Teachers Unions and the Myth of ‘Public’ Schools
American taxpayers have been duped by the whole idea of "public schools". No other institution can get away with such bad behavior on the part of the staff they employ. We have poured more and more money into the system for decades without generating more income for the nation's children. As recently as this week, the national results for 2019 for student performance in grade 12 were released, which have an average score of 37 percent reading literacy and 24 percent math literacy. These numbers are appalling, but they are unlikely to improve as long as public teachers unions continue to behave like the most lucrative and powerful ring in the country.
They get away with it in part because we've all been trained to talk about them. Political language is often used to prevent political debate in this way. A case study would be the way the words “private” and “public” are used in political discussions. We are talking about a private and a public sector; private and public land; and of course private and public schools. These terms prevent us from thinking clearly.
The word "private" smells like the desire to protect something from other people. It describes things that relate to themselves rather than society and is almost always used defensively. When we lift a book off a friend's shelf and hear them scream, "This is private!" We know we have been told to withdraw from an undesirable advance into guarded areas. It is a word used by individuals to bring claims against the claims of others on their own behalf. Because of this, it is a distinct disadvantage in a democratic society.
The word “public” is much better in majority politics. It describes things that affect everyone, not things that affect specific people. At a time when loneliness and social isolation are widespread, associations with community, solidarity and collective effort emerge.
Neither of these terms is appropriate for the purposes they serve in political discourse, but the common usage of “public” is more harmful. By defining a particular interest or industry as “public” we create the impression that it benefits everyone in society, not just a few. This creates a blind spot in our discourse. It prevents us from realizing that the people who employ "public" institutions or who sell their political prescriptions as ointments to be used in the "public interest" are just as nakedly interested in themselves as anyone else.
The saddest and most outstanding example of “public” institutions that are nothing like that in the US is our “public” education system. These schools are advertised to taxpayers as facilities that serve every child in the nation. In reality, they serve the interests of none other than the small group of Americans who work as teachers and administrators in these schools. That shouldn't surprise us. We expect workers in the “private” sector to make their own financial gain. When “private” sector unions go on strike, they do so not for altruistic reasons, but to get higher wages and better working conditions, and do so without apology. However, unions in the “public” sector operate in a different rhetorical framework, which gives them a clear PR advantage over their counterparts in the “private” sector. Because teachers' unions can shield their own greed with "public service" claims for children, they can manipulate the real public into believing that more money, job security, or political power for themselves is in everyone's interest rather than their own. You can claim that American children's hopes and dreams are mystically present in their paychecks and extended vacations, as if the money in each of their bank accounts was some sort of progressive Eucharist in which the entire nation participates. However, a look at graduation rates, test scores, and employability of graduates calls this into question.
We saw an increase in their particular pleadings during the pandemic, as union leaders identified the crisis as an opportune moment to blackmail students and parents into further concessions. The mafia-style protection bat is advancing rapidly even as I write this. Just this week, the Fairfax Education Association, a union that represents teachers in Northern Virginia, announced that it was refusing to go back to school in person until August 2021 at the earliest. This is despite the fact that K-12 schools across the country that have reopened have so far managed to avoid coronavirus surges.
Typically, teacher unions argue that their actions are intended to protect the health of teachers and students. This just proves that they either don't know or care about the extremely negative effects of long-term distance learning on children's neurology. My colleague Madeleine Kearns recently interviewed child psychiatrist Allan M. Josephson for National Review in which Dr. Josephson describes the childhood brain dysfunction that teacher union policies could produce. Personal interaction with other children is critical if children are to develop the interpersonal problem-solving skills that are required of them as adults. Apparently no child psychiatrist was consulted when the Fairfax Education Association was compiling its list of claims, or if so, he or she was unceremoniously ignored.
Becky Pringle, the newly-elected chair of the National Education Association (the largest union in the country), recently spoke about what the policies of her 3 million strong organization would be if Donald Trump were re-elected and Betsy DeVos continued to serve as Secretary of Education. She said, "We're going to pick up all the things that they are doing to destroy public education, dismantle it, violate the right of our educators to organize and have a voice that stands out at work for our students as well." for their community. " Note the sentence structure. It is not "our students and ... their community" whose "rights" are "violated". It is "our educators" who act as middlemen between taxable parents and their children in order to "stand up for the work of our students and their community". They claim the cloak of "public educators" when they should be described as "taxpayer-funded educators".
Political language is never more powerful than when it bypasses arguments by generating assumptions instead. The assumption that government-run schools operate in the "public interest" has prevented us from realizing the multiple ways in which teacher unions operate in their own interest. Ultimately, the pandemic should have robbed the idea of “public education” of its rhetorical currency. But as long as they have the language of the "public" - "private" divide to draw on, they will likely be able to convince themselves and many voters that they are selfless.
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