Randi Weingarten Provides a Teaching Moment

By 07/17/2013

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Hear Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) on the jury’s decision in the Zimmerman case: “The disposition of this case is the antithesis of what we teach our children in school—that the law protects innocent victims and that no one has the right to take the law into his or her own hands.”

Does Weingarten think children should be taught to disagree with Thomas Jefferson’s defense of the rights of the accused: “Better one hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man be condemned.”

Does Weingarten believe children in school should be taught that juries should convict accused individuals even when they think there is reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed?

Why is Weingarten accusing Zimmerman of taking the law into his own hands after a jury of six women found that there was reasonable doubt that he was guilty? Why does she make this accusation without offering any evidence to support her claim?

This has been a teaching moment. We have learned that Weingarten plays politics with basic constitutional rights and liberties. Her ill-advised accusations contrast sharply with Attorney General Eric Holder’s sensible, responsible comments in the aftermath of the decision: “Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense.”

-Paul E. Peterson

Comment on this article
  • jean sanders says:

    Why do you take the death of Trayvon Martin as an opportunity to beat up on Randy? This is just more of your beating up on teachers…. She happens to be a teacher and a lawyer so I will read everything she writes and take it into consideration because she is obviously an intelligent person who can think.

  • jean sanders says:

    quote: “Randi was the first one to alert me years ago to the total inappropriateness of the business model in education. She is a lawyer, and she is very smart. Randi was first, in my memory, to talk about “reform fatigue.” She is courageous. When the big “Waiting for Superman” propaganda blitz was unleashed in the fall of 2010, Randi was treated as Public Enemy #1 by the privateers, and she slugged it out with them on national television again and again. That took guts.”
    written by Diane Ravitch another education professional woman that I admire.

  • Lynn Woodworth says:

    “She happens to be a teacher and a lawyer….”

    I get so tired of seeing people refer to Weingarten’s experience as a teacher. She taught full time for what 5 months? Her bio says she taught from 1991 to 1997, but leaves out that most of that time was as a sub. Yes she is a lawyer. Yes she is an expert in education labor relations. She is not an experienced classroom teacher.

    And to answer the rebuttal we all know if coming, I am a traditionally trained teacher who spent 11 years in the public school classroom.

  • Education Next says:

    Paul Peterson responds:

    A number of readers have replied with support for Randi Weingarten, but I am grateful none have attempted to defend her indefensible suggestion that children should be taught that a person is guilty of taking the law into his own hands even after being acquitted by a jury of his peers.

  • Melissa Pratt says:


    Mr. Peterson isn’t creating something out of thin air. Randi Weingarten made a public statement about how the Martin case should be handled by teachers, and he is responding to it by pointing out that perhaps some teachers may think there is a different type of lesson children should be learning.

    Our country has made the rights of the defendant of the utmost importance from the time of the Boston Massacre to now. Teachers could be teaching about that and about the murky waters that creates and why we hold those rights so sacred. Teachers could actually touch on parts of the Bill of Rights beyond the first 3 amendments and why they are so, so important.

    Just thinking of all the things I could touch on makes me want to go start writing lessons…

  • jean sanders says:

    statement from the AFT
    quote: “AFT Statement on Acquittal of George Zimmerman in Killing of Trayvon Martin
    WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin:

    “While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound. It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh. The proceedings in the Sanford, Fla., courtroom may well have dealt with the criminal aspects of the case, as defined by Florida law, but we will continue to deal with the moral ones. As the AFT pledged in a resolution passed at our 2012 convention, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for laws, policies and practices that will prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels. “The disposition of this case is the antithesis of what we teach our children in school—that the law protects innocent victims and that no one has the right to take the law into his or her own hands. Everyone’s child matters. We pray for the strength of Trayvon’s parents and loved ones in this difficult time.”

    ————————————This is what was published.

    You need to go back to what the statement read as published and not trivialize what she said or turn it into your own words.
    When Kennedy was in Massachusetts we worked on programs for civic education and one of the major themes in elementary grades was learning about justice. Today, I find this lacking in the curriculum and even the program that Kennedy helped bring to the state was mostly in the AP classes and it was not fully disseminated within other classes. If you want some of the lessons for your “writing ” Melissa, there is a substantial curriculum from the Center for Civic Education. I think everything in that curriculum would coincide with what Randi W. said in her published statement. In fact, Melissa , you and I could probably agree with the standards in the curriculum; it is Mr. Peterson’s trivializing of this entire issue that is disrespectful to the Trayvon family, to the AFT and to this individual retired teacher (me) and that is what I was writing about specifically.

  • Leo Casey says:

    An unarmed black boy is stalked, shot and killed for having walked from his father’s home to a 7-11 store to buy some candy, and Paul Petersen thinks we should abandon our critical facilities and see no injustice because a jury found his killer not guilty.

    Imagine that Paul Petersen would have said that when Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted by a jury, no one should have questioned that decision either.

  • Education Next says:

    Paul Peterson responds:

    Mr. Casey cannot distinguish the Zimmerman case from the Till case. For those readers too young to remember the Till case, the following excerpt from Wikipedia should be sufficient to clarify the matter:

    Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam arrived at Till’s great-uncle’s house where they took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.

    Till was returned to Chicago and his mother, who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing. Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of black civil rights in Mississippi, with newspapers around the country critical of the state. Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice, they soon began responding to national criticism by defending Mississippians, which eventually transformed into support for the killers.

    The trial attracted a vast amount of press attention. Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder, but only months later, in a magazine interview, protected against double jeopardy, they admitted to killing him.

    Does any reasonable person think the jury in the Zimmermann case should be compared to the one in the Till case? If so, they need to give reasons–not just make bizarre allegations.

  • Leo Casey says:

    That Paul Peterson thinks that the parallels between the killing of Emmett Till and Travon Martin are “bizarre allegations” speaks more to his view of the world than to the cases at hand.

    Both cases involve the pathological stereotyping of unarmed black boys, going about their lives in ordinary and peaceful ways, as so dangerous and threatening to armed adult white men that the taking of the boys’ lives was an entirely perverse reasoning taken to its logical conclusion.

    In both cases, the killers and their advocates put the boys on trial, in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion, to excuse their killings of the boys.

    In both cases, the killers sought out the boys, treating them as prey to be stalked and killed.

    In both cases, juries without a single African-American accepted the portraits of the murdered boys put forward by their killers in reaching verdicts which found them not guilty.

    In both cases, the killers walked free, without any consequences for taking the life of an unarmed boy.

    Being a nation of laws means that we accept jury verdicts, even when they are clearly wrong. But being a nation dedicated to liberty and justice for all means that when the legal process goes awry, is it done here, we speak the truth that it is a miscarriage of justice. That is the only way that we can create a “more perfect union which establishes justice.”

    Paul Peterson sees Randi Weingarten’s speaking out against the injustice done to Travon as wrong. But its his problem, not her’s, that he can not see the injustice of the killer of an unarmed black boy walking free, without any consequences.

  • Education Next says:

    Paul Peterson responds:

    Mr. Casey, who works for the American Federation of Teachers, defends Randi Weingarten by making up facts.

    For example, he says that Zimmermann was like Till because the killers sought out the boys, treating them as prey to be stalked and killed.

    But, of course, that has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Assuming guilt without attention to the specifics of the situation is the very definition of racial profiling and institutionalized racism.

  • Leo Casey says:

    Peterson has one extraordinary set of racial blinders.

    In his world view, racial profiling is NOT a matter of selecting an unarmed, peaceful black boy, doing nothing more than going to a 7-11 store to buy some candy and returning home in the early evening, deciding that he is a “fucking punk” and following him even after you have been instructed by the police dispatcher to stop, and engaging in an altercation in which you shoot hm dead.

    No, for Peterson, it is the act of suggesting that there is something seriously amiss when an armed, adult man who engages in this behavior walks free that IS racial profiling.

    For the record, I work at the Albert Shanker Institute, not the AFT. A more important fact is that I taught in New York City schools for 27 years, and have had thousands of Trayvon Martins sit in my classes.

  • LewArcher says:

    Paul left out Randi waving the bloody shirt after career teachers gave up heir lives protecting their children in Sandy Hook.

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