Over at Talking Philosophy, Mike LaBossiere offers a defense of teachers’s unions. He is a bit too tame for my taste, and he is far too respectful towards anti-union arguments that have far more to do with general hostility to public education than they do with measured criticism, but in the end he arrives at the right place:
In general, it would be rather odd if unions did not cause some problems. If they did not, they would be truly unique. However, it seems more sensible to address these problems rather than simply condemning unions. Given the fervor with which these unions are being attacked, it might be suspected that some folks stand to make a profit by getting rid of these unions. But perhaps that is merely cynicism on my part. After all, I am sure that the people funding the attacks on unions and the politicians who will attack them are merely driven by a love of the public good and are doing it for the children.
The simple fact is that as a society we do everything in our power to make teaching as unappealing a profession as possible. In most districts the pay and benefits are laughable compared to other professions. Even worse, there is a deep lack of respect for the work that teachers do. People who haven’t set foot in a classroom since their own, typically undistinguished, academic careers, and who wouldn’t last five minutes if they ever did enter a classroom, seem perfectly happy to give lectures on how easy teachers have it, what with their nine-month school year and workday that ends at 3:05. Teachers are the only one’s blamed for poor student performance. It is never the fault of spineless, unsupportive administrators, or lazy, shiftless students and their irresponsible, enabling parents. The only forces working against all this are the unions, and bless their hearts for doing so.
I teach at a state university, and my course load is three per semester. My heavy teaching days are those on which all three of them meet. I have essentially no discipline problems to deal with, since at the college level students inclined to act up just don’t show up for class. It is rare that I have more than 30 students in a class.
On those heavy days I leave my last class thoroughly exhausted and mostly glad I won’t have to do it again for another two days. And I don’t have to deal with a tenth of the bureaucratic crap that public school teachers deal with, or any of the numerous responsibilities outside the classroom with which they are burdened. Anyone who declares teaching to be an easy job instantly places himself outside the realm of reasonable conversation.
I would go on, but as it happens I wrote at length about this in a post from 2007. That post was entitled, “Teachers’s Unions Are an Unambiguous Force For Good.” And since I see no reason to revise even one single word of what I wrote then, I will simply quote it at length:
It’s time for a quick reality check. Teachers are the absolute bottom rung of the American educational system. They are given virtually nothing in the way of resources or institutional support, and yet they are usually the only ones held accountable when students underperform. Their salaries and benefits are laughable compared with those of any other profession, and, even worse, they live in a society that has only contempt for the work that they do. Precisely because they are so powerless, they are a conveninet scapegoat in explaining the inadequacies of American education.
And against this relentless onslaught of criticism from politicians, school administrators, and arrogant and irresponsible parents, there is exactly one force that has the interests of teachers at heart. The unions. The only reason teachers get the few crumbs that they do is because the unions fight tooth and nail to get them. As badly as teachers get screwed now, the situation would be orders of magnitude worse without the unions.
In opposition to the unions we hear only that they are against “reform,” which usually refers to some combination of vouchers, eliminating tenure, some condescending and Orwellian notion of “merit pay” or making it easier to fire teachers with very little in the way of due process. Bascially, “reform” is a euphemism. Depending on the context, it means either (a) Screwing teachers by reducing their salaries and benefits while expecting them to take on more responsibility outside of the classroom or (b) Screwing teachers by making it easier to punish them when their arrogant, undisciplined students underperform on standardized tests or (c) Screwing teachers by eliminating their job security and leaving them subject to the whims of irate parents and craven principals, or (d) Screwing public education generally by diverting money away from them and into the hands of private and parochial schools. God bless the unions for opposing such things.
There is no secret to running good public schools. Wealthy districts all over the country manage to do it year after year. And we have the examples of all those other countries we keep hearing about that score higher than us on various exams. Those countries don’t starve their schools for resources, treat their teachers contemptuously, or force public schools to compete with private concerns for funding. Such ideas are the exclusive province of anti-government, anti-intellectual right-wingers, and cowardly, quisling liberals who inexplicably desire the praise of the right-wingers.