I’ve been hostile to teacher’s unions since I was a child. I saw them from both ends: as a lifelong public school student and as a child whose father (reluctantly) belonged to the California teacher’s union.
In the classroom, my teachers were decrepit fossils, many of whom hated students, and few of whom could teach. Here’s a highlight list of some of those teachers:
- Mr. X, the science teacher who quizzed 13 year old girls about their sex lives, said of a Jewish student “there’s another one Hitler should have gotten,” and who physically attacked a student and then threw a movie projector out the window. I think it was the damage to school property that finally got him kicked out of the classroom on administrative leave. He drew a full salary for four years before they terminated him.
- Mr. Y, the math teacher who would periodically rush out into the noisy hallway outside his classroom, screaming “G-g-get a-w-w-ay from m-m-my c-c-c-classroom, you f-f-future p-p-pimps and wh-wh-whores!” His teaching was no better than his attitude.
- Ms Z, famous for telling students that children’s books were riddled with sex. After her class, students would convene in the halls to spread the word about sexual imagery in The Cat In The Hat or Where The Wild Things Are. (I hear from reliable sources that high school English teachers today are just as, if not more, sex obsessed than Ms. Z.)
- Ms A, the chemistry teacher who was one year away from retiring, and had apparently decided to start her retirement early by stopping teaching. She had us memorize the Periodic Table of Elements, but never actually told us what it was. She’d give us worksheets with experiment procedures, but forgot to tell us what scientific principle was at stake. I got a B in her class. Everyone else I knew got an A, because they’d managed to get their hands on the master sheet for her test. She didn’t care. She was leaving anyway.
I had some decent, or merely mediocre, teachers during my years in public school, but I had only three or four really good teachers. With those few exceptions, my teachers were old, bored, hostile, and/or dysfunctional. Had they been employees in the private sector they would have been fired long before or, fearing firing, they would have gotten their acts together.
What I heard from my Dad about the inner workings of the teacher’s union didn’t make me very happy either. For one thing, and this is a gripe that no longer has much resonance, the unions did a lousy job of getting teachers decent salaries. The way it worked was that the union bosses would enter into a negotiation with the school administrators (who were also union members). The deal would be that the administrators would get a 4% cost of living wage and the teachers a 2% cost of living wage (this was during the inflationary 1970s). Once this deal was reached, the administrators would then negotiate with the powers that be for this pay package. And that was it.
My Dad was disgusted that he was forced to pay union dues to an organization that provided him with something that barely qualified as a living wage. As I said, those days are gone. The unions have figured out how to make sure that their members get good wages.
What disgusted my Dad even more than lousy salary representation was the way the unions insisted on sticking their noses into curriculum matters. California unions were advancing Ebonics long before the media caught hold of the notion. (And when the media caught on, a still sane American public laughed the idea out of the schools.) They also argued in favor of abandoning phonics (so a generation didn’t learn to read), pushing new math (so a generation, myself included, never learned math), and generally overhauling education in a direction that decreased learning. In recent decades, they’ve added an overwhelming Leftist tilt to the entire curriculum.
My regularly occurring rant against teacher’s unions came about today because Prager U has a new video out, this one about the damage teacher’s unions to do American public education.
Incidentally, I’m trying out a new approach when it comes to school vouchers. When I post about vouchers, I say that the school choice movement is the best thing that can happen to public school teachers. The good ones are always complaining about the curriculum limits placed upon their classrooms and the way these limits interfere with their ability really to teach the children. School choice, by forcing public schools to compete, would mean that school boards and state education departments would have to listen to these teachers in order to improve the schools’ competitive standing. This argument puts teachers in a bind, because they can scarcely argue that there’s no room for improvement. Further, if they reject this argument, they’re conceding that they’re not being truthful when they speak to concerned parents and say that, with regard to a certain teaching approach, their hands are tied.