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Teach, don't walk

Teachers have good reason to protest budget cuts. But a walkout only hurts the kids.

June 05, 2008

In this season of discontent, who has more right to frustration than teachers? Lured to the field by promises of jobs created by the Great Teacher Shortage, they flooded into schools of education to earn credentials. They started out at relatively low pay, working under trying conditions. In Los Angeles, they received wildly inaccurate paychecks for months on end. And now they're told that, need or no need, the state lacks the money to keep many of them on. Some will be laid off, and the rest will pick up heavier class loads with less support.

It's only natural that they would want to protest a budget that leaves them and their students in dismal circumstances. The Los Angeles Unified School District has lost its first legal effort to stop the teachers union from a one-hour walkout Friday morning, and today it was expected to seek a temporary restraining order, saying that the schools would not be secure during a walkout.

The district's argument doesn't wash. With some planning, the schools should be able to keep students safe for one hour. Even so, while respecting the teachers' right to stage a high-profile protest, we wish they wouldn't do it in this particular way. The morning walkout likely will result in a lost school day for many students while making little difference to the lawmakers who hold the schools' fates in the balance.

The problem is that, in many L.A. Unified schools, truancy and class-cutting already bedevil principals. Although teachers have the education to understand that civil disobedience is an honorable response to injustice, their method of protest could be misunderstood by their students. It is one thing for a teacher to blockade the Capitol, another to close down a classroom. In a small but significant way, the walkout would signal that classroom time isn't really all that important.

Teachers unions have every right, perhaps a responsibility, to take strong actions against budget cuts. But they and their students would be better served by more effective protest with minimal if any impact on kids. The planned Friday morning walkout is both too large and too small a gesture: big enough to hurt education, small enough to be ignored by Sacramento.

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