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Guest Post: Regarding the Teacher Work Stoppage in Wisconsin

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In the second big “news story” in a week involving education, tens of thousands of teachers and other public servants have left their jobs in Wisconsin. As their governor said last night, 300,000 such workers showed up to work, while about 20,000 braved the night time winter cold to protest. There, they were joined by activists such as Jesse Jackson, one of the standard bearers of activism in America. Tomorrow (today), those who are protesting will be met by another group, protesting their protest, largely organized by people from out of state, and representing the Tea Party.

What a mess! And what is all the noise about? What are these teachers (and others) protesting? Are they protesting against the ruinous failure of the schools in which they work? Are they protesting their own disastrous performance as teachers? Nope.

Of those who protested last night, were they marching against their own unions, the unions that send lobbyists to Washington to guarantee that teachers continue to receive remarkable salaries and job guarantees unheard of anywhere in the private sector, such as tenure, even abusive and rotten teachers? Afraid not.

And the Tea Partiers, they must be showing up to march in favor of improved education? Ur, no, sorry, they’re not.

What is this all really about? It’s about the right to collective bargaining. It’s about business – business as usual in education. And let’s make no mistake, education is big business in America. There are five to six million teachers in America! They start with salaries of between $35 – $40 thousand per year! That significant starter salary does not reference the many, many perks teachers receive for working around 180 days out of the year, the required school year. (The rest of us work at least 240 days a year, and many work far more.) Of course, the poor teacher does not stay at this starter rate very long. As of about 15 years ago, tenured college professors in Los Angeles were making at least $50,000 a year – after retirement. I knew two of them quite well, they were my closest friends.

Teachers unions in this country help get Presidents elected. That’s why every person running for office makes a lot of noise about supporting education. They claim it’s for the children, but they really make all that noise for the votes and financial support. The Teachers Unions are extraordinarily powerful, given their numbers and the relative wealth and security of their membership. Their lobbyists are very well funded, amongst the best in Washington and in state houses across the nation. And heaven help the person who implies that teachers may not be “underpaid”, as teachers like to broadly promote. Heaven help the government official who murmurs something about failed school systems, dropout rates that tower over 50% in many large cities, and abusive teachers who cannot be removed from their posts thanks to their unions and tenure.

Please do not get me wrong. I think the self-named Tea Party is coming to Wisconsin for all the wrong reasons, which surprises me not at all. After all, they are a wing of a political party, and politics has utterly failed our children for over a century now. The Tea Partiers are winging their way to Wisconsin to support government and big business, to march against the right of collective bargaining. It’s big business against big business, all with an air of self-righteous indignation on the parts of both sides, and all while the children go to educational hell.

To quote Shakespeare, a curse on both your houses.

Do I think that teachers should be well paid? Sure – when they deliver extraordinary results. (So should a plumber who delivers great results, or a doctor, or a store clerk. Anyone who does a great job should be rewarded.) Given the dwindling condition of our country, it’s all too clear that very few teachers today (or for the past decades) deliver the sort of results that would justify teacher’s extraordinary perks and salaries. And as for schools and school districts that deliver such results, we all know that’s a joke.

Yet for reasons that passeth understanding, teachers are held in high esteem. Parents listen and believe when a teacher says that their child is doing well or poorly. Families believe the teacher when they are told that their child’s problems in school are the child’s problems, and the parent’s problems. A student’s problems in school seem mysteriously never to be related to a failure on the part of the school or teacher. No, they are simply never at fault, though they consume a massive part of our national budget each year, those nearly six million teachers. Still, they can’t be bothered to take any real responsibility for their failure to our children and our country.

It appears impressive, this marching, counter-marching, and noise. But really, it isn’t at all impressive. It’s depressing and it’s destructive. And most importantly, it’s off point.

Tea Partiers, if you want to impress the world with your genuine concern for your nation, march for children and their needs. If you want to break the teachers unions, that’s okay with me, but do it in order to replace them with something better, something far more responsive to students and their needs. Do you have a better idea, a plan in place? Of course you don’t, you’re a branch of a political party. Enough said.

I suggest that you consider true and institutional support of homeschooling, frankly, the thing that teachers and teachers unions dread and accordingly despise. They have reason to fear homeschooling, of course. Remember that schools, both public and private, are paid by head count. The more students that are forced to show up in their classrooms, the more they get paid. Hence, their lobbyists have worked for decades to enforce mandatory schooling. It’s all about business. Homeschoolers eat into the education industry’s bottom line. Homeschool is illegal in Germany, almost illegal in Sweden. You can be sure that teachers unions would love to make it illegal in America, if they could just get around those pesky civil liberty issues.

Teachers, if you wish to impress the rest of us with your genuine concern for students, then you’ll need to radically change your approach to education and to the business of education. Fewer perks, new ideas that will actually work, better results with students. Let’s see you earn those cushy salaries and rights that most people in a country teeming with unemployed would kill to have a shot at. And please, don’t protest that you teachers spent money and time going to college in order to be able to teach, and now should be recompensed. In a free market economy, which we supposedly enjoy in this country, you are paid commensurate to your products, your results, what you can and do accomplish. This country is riddled, is virtually diseased with the results of your work. If you were paid fairly, some of you would be looking at jail time for fraud.

In a recent poll, hundreds of students were asked if they thought they had a better chance at life than their parents. This same question has been asked of generation after generation. But this generation was the first to say “no”. They do not believe that their future is going to be better than their parents; they believe it will be worse. Now there’s something worth fighting and marching to change!

Of course, the two sides in this argument, unions and government, do not exactly specialize in change. Perhaps the children who were polled are right, given the current, grim circumstances.

I really believe that the best hope for our children and for positive change is found in education, in homeschooling. One by one, parents, families, homeschooled children can start to truly address the ills of our time. But business and politics as usual are not going to cut it.

*This entry was not written by  Buehler Education.  It is copied with permission from Homeschool Under Siege

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