Saturday, February 13, 2016
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Inside Washington

What happens in the halls of national government – for better or for worse – can dictate the future course of America. Along with your fellow Prayer Team members, you are to be constantly and fervently interceding for all the men and women who serve in Congress, for your military leaders in the Pentagon, and for the President of the United States, his cabinet and administration.

“Inside Washington” will equip you to do just that … with reports on the nation’s leaders and the decisions they’re considering … or have already made. We’ll examine the implications for the nation, and call you to specific prayer for those needs.

Marching to a Different Beat

Inside Washington

Will teachers be allowed to opt out of unions?

By Dr. Tom Askew

American educational researcher John Goodlad had this to say after spending thousands of hours in American schools researching his 1984 book, A Place Called School: “We found a strange, rather indefinable sameness among schools; seating arrangements, materials being used, teachers’ roles, students’ roles, and teaching methods all function with a familiar, monotonous drone of sameness.”

Aggressive advances in school choice options such as magnet schools, charter schools, tax credits, and limited voucher programs may have changed the visible landscape of American education somewhat since Goodlad’s original research, but not much has changed in the philosophical outlook of American educators. “Politically incorrect” speech is seldom tolerated within the culture of public educators.

Marching to a different drummer

Standing outside that mainstream is California teacher Barbara Friedrichs who dared to challenge the state’s mandatory “agency fee” withholdings for public school teachers.  Along with ten fellow members of the Christian Educators Association International, Friedrichs objects to California’s requirement that non-union members must still pay “agency fees” to support the California Teachers Association.

Although the fees of non-members are not supposed to support the unions’ political advocacies (virtually all of which may be called “liberal,” and include support for Planned Parenthood, for example), Friedrichs and her colleagues argue that the very act of collective bargaining itself is inherently political. “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing local governments to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial,” Friedrichs says.

The Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in January. In their questioning, Justices Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, and Roberts seemed in sympathy with the plaintiffs, but the Court’s ruling is not expected until late June.


At present, there are twenty-five “right-to-work” states, which do not require union membership for public employees, such as teachers. In some “union” states, such as California, teachers who must join these associations are exempt from “dues” which may be used for political advocacy. However, they must pay an “agency fee” in light of the fact that collective bargaining may gain them salary and working condition improvements.

It is this “agency fee” that Friedrichs and her colleagues are contesting. Should the Supreme Court rule in their favor, it will strike down a 1977 precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which established the alternative of “agency fees” for “union dues.” Many legal watchers assert that this will force the remaining twenty-five states to become “right-to-work” states, without any recourse.

Worth the fuss?

You may wonder why Ms. Friedrichs and the other teachers have chosen this “hill to die on.” Is it really such a big deal to support all of the union’s policies? For those who have not worked in the educational field, it may come as a surprise to hear how uniform the thinking can be.

Harking back to the Goodlad quote at the beginning of this article, as one who has spent much of his life among public educators, from school building administrators to university professors, I can testify to the “familiar, monotonous drone of sameness” when these subjects come up:

Let me hasten to add that there are many brave individuals in public education, like Barbara Friedrichs, who do not think in the ways named in the above paragraph. But their voices are usually drowned out by the majority – whose positions are generally embraced by the unions and their leaders.

Pray for Friedrichs

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (I Timothy 2:15) 

Barbara Friedrichs and others who dare to go against the cultural “grain” are being faithful to scripture when it instructs all “workers” to care about the “word of truth.” Pray for all workers in America to have true freedom of speech.

Dr. Tom Askew has been an educator in both public and private schools for over 40 years, in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.  He is currently doing educational consulting and instruction for Christian schools in Arizona.

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