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Teachers, take 3

September 2nd, 2009 3 comments

To my mind the greatest obstacle to ensuring every American kid gets a quality education is teacher’s unions. Admittedly, that link leads to an extreme example, but the underlying problem is everywhere.

You may say that political conservatives, who generally loathe public education because of its ability to level society, are a bigger threat. I do agree that conservatives hate public education and that’s a big reason why. However, most of the population can’t afford private schools, whether elite, parochial or whatever. It’s these middle and lower class folks who ultimately decide the fate of public education with their votes, and they’d be less likely to support cuts in public education funding if the product was worthwhile (religious extremists who hate secular education excepted, of course). And, with apologies to my friends who are or are becoming teachers, it ain’t. Oh, no, it’s really not.

I’ve hit this topic up twice now (here and here, it’s a bugaboo of mine because I do believe in the importance of public education. Were it up to me, I’d ban private education. Equal opportunity will never be realized until every kid in America has a chance to compete equally, starting with a quality education in a public school. But the rich will never buy into this as long as they have the option to give their spoiled brats a leg up. Of course an outright ban on private education wouldn’t work, so it would work thusly, you can pay for your kid to go to private or religious school, but they must attend public school full time (this would also help the kids victimized by their holy text banging cuckoo parents).

It’s a reach, I admit, but the first step is getting poor parents to not wish they could afford private education for their kids, because public schools suck. And why do public schools suck? Because you can’t fire a damn teacher! Nothing works without accountability and teacher’s unions prevent accountability from ruining a bureaucrat’s cushy summer-off gig. If teachers are all good (no one realistically thinks that all examples of any profession can be great), the poor will buy in (please note, by “poor” I don’t mean “black”, I grew up in a poor white neighborhood and my schools were crap, too). It slowly but surely creeps into the kind of petite bourgeoisie whose kids populate parochial schools (of course, not the people who demand religious education, but fuck them). Then you have a grass roots political movement that fucks the wealthy and powerful. Everybody wins.

But no one buys into a system that doesn’t work, and the public school system doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Teacher pay is often presented as a problem, but that’s bullshit. Everybody knows public teachers generally work for peanuts, but that doesn’t make for a lack of new candidates. I personally wouldn’t be a teacher for any amount of money. You’ve got the kids, then the God damned parents, then the principals and I have no idea what the point of THAT job is. Still, there are plenty of people who WANT to teach for some odd reason. (for the record, I support raises and I doubt merit pay is workable, just fire the bad ones)

So why doesn’t it work? What IS the answer? Well, bad teachers. This is unfortunately a case where one bad apple does ruin the whole bunch. I couldn’t identify most of the teachers I had in a line up if they’d mugged me. But I can remember with astonishing clarity my 5th grade elementary and my 6th grade home room teacher. Because they were terrible fucking people. My 4th grade teacher was no great shakes either. They were the teachers that Pink Floyd sang about. I know my parents would remember my 5th grade teacher because they had repeated meetings with classmates’ parents and school officials about his tendency to threaten his students regularly and abuse them occasionally. If a parent slams a 5th grader into a brick wall, they go to jail, if a teacher does it, their union goes to bat. (Eyewitness blogger here, the kid’s initials were ZG.)

And that is the biggest threat to ensuring every kid in America gets a quality education.

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