When critics of teachers’ unions want to strike a blow against unions, they throw around something that they claim was said by the late Albert Shanker:

‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.’ ”

Albert Shanker was the brilliant and much-admired and very outspoken president of the American Federation of Teachers; he died in 1997.

Joel Klein, former NYC chancellor who now sells education technology for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, quoted this line in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, and Mitt Romney quoted it when he unveiled his education policy package.

The problem is that no one knows for sure if Albert Shanker actually said these words.

Various efforts to trace the origins of this line have failed to discover whether Shanker ever said it.

It appeared in a small newspaper in Mississippi. Rightwing outlets love to cite it.

But no one can authenticate that Albert Shanker ever said it.

So we can expect that rightwing opponents of teachers’ right to bargain collectively will continue to cite this as fact rather than fancy.

As it happened, I knew Al Shanker very well. The best representation of his beliefs was the sign that New York City teachers carried when they protested or went on strike: “Teachers Want What Children Need.”

Next time someone rails against the unions, remember that teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions.