Is Randi Weingarten, head Am Fed of Teachers a vicious troll?
Who’s Afraid of Randi Weingarten?
Not Mike Pompeo, who calls the teachers union head ‘dangerous’ but has challenged her to a debate.
Jason L. Riley, WSJ
Dec. 6, 2022 6:15 pm ET
If former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is serious about seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024 and about making education reform his signature issue, it’s hard to think of a better fight to pick than the one he has chosen with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Ms. Weingarten is the face of public education in the U.S. and a dominant force in Democratic politics. The AFT, along with the National Education Association and their thousands of state and local affiliates, has for decades maintained a vise grip on the traditional public schools that educate more than 80% of K-12 students.
During the pandemic, the AFT shaped the guidelines used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the full reopening of schools. Teachers unions leveraged the Covid crisis to demand higher pay and better benefits for their members. In Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Times reported before the pandemic that only 42% of students could read at grade level and that math proficiency was only 32%, the local teachers union requested free child care for its members as a condition for returning to the classroom. Combined, the AFT and NEA spent more than $40 million to elect Democrats in 2020. Three months after taking office, President Biden repaid them by signing Covid-relief legislation that allocated $123 billion for public schools without any requirement that districts reopen for in-person instruction.
In an interview last month with two journalists, David Weigel and Shelby Talcott, Mr. Pompeo described Ms. Weingarten and the public-education establishment as a threat to the country. “I tell the story often—I get asked ‘Who’s the most dangerous person in the world? Is it Chairman Kim, is it Xi Jinping?’ ” said Mr. Pompeo, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming the nation’s top diplomat under Donald Trump. “The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten. It’s not a close call. If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teacher’s unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing.”
Ms. Weingarten responded by deflecting. “What he’s doing is making it harder for teachers all across America to teach kids. To bring parents and teachers together,” she told MSNBC. “He knows better, but he’s doing this to try to win a Republican primary, and he’s hurting kids.” Last week, Mr. Pompeo doubled down on his remarks and challenged Ms. Weingarten to a public debate. “Her personal venom evidences an unwillingness to defend what she has wrought on our children and our nation,” Mr. Pompeo wrote in a New York Post op-ed. “I am prepared to debate her and to present to the American people my case for the risks she presents to our republic and our nation’s future.”
So far, Ms. Weingarten has declined Mr. Pompeo’s offer, dismissing it as an effort to use teachers as “a prop for his pathetic presidential ambitions.” She has called him a “childish,” “petty” and spiteful “bully boy.” This response is beneath Ms. Weingarten, who ought to reconsider. Mr. Pompeo graduated first in his class from West Point and earned a law degree from Harvard. He’s certainly capable of having a substantive back-and-forth with her about education reform, and it would be a public service besides. If Ms. Weingarten doesn’t have the courage of her convictions, maybe she could muster the courage of her legendary predecessor, Albert Shanker.
Shanker led the AFT from 1974 to 1997 and was invited to debate school choice on William F. Buckley’s PBS program “Firing Line” in 1986. He gamely accepted, and with all due respect to Mr. Pompeo, Shanker faced somewhat tougher opponents than Ms. Weingarten likely would encounter. The lively, two-hour event was hosted by the University of California, Davis, and was moderated by a graduate-school dean. In addition to the TV audience, more than a thousand people watched in person. Shanker’s debate partners were Paul Starr, a sociologist at Princeton, and Bill Honig, California’s superintendent of public education. Their opponents were Buckley, Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell.
The debate can be streamed on YouTube, and regardless of which side the viewer thinks prevailed, the reality is that education policy in 2022 continues to favor the traditional public-education model. It’s hard to hold school-choice proponents responsible for the problems that continue to plague K-12 schooling today. Shanker at least understood that the unions that control the education status quo owe taxpayers an explanation for its shortcomings, and he was willing to make his case publicly against the leading public intellectuals of his day. Ms. Weingarten, by contrast, behaves as though debating her detractors is beneath her.
Appeared in the December 7, 2022, print edition as 'Who’s Afraid of Randi Weingarten?'.