Teachers' unions have given their members an image as "complainers who don't like children" and "strike at the drop of the hat," Education Secretary William J. Bennett said in a published report Sunday.
In an interview with the Star-Ledger, Bennett said the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Assn. are doing a disservice to teachers in the eyes of the American public.
Bennett said strikes and complaints by union leaders have given teachers an image as "hang-dog, down-in-the-mouth complainers who don't like children, strike at the drop of the hat, who are always screaming for more money and who are generally put upon and willing to tell you so every time you talk to them."
"Teachers are frankly better and more sensible human beings than the impression you would get from listening to some of their union leaders," Bennett said. Most teachers actually like their work, like children, and "generally like life and are content with the state of the universe," he said.
"A lot of these people who say they speak for them simply do not," Bennett said. He said those union leaders, such as AFT President Albert Shanker and NEA President Mary Futrell, are "behaving very badly now."
In Washington, a spokesman for the 610,000-member AFT accused Bennett of "behaving like James Watt," who often made provocative statements during his stormy tenure as President Reagan's secretary of the Interior.
" . . . He has retreated again to more off-the-wall comments which we believe are unbecoming of the education secretary," AFT spokesman Scott Widmeyer said. "The AFT takes great exception to Bennett's comments and would point out the inaccuracies inherent in his remarks with reference to teachers' strikes.
"He is dead wrong on this. One only has to look at the facts," Widmeyer said. "This school year, teacher strikes are at their lowest mark in 10 years.