Monday, January 16
The End of Theological Debate
Next Week: The Tragic Plight of Americans With One-Dimensional Sense of Smell
On further review, Part II will begin where the first draft of Part I did: how did the American educational system fail John Stossel?
Which is a greater concern: that some fifteen year olds can't do algebra, a skill 90% of them will have no use for once the state stops testing them on it, or that a guy with a disproportionate hold on the nation's attention cannot, or cannot be bothered to, construct an honest argument?
Most of us, upon being told we needed a serious operation, major work on the foundation of our house, or a complete engine overhaul, would at least consider getting a second opinion. Who would we go to for that second opinion? John Stossel? On the grounds that he has plenty (or more accurately, because he has one for any occasion)?
Who is John Stossel? A concerned citizen advocating serious educational reform, or a teevee entertainer peddling intestinal gas remedies? He's certainly not someone on whose word you'd undergo a quadruple bypass. Why should we take his word on something as serious as public education? He might have managed to be somewhat convincing had he confronted any of the hundreds of available, reasonable, and knowledgeable spokespersons for points of view other than his own. Instead the sum total of the response from the so-called educational establishment was this: a 22-second clip, with Stossel talking half the time, of a South Carolina school board member saying "the more [money] the better"; a couple minutes of interview with the South Carolina superintendent of education as she responds to Stossel's every question with sunny platitudes; and three snippets of his interview with the head of the NYC teachers' union, totaling five sentences, one of which was interrupted by a Stossel voice-over.
Even if you agree with him you can't argue this is a fair or reasonable way of making a persuasive argument, let alone understanding public education. And that's being generous enough to ignore his personal history of difficulties with the truth, which are extensive enough to justify shutting him out altogether; why anyone wants the guy as a spokesman for his point of view just begs the question. You can get a monkey to fling shit, and much more cost effectively.
It's interesting to see that Voltaire's Prayer * works for the ideologically atheistic, and there'd be great comic relief in watching some of the ham-fisted propaganda if only ABC were still required to air the other side in exchange for using the public airwaves. But it isn't (where's the outrage, Mr. Stossel?). As we swing into the second half-hour, trailing unsourced anecdotes and specious reinactments of PISA, with the taunts of Belgians in our ears (pray tell, what insight does the Belgian On the Street have into the American education system?), we're treated to some theatre to balance the movie trailers from Act I. First, a Lilly Tomlin "Ernestine the Operator" routine shows us the hideous state of telecommunications service before deregulation and competition solved all our problems, and then shots of breadlines in the Soviet Union and some file footage of Stossel in a Russian restaurant mugging for the camera as his waiters ignored him. Yeah, I know, Moscow restaurants were notorious, and probably still are, but on the other hand, waiters the world over can smell a stiff at thirty yards.
So public education is "Communism"? If you just repeat the "education monopoly" mantra long enough, people who do not remember either Lily Tomlin nor Laugh In will equate the two? Again, even if you believe this stuff, how does it not insult your intelligence?
Naturally this was the lead-in to the Evil Unions portion of the program, the part which has the real money behind it since teachers' unions wield no small amount of political power and they allign themselves with Democrats. Before we move to the specifics of the program, the general response of this blog: your right to theological certitude is respected. It ends where others' rights begin. If you oppose trade unionism, fine. If you believe the government should provide no services, fine. You've got two Senators and a Representative to take it up with. But failure to acknowledge that the competition of the ballot box has routinely rejected your ideas means you are engaging in metaphysics. Disconnect yourself from the electric grid, get off the streets, stop paying taxes, find someone who cares, and tell them.
The program was pre-fluffed with the shocking story of how a NYC teacher who sent sexually-explicit emails to a sixteen-year-old student couldn't be fired because of union protection.
Urban legend? Unfortunately not.
Weaseling? Slight amount.
• by Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City schools, who had been mired in negotiations with the union which was working with a contract that expired two years ago. A tentative agreement was reached last October. Stossel noted it was "a few months after our interview."
• by Stossel, for dramatically unfolding a two-and-a-half foot chart purporting to show the procedure required to fire a teacher.
Details? Hard to come by, since yet again, there was no citation. What Klein presented was this: a teacher admitted to sending sexually explicit email to a sixteen-year-old student, but could not be fired. Stossel: "You can't fire him?" Klein: "It's almost impossible."
That's the end of the clip.
Further weaseling? Yes. It was only five seconds short of two minutes later (which included a thirty-second hagiography of Jack Welch, for some reason) before we returned to Klein and learned the teacher had been removed from teaching for the six years it took to fire him.
Where does the blame lie? First and foremost, with the State of New York, which does not have a law making it a crime for a teacher to have that sort of sexual contact with a student. Teachers who are convicted of a sex crime in New York are fired. Period.
So the union isn't culpable? I wouldn't go that far. Considering the source I'm not willing to assume we have all the facts at hand, but I'd say it's certainly in everyone's interest to prevent any sort of sexual contact between teacher and student, however slight. But the union also has a responsibility to protect the rights of its members, just as we supporters of free speech have to defend Hustler at times. But that doesn't mean Hustler is always appropriate.
Anything you'd like to add? Sure, some less than expert testimony. In Indiana, state law dictates what conditions teachers' unions can collectively bargain for. And the grievance program, as I understand it, is this (my wife is not the grievance-filing type): a teacher can file a grievance for any circumstance covered in the contract, or over the results of an annual supervisory review. The administration can agree to hear the grievance or not (it generally does). If not, the teacher can appeal the decision. If the grievance is heard and the ruling goes against him, the teacher can appeal. The decision of the appeal board is final. The teacher then has recourse to the courts, like every other citizen, and may be represented by union counsel. That's it. I'm not sure how long a document I could produce from that, with circles and lines and recursive arrows, but I sure would have liked to been able to read Stossel's chart, or hear some details, or know who produced it.
What other outrages do teachers' unions perpetrate? Well, basically, they make Jack Welch cry, because you can't fire 10% of teachers on a regular basis just to motivate the rest. (We're ignoring here the successful extrapolation of the New York City situation to every other locality in the country.) I'd be curious to know whether GE fires 10% of its 21,000 union workers every year. And what the grievance procedures are.
(By the way, the sudden appearance of Jack Welch may be gratuitous, but it was hardly accidental. Welch is chairman of the advisory board of The Leadership Academy, the $70 million program to train new principals according to the precepts of GE, instead of the traditional promotion from within. As the Times reported on December 20, the program is now under fire, in part for the success rate of only 62% despite spending $160-180,000 per principal in training. Some of the administrators created through the program have less than a year of classroom experience.)
Is there some problem with a grievance procedure in general? Those of you in the private sector whose jobs hang in the balance daily over competition and performance, are you without recourse when rules are broken or rights violated? Is it the key to your success? Or is it just a good idea for your underlings?
Stossel also made cow eyes for the audience when the union president said the contract called for teachers to work 6-1/4 hours a day. "Do YOOOOU (in the audience) get to work 6-1/4 hours a day?
That's cheap thuggery and Stossel knows it. The union isn't calling for teachers to work 6-1/4 hours, punch out, and head for home. That's 6-1/4 hours of class instruction time. Full time teachers aren't punching a clock. They're there for the full school day. At IPS that includes a stint supervising a lunch period, monitoring halls between classes, and supervising students on and off buses before and after school. Plus one hour of teachers' meetings after school per week, and twice a semester parent nights. My wife never gets home in less than nine hours, frequently a couple more. Nine week grades, monthly progress reports, mentoring a first-year teacher, writing curriculum for the state, pursuing mandated post-grad work, and calling parents about disciplinary problems are on her own time, as are the half-dozen student shows she has to mount and remove over the year (Three hours mounting one today instead of watching football, plus 45 minutes going after supplies to frame next week's). Do YOOOOU work like that?
Want your child's teacher working another hour and a half a day on top of that? Wanna indemnify her from strangling little Susie when she mouths off at the end of an eighty-hour week?
* "I have made but one prayer to God, a very brief one: 'Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."