In the debate over Wisconsin, conservatives often point out that teachers have apparently ‘failed’, given the low ranking of American schools, and thus don’t deserve the privileges they enjoy now.
I’ll ignore for the moment the obvious analogies to other government sectors (General Atomics shouldn’t get paid until our Predator Drones kill bin Laden) to focus on reasons (besides the malice or incompetence on the part of teachers’ unions) our schools are no longer second to none.
The first is that they work with one of the most financially vulnerable segments of society – families with children.. I have to thank Lizard at 4&20 for turning me on to the article by Elizabeth Warren that documents how families with children are increasingly the most likely to suffer financial collapse.
I think it’s telling that the segment of society that is responsible for its continuation is the segment most adversely affected by our growing wealth disparities, and especially to our two largest sacrifices on the altar of the Free Market: Health Care and Higher Education. Both products are used disproportionately by families, both have increased in price much faster than inflation, and both are much more expensive than in countries less petrified by the thought government actually paying for something.
The result – our Public Schools are working with a school-aged population that is subject to far more stress than in other countries, even ones that are poorer in absolute terms. They are engaged, at our behest, in a truly quixotic mission to try to derive equal results from students whose lives, outside of school, are anything but. When kids don’t believe they have money for higher education, when they don’t have preventative medical care and thus miss more time from school with serious illnesses, when they can’t effectively keep track of their homework because they don’t have a consistent home, they are going to perform less well. And it has nothing at all to do with unions.