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Wisconsin’s Lessons in Democracy

[youtube][/youtube] Teachers marching on the state capital. Legislators ducking out of town to stall a vote rather than let the governor abolish collective bargaining.  For more than a week, mass demonstrations by public employees in Madison, Wisc., have given the nation a riveting a lesson in democracy — one that promises to continue now that educators have, at their union leader’s urging, returned to their classrooms.

The protest angered parents, many of whom had to scramble when school got canceled because too few teachers showed up. But others, including Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, see a “teachable moment” in labor’s showdown with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.  He suggests students should ask why teachers felt it was OK to call in sick when they weren’t ill and explain why sometimes it’s more important to have your voice heard on an issue, even if they might suffer punishment. Have them read the Constitution in class, Kane goes on, especially the First Amendment right to assemble peacefully and petition the government without fear of reprisal.  Students could write essays on why Madison’s protests are part of the American experience, or how dictators in other countries can summon the armed forces to beat and kill demonstrators.

Other columnists, including education historian Diane Ravitch on CNN, ponder why teachers are so angry.  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman see the demonstrations as a tipping point in the political balance of power between unions and big, monied special interests.  Math teachers, he hints, have lessons to offer as well — particularly in analyzing the budget numbers being used not only to justify greater contributions by public employees to their pensions and health insurance (which teachers have agreed to) but to do away with the union’s right to collective bargaining. As Krugman notes, while Wisconsin indeed faces a budget crunch, it’s less severe than what many other states are grappling with. Moreover, the deficit was exacerbated by Gov. Walker’s tax cuts.

Other governor’s aren’t waiting for Madison’s lessons. According to Fox News, at least nine Republican governors reportedly are working to change union rules.

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