The American Federation of Teachers is the second-largest teachers’ union in the country, with over 1.7 million members and 3,000 chapters nationwide. The AFT has a vast array of teachers and education professionals amid its ranks, which is why you would expect that its leadership would get the flag of Ukraine, a nation that has been in the center of the news lately, right. Well, you would be wrong.
In a now-deleted tweet, the top-two leaders of the AFT, President Randi Weingarten, and Vice-President Evelyn DeJesus took a picture with a poster supporting the Ukrainian people. The poster had the message “We stand with Ukraine” and it had the white dove of peace in it, up to now, there is absolutely nothing to criticize the AFT for. However, there was one small detail on the AFT’s show of support towards the Ukrainian people: the flag was upside-down.
The flag of Ukraine has a blue stripe on top and yellow at the bottom, symbolizing the blue skies and the golden wheat fields that characterize Ukraine. Randi and Evelyn, however, did not notice they were holding the flag with the blue strip on top and the yellow below. This is not the first time Randi has had troubles with Ukraine, as she was also criticized for misspelling the name of the country a few days ago.
Both union leaders were heavily mocked due to the gaffe, with Ron DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw questioning the sincerity of the AFT’s support of Ukraine if their top-brass leadership does not even recognize the flag of the country they are supporting. Tommy Pigott, the Rapid Response Director of the GOP, said it was very “worrying that Randi Weingarten ever taught political science to anybody.”
Others seized the moment to criticize the work of the teacher’s union during the pandemic, as they pushed against reopening schools and for more remote learning after more than two years of irregular school schedules due to the pandemic. Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY) lambasted Weingarten, who was also a heavy supporter of universal school masking, saying that she was “not an educator, she is a political hack.”
Leaving aside any flag-related controversies, Weingarten has been heavily criticized for her role as a power broker in the teacher’s union movement, and she has been specially questioned over her actions regarding school-related COVID-19 regulations. Weingarten, who has been in leadership positions in teachers’ unions since at least 1998, was accused by the New York Post of influencing the CDC to stop the full reopening of schools at the start of 2022.
Weingarten has also been criticized for being more concerned with politics than with the nitty-gritty of teaching, as opponents have pointed out that she only served as a full-time teacher for only one semester and acted as a “per diem” teacher for most of her teaching career, which requires teachers to work only one in every four days. Although she had only worked one semester as a full teacher, she accumulated nine years of pensionable teacher work, according to records accessed by The Village Voice.
Whether Weingarten’s mastery of geography and vexillology (the study of flags and symbols) improves remains a truly open question, in the meantime, she will continue to direct the powerful and heavily influential American Federation of Teachers, which spent more than $20 million in contributions just during the 2020 election cycle and has played a fundamental role in the public policy debate over school reopening and universal school masking.
Let us hope that she also improves her scientific and medical knowledge on COVID-19 at the same time she is learning how to draw the Ukrainian flag.