As usual, one of my favorite teacher friends – Michael at Best Destiny – makes some excellent big picture points about the state of public education, teachers unions, and the hard-working people in the classrooms. His post is a thoughtful follow-up to the story of the unsurprisingly biased Rocky Mountain High School (Fort Collins) math test reported at Face the State and covered here.
One point Michael makes is one I don’t make enough but needs to sink home with some:
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that, contrary to popular belief, teachers are not all Democrats. It has been my experience, having worked in 23 schools in my career (yes, I have an odd job description), that there are vastly more Republicans in the education profession than the general public believes there are, or than get represented by their unions’ activities….
The point is, and I have said it before, that when you talk in dismissive terms of “education”, please try, somehow, to draw a distinction between teachers’ unions–the heart and soul of Big Education–and teachers themselves. The former is one of the greatest impediments to properly educating our children; the latter are (largely) smart, dedicated, and creative servants of the public good.
The question that this observation begs for the thoughtful reader is why the unions persist as they are if they clash with so many of the rank-and-file teachers. It’s a very complicated subject, worthy of many tomes.
Suffice it to say, while Michael assuredly is right, in some ways the union represents teachers well from the standpoint of financial interests and work conditions (often, this is more P.R. and perception than reality, too). In many states, public school teachers have no choice but to join or pay fees to the union. Colorado is somewhat blessed, because teachers largely can choose who they want to represent them, if anyone. Many don’t even know there are more affordable, non-union alternatives like this one.
Some teachers join the union because they are adamant true believers in the union and its liberal political agenda (I have heard Mike Rosen and others say that the teachers union is a functioning arm of the Democratic Party, but I beg to differ: the Democratic Party more often is a functioning arm of the teachers union). Some tolerate or ignore the politics to find support through liability insurance and legal representation. Some join the local union because of local politics, but in the process also have to join the state and national unions. Some teachers are passive by nature and join to go along. (I have even talked to a few who had joined but didn’t realize they weren’t required to do so.) Still, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of Colorado teachers have joined neither the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers.
This is how I see it, at least, after several years of study and personal interaction with many in the field. Maybe Michael, as someone who has worked in many different Colorado schools for several years, can amend, revise, or even correct my observations.
Regardless, I agree with Michael’s spot-on summary of how the education system needs serious change:
The real tragedy here is that the system is built in such a way that this guy will be protected, and that system was designed and built by Big Education. Consider that it’s okay for this guy to do what he does in class with taxpayers’ money, but it’s not at all okay for students to have a moment of prayer before a football game.
Until this system gets disrupted, we should get used to stories like this.