August 14, 2012 by Julia
I’ve always been at my most frustrated the day after an argument (or “heated conversation,” if you will–I don’t ALWAYS argue), when I know there was a point I should have made but didn’t. It’s frustrating partially because I hate losing in general, but also because I pride myself on my ability to develop winning arguments on the fly. It’s like a moral failure when I miss something big. That was actually one reason I thought a blog may be helpful, actually–redemption.
Anyway, a couple nights ago now, I kind of got into it with a good friend who happens to work in education. Now, where I live, EVERYONE works, or has a relative who works, in education. It’s inescapable. I usually exert all of my will to keep my mouth shut because I have some very negative things to say about our education system, but pretty much everyone who knows me knows at least a little about my views on education and a lot about how much I hate unions (all unions, teachers or otherwise). Seriously, Rusian unions had some big shoes to fill after fomenting revolution – “trade unions are a school of Communism,” and all that (yes, yes, it’s a slogan, not the exact quote. That’s how socialists work).
But, this is only tangentially about unions. It’s mostly about logic–or, rather, how I failed to point out an obvious lapse thereof. The conversation went something like this (not word for word):
Julia: Well, we don’t need to worry about what school district we live in, because our kids are not going to public school. They’re going to [insert name of prestigious local private school].
Friend: Why would you send them there? It’s so expensive!
Julia: Yes, it is. Actually, the annual tuition is the same as my undergrad university was when I started there. But, I want my kids going to a school where bad teachers can get fired.
Friend: Whoa, whoa, bad teachers in public school get fired!
Julia: Er, don’t you read the news? If you have tenure, it’s pretty impossible to get fired from a public school teaching job. But a private school can just fire a bad teacher.
Friend: But private schools don’t pay their teachers well at all! They make pennies! They can’t afford to hire good teachers–all the good teachers work for public schools because they get paid more!
Julia: Well, no one in a union is teaching my kids.*
Friend: Then what about a charter school?
Julia: I have no problem with charter schools. [topic changes]
See, I got so caught up in how much I hate unions that I had my pick of THREE obvious attacks on my friend’s poor logic, and didn’t make ANY of them. Embarrassing. (I’m sharing so I don’t make the same again, and so maybe you can avoid it too)
Things I could have said in place of the starred non sequitur:
1. Are you actually suggesting that every teacher at this highly-rated private school with tons of accolades and awards is incompetant and underpaid?
2. If every teacher at this highly-rated private school with tons of accolades and awards is incompetant and underpaid, how did the school manage to achieve so much?
3. If every teacher in public school is a fantastic teacher who is paid enough for his or her work, why do public schools keep getting worse and worse every year?
(Nonresponsive bonus question: if all that a school needs to do its job better is piles of money, why has increasing education spending resulted in decreasing results and lower literacy rates?)
This idea that private schools MUST perform worse because of how much their staff gets paid is part of the teacher’s union’s propaganda–it’s not even theoretically accurate from a capitalist perspective. The profit motive is not “people who get paid more produce more.” It’s “people with incentive produce more.” Sally who teaches in private school knows that she will not get promoted unless she actually deserves it, and that she will be fired if she does not do her job well; Bob who teaches in public school knows that all he has to do is hang on until he gets tenure, which is linked to longevity rather than performance, and then he can’t be fired unless he molests a student (language warning for the link–teachers and/or New Jersey residents are crude). Hmmmmmm, who do I want teaching my kids, again?
(no, I’m not saying that ALL public school teachers are bad. I personally had some very goods ones, and there are some very good ones in my extended family. In fact, most probably are, in fact, good teachers. But unions are almost totally bad, and they protect the minority of teachers that are bad. Seriously, look up the case of Valerie Yarn. It’s beyond egregious)
Here is an extensive list of links to both math and anecdotes that absolutely indict our government-run, union-organized education system. There’s enough reading here for days of enjoyment.
EDITED TO ADD:
Here is some timely BS from California. Vindicated? Yes, yes I am.