Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado teachers’ union goes full socialist

In the aftermath of test scores showing Colorado’s public schools badly failing many children when teaching them literacy and math, the Colorado Education Association—the union “voice of 39,000 educators”—passed a resolution . . . condemning capitalism. Because clearly what our classrooms need is teachers promoting more socialist propaganda.

Usually, when an organization’s members pass a resolution, the organization publicizes the resolution as a way to promote its message. Not this time. Neither the CEA nor the National Education Association has said much about it. We know about the story because a couple teachers mentioned it on Twitter, and someone who attended the meeting in question sent a screen capture of the draft resolution to a legislator, who forwarded it to a Christian media outlet. From there, the story went national.

It started with a Tweet

On April 22, Tim Hernández Tweeted, “BREAKING: @ColoradoEA (CO’s largest union of over 39,000 education workers) just ratified a resolution (by @Bryan4Aurora [Bryan Lindstrom]) against capitalism as an economic system at our 2023 Delegate Assembly. CEA may now publicly advocate & lobby for anti-capitalist policies at the CO Capitol.”

I asked Hernández via Twitter, “Will you please post a scan of the resolution in question, or a link to the document if it’s online? Thank you.” I never heard back.

On April 24, I emailed the CEA. A representative quickly responded, “Thanks for reaching out. When is your deadline?” I responded and tried again later, but I never heard anything more.

Hernández, who describes himself on Twitter as an abolitionist, teacher, and Chicano, links to a Denver Post article from last year about “a student protest movement that swept [Denver North High] school in the spring after classmates learned beloved Chicano teacher Tim Hernández had been let go and would not be returning the following year.” Hernández currently is listed as a staff member at an Aurora public school. I’m assuming here that the subject of the Post story is the same person running the Twitter account.

In response to Hernández’s Tweet, Rep. Lorena Garcia Tweeted, “Incredible!!! Lead the way CEA!!! Thank you @Bryan4Aurora [Lindstrom].” To this Lindstrom Tweeted a supportive power fist.

Who is Bryan Lindstrom?

Lindstrom is an interesting fellow. On Twitter, he describes himself as a high school and college history teacher, union organizer, and “education policy expert” who “speaks truth to power.” Prophetically, he wears a sweatshirt that says, “I’m the teacher Fox News warns you about.”

On May 4, after Fox News published a (predictably critical) article on Lindstrom’s resolution, I asked Lindstrom via Twitter, “Hi Bryan, You might have noticed that Fox did a story on the CEA resolution. I write a column for Complete Colorado, and I’d love to get your perspective on this. What was the context in which the resolution was offered, and what does its approval mean?” I did not hear back from him. I’m assuming here that Lindstrom the Aurora teacher is the same person running the @Bryan4Aurora Twitter account.

As of a December 1 Tweet, Lindstrom says he teaches at an Aurora high school. On May 5, I contacted Aurora Public Schools to confirm whether Lindstrom teaches there at this time. The next day a representative sent me an email but did not answer my question. To the best of my knowledge, Lindstrom continues to teach at the same school.

Lindstrom twice ran for Aurora City Council, in 2019 and 2021, and lost both times. His campaign web site remains live and features endorsements from Democratic Socialists of America as well as the usual litany of left-wing organizations, including the CEA.

In a 2019 op-ed for the Aurora Sentinel, Lindstrom tips his radical cards, calling for “city-driven development” and “land trusts” over private housing development, a government-run “municipal bank,” and other “public enterprises.”

In 2021, one of Lindstrom’s former students endorsed the teacher in his city council race: “He encouraged each and every one of us to do our best, and he helped us gain a better understanding of the content, as well as support for life outside of it. His classroom was a safe environment, one where I felt welcomed and able to freely express myself. He treated me and my classmates with such kindness and fairness; he knew how to ensure we gave it our all while maintaining steady support for our learning. . . . Bryan Lindstrom taught us about the truth of history, from the roots of oppression to injustice involving race, class, and gender around the world.”

I suspect that historians of a more conservative bent would say that Lindstrom’s “truth” is biased and incomplete. That issue aside, he sounds like a very good teacher, and one that I would have enjoyed as a student. If I had a high-school aged child, I’d have no problem with sending my child to Lindstrom’s class—or with discussing his views at home. In my view, it’s better for a teacher to teach biased material well than to teach good material badly.

You may have noticed that I did not here mention the names of the schools where Hernández and Lindstrom teach (even though that information is readily available online). That’s because I don’t want to encourage anyone to contact those schools and hassle them about those teachers. Yes, we want to encourage schools and teachers to teach sound materials. Fighting schools over particular teachers whose ideologies differ from your own is not the way to accomplish that.

I’ll make a broader point here. It is not a parent’s job to protect their child from controversial or even overtly biased materials, nor to instill in their child the parent’s viewpoints. Instead, a parent should help their child think critically about information and views from all quarters—including parents! My family homeschools, and this is partly because I wanted a broader education for my child, not an ideologically restricted one. Generally, I think that any book that some ideological camp wants to ban (or burn) is probably a book worth reading.

Back to Lindstrom. He Tweets some fairly radical things. His pinned Tweet from 2020 is straight Marxist economics (if you wish to call Marx’s absurdist nonsense economics): “You don’t ‘make’ $15/hr. You ‘make’ 100s or 1000s of $$ worth of product each hour and sell it for $15 each hour. You didn’t make anything for yourself. You sold an hour of your life and your body for $15. Don’t let them convince you otherwise. Your labor value is getting stolen.” Leaving aside Lindstrom’s ridiculous claims about profit margins, the labor theory of value that Marx relied on was disproved in the late nineteenth century.

Here are some other lines from Lindstrom on Twitter: “Capitalism bad.” “There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ billionaire.” “Everything [conservatives] hate is the natural result of capitalism.” “Society can run w/o the bourgeoisie but society can’t run w/o the proletariat.” “Unpaid internships are exploitative and classist.” “Any unpaid labor is exploitation.” “Charter schools aren’t public schools. . . they just take public money.”

“People cheer replacing dictators abroad but flip out when you suggest replacing the dictatorship [i.e., private ownership] within the workplaces here.” “You can have exchange without capitalism.” “Capitalism needs you separated by generations so you can be a better consumer.” What divides America is “Capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy.” “Socialism is when the workers own the means of production. It’s democracy in all elements of life.”

“I can’t stand [Jared Polis]. . . . Polis is a Libertarian so I don’t get why people who claim to be Libertarians hate him.” (Polis is not really a libertarian.) Teacher evaluations are “a tool to get rid of union leaders and vocally antiracists.” “The Colorado Education Association now officially believes in having a comprehensive single-payer healthcare system.” “It’s all made up, y’all. 40 hour work week, commodified housing, gender, money. . . we can literally just change the things that aren’t working.” “Define ‘plutocracy’ and then explain how the US isn’t that.” “Wyt supremacists want to stop us from teaching real history.” “Inelastic commodities [including housing and healthcare] shouldn’t be commodified.” “Wage theft is 70% of all theft.” “Capitalism relies on artificial scarcity of inelastic commodities.” “Time to abolish capitalism.” “Workers of the world unite!”

You get the idea. This is the guy said to have offered the CEA resolution. So let’s get back to that.

Breaking the story

Recall that Hernández Tweeted about the resolution on April 22. On April 26, an outfit called the Lion published John Ransom’s article about the resolution. Ransom contacted the CEA and Lindstrom but initially got mostly stonewalled. State Senator Mark Baisley told Ransom, “I find [the CEA’s] explanation about a possible anti-capitalism resolution wholly inadequate.”

Ransom is a conservative writer. And the Lion is a project of the Herzog Foundation, which says its mission is “Advancing Christian Education.” I personally don’t want Christian propaganda in my child’s education any more than I want socialist propaganda in it. Be that as it may, outside of Hernández’s initial Tweet and the subsequent comments it generated, Ransom is the first person to research the story, and the basic facts he lays out are helpful in understanding it.

Ransom published a follow-up story on May 3. By this time, Baisley had sent Ransom a screen capture of the resolution as originally proposed, one sent to him “by a disgruntled CEA member who walked out in disgust over the passage of the resolution,” Ransom relates. In response to this, a representative of the CEA confirmed that the CEA assembly had in fact passed the resolution as amended.

Originally, Lindstrom’s draft stated, in part, “The only way to fully address systemic racism (the school to prison pipeline), climate change, patriarchy (gender and LGBTQ disparities), education inequality, and income inequality is to dismantle capitalism and replace it with a new, equitable economic system.” Gee, I wonder what Lindstrom might call that “new” system.

Here is the amended resolution as passed by the assembled CEA members: “The CEA believes that capitalism inherently exploits children, public schools, land, labor, and resources. Capitalism is in opposition to fully addressing systemic racism (the school to prison pipeline), climate change, patriarchy (gender and LGBTQ disparities), education inequality, and income inequality.”

In Ransom’s words, the CEA representative said the resolution is not “actionable” but that it does “reflect the views of the union’s 39,000 members.” Ransom adds, “That probably comes as a big surprise to the majority of teachers in Colorado, who are likely appalled by the actions of the delegates at the CEA assembly.” I have not seen it reported how many people attended the assembly in question or how many voted in favor of the resolution, but I imagine the number is a tiny fraction of 39,000.

By this time Ransom had accumulated enough facts to drive a national story. Fox News, drawing on Ransom’s work, published its version of the story on May 4. In a follow-up article, Fox News reported, “The Biden administration and National Education Association (NEA) are declining to comment on a declaration from a Colorado teachers union that ‘capitalism inherently exploits children, public schools, land, labor, and resources.'”

Fox News also asked Jared Polis about the issue, which, for anyone following the in-party squabbling among Colorado Democrats, is hilarious.

Here’s what Polis said: “What a bizarre thing. I don’t know what part of the teachers’ union said that. Obviously we all value diversity among our teachers. When I was young, I had a libertarian teacher, a socialist teacher, a Republican, Democrat. It’s great to have that exposure for schools.

“But, look, it’s the great economic engine of capitalism that creates the prosperity that funds our schools, right? We would have not only educators, but so many others, living in squalor if we moved toward socialism or Communism in our country. So capitalism keeps teachers’ salaries up, funds our schools, and leads to the great prosperity that we have not just in Colorado, but across the country.”

Getting capitalism right

Here’s my take: The teachers who voted for the anti-capitalist resolution basically think of capitalism as “everything I don’t like.” It is especially strange for the CEA to blame capitalism for the failures of the government-run schools and the government-run criminal justice system.

If we take capitalism to mean roughly the system of mostly private business ownership and free trade that has prevailed through much of the world for the past couple hundred years or so, a quick glance at Our World in Data indicates that capitalism has enabled the human population to expand by roughly eight-fold, life expectancy to roughly double, work hours to fall, poverty to fall, and real wealth to expand dramatically. Mainly, capitalism “exploits” people by enabling a lot more people to live in vastly better conditions.

Can we point to examples of profit-seeking people acting horribly? Obviously. Slavers bought and sold human beings and treated them brutally. In my book slavery is not an example of capitalism, because capitalism refers to a system of consensual exchange, and obviously the slaves did not consent. Still, some people profited at the expense of others, so various people on the left want to say it’s capitalistic. Various factory owners have subjected their workers to unsafe conditions and even outright violence.

Capitalism properly understood entails those government actions that ensure mutual, informed consent. So, under capitalism, government properly does things like ban all forms of involuntary servitude, fight fraud, and enforce contracts, including the payment of agreed wages. Although many (not all) libertarians disagree, most people who endorse capitalism think it properly entails a government-funded safety net.

Clearly, those teachers who voted for the CEA resolution do not wish to have nuanced discussions about the meaning of capitalism, its benefits as well as its hazards, or its proper guardrails. Their obvious aim is to score ideological points.

Some of those forced to pay taxes to finance those teachers’ salaries might understandably be concerned that some of those teachers might sacrifice quality of education in the classroom in favor of promoting leftist dogma.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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