Over the course of the last 12 weeks, I have been thinking about our conversations here on democracy, schools, and teachers' unions. We write under the banner of "bridging differences," and notwithstanding our broad agreement on most important questions we have discussed, there are "differences" that could be teased out of the dialogue.
At the outset, I must confess that I am deeply suspicious of efforts to identify "differences" with those who share most of our view of the world. The impulse to draw "lines of demarcation" around ourselves takes an almost pathological form among many on the American left, a "narcissism of small differences" in which the main political fire is invariably aimed at those who are politically nearest. It creates a political culture where vanguard politics fades into Puritanism: The moral purity of the self-anointed elect is preserved, but at the price of complete political marginality and irrelevance. I have no taste for such political fare.
But let us see if we can arrive at a more productive discussion of our political differences. You ask "Do teachers' unions truly practice democracy?" I could point to the literature on union democracy and to the organizational features that it identifies as crucial for union democracy, and demonstrate how teachers' unions not only possess those features, but possess them in greater measure than other unions.
But there is a more fundamental disagreement at work here: I think your query is the wrong question. When I think about such matters, I ask myself different questions. "At a time that teachers' unions face existential threats, how do we defend the democratic voice that they provide teachers?" "How can we strengthen the voice that unions provide teachers, making teachers' unions more democratic?"