher. He is deliriously happily married to Myra Kelso, living in Southern California with their adorable children.

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