The most intriguing writing on the Internet often appears in the response to other writing, and this article by Mark Naison on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet explained why Americans are complacent to or part of the chorus vociferating teachers. It was interesting and echoed ruminations had here back in August 2011.
Naison imagines this dialog from Mr. and Mrs. Middle America 2012:
“Who do teachers think they are? Why should they live so well on my tax dollars when I can barely keep my head above water? At the very least, they should feel some of the insecurity I feel every day and face the kind of performance assessments workers in the private sector deal with all the time.”
And while his article brought up some good points, I was arrested by a certain post following Naison’s piece by “staticvars,” whose view of bad teachers was straightforward, and whose prediction of the demise of public service unions had as much to do with technology as it does cupidity.
I have bolded the most provocative passages, in my opinion:
This is a horrible misrepresentation of most people’s opinions. Jealousy of teachers is not the cause. One reason- I had a lot of horrible teachers! Since then I have had to deal with a lot of horrible teachers, people that have been in the system for years and are simply ineffective. People that can’t learn new ways of doing things. People with multiple masters degrees and plenty of years in getting paid double the best teachers in the school.
Public unions in general are a conflict of interest problem, not just teachers’ unions. Over 50% of US union members now work for the government. We don’t need unions to protect the people from people. The coming municipal and state pension busts are going to be ugly. We kept making these idiotic deals where teachers would get lower pay for better retirement- because the politicians making the deals wouldn’t be around to pay the bills. Just like the big companies that have had to deal with the unions.
My father went on strike when he was a teacher, suffered them when he was a principal, and averted them when he was superintendent. While he believes all teachers deserve the right to strike, the principals also deserve the right to replace them, and the district should be able to hire from more than one union, instead of from a cartel or monopoly on the supply. My sister missed 3 months of her senior year due to a strike. Imagine the havoc…but lets face it. Teachers unions are political organizations that exist to get money and votes. Helping teachers is now more of a side effect.
My best schooling experiences were test heavy- not multiple choice, but standardized. Getting pre-tests to skip topics I already knew, or to take a test after one day on a topic, it let me go twice as fast. School was awesome. I felt like I was flying…but then forces conspire to teach the whole class slowly again, I struggle to stay awake.
The Khan Academy, Starfall and similar resources are revolutionizing education. I used the computer to teach my kids to read when they were 2 and 3. They were writing games with Scratch at age 5. It’s a new world. We see the rest of world catching up with the US, passing the US, leaving us behind.
We just emerged from the American century. We need to go all out if we want to avoid further decline. We need to try new things. We need flexibility. We need higher pay for teachers, but only the good ones. So we need to figure out who the good ones are. We might need them to work longer hours- and to pay them for that.
That said, there are broader societal problems. However, couching them as problems as poverty is insulting. The problem is that the cultural value of education is insufficient in many homes- many of the homes that have many of the kids. We need to stop pretending we have problems that can be fixed with money, or with teachers, when we have problems that can only be fixed by parents caring. Shame people who don’t value education into taking care of their kids.
Right–why don’t we license parents and evaluate their performance every year? Figure out each dad and mom’s “value added” and publish the worst and best in the newspapers. That works for teachers, right?