Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Well, this looks intriguing.

Dr. Ron Paige, former teacher and Secretary of Education, has written a book which lays much of the blame for the sad state of our government school systems on the shoulders of teacher's unions.

Subtitle: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education

I just watched an interview with the former Secretary, and I would say that I agree with some of his arguments, however, I find others problematic. For example, he says that he is not against teachers' unions but against "union excessiveness, the over-unionization of schools and school districts". He defines these 'bad unions' as those who hold the concerns of their members over those of the schools where their members work. Isn't that what the purpose of a union is? To look out for its members? If I belonged to a union then that union went out and used my union dues to protect the rights of someone other than me, I wouldn't be a member of that union very long. What would be the point? Dr. Paige says that he is not completely against teachers' unions because "sometimes teachers need representation to protect them against administration abuse". I commend this concern and I am not an expert on unions, but I thought that this is what the courts were for. Of course, that opens a whole can of worms about the state of our court system, so maybe I should just leave it at that.

I also have a problem with Dr. Paige's view that a federal take-over (largely in the form of a Constitutional amendment) of the government school system would move us in the direction of a better school system. An amendment to the Constitution would be necessary first because, as it stands, the U.S. Constitution does not allow for federal involvement in education by not expressly stating it as a role of the federal government. Our federal government runs on the concept of "delegated authority"... i.e. unless "We the People" delegate it, they have no authority. Since the federal government is not given specific authority over education in the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment gives all authority not delegated in the Constitution to the states or the people, an amendment would be necessary. (Million dollar question: Does this make the Department of Education and the No Child Left Behind Act unconstitutional and mean that those congressmen who voted in favor their enactments violated their oaths of office?)

Alright, that was a bit of a tangent. Let me try to get back on track. Federalizing the government school system would also violate a key component of federalism: subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity states that "matters ought to be handled by the [lowest] competent authority" (Wikipedia). Or, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should have a central function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level". Practically speaking, if government schools were federalized, the majority of parents would be wiped out of the decision-making process when it came to their children's education. Voters in California would have a say in how Vermont school children learned grammar. Floridian voters would have a say in how Alaskan school children's physical education classes were structured. It also means that we would loose a very valuable tool in controlling how our schools function: protest. As it is now, if we don't like our school district, we can move to another. When enough families move out, a school district will change to try to woo families back. If we had a federal school system, protest would become nearly impossible. It is much easier to move to a new county than to a new country. (Just ask parents in Germany.)

Lastly, let's look at this from a practical standpoint. I mean, the federal government manages its current duties so well. The IRS and US Postal Service are upheld as banners of efficiency, right? (insert eye-roll here) Can you imagine what would happen if they got a hold of our educational system? They are already inching their way in through No Child Left Behind (of which Dr. Paige was a contributer) by dangling the "federal money" carrot in front of school districts who show progress... they don't actually have to progress, by the way, they just have to look like it.

Well, since I haven't read the book yet *grin*, I'll stop there. Now I'm off to see if our library has a copy of the book.


Heather_in_WI said...

Preach it, sister! (LOL!)

Great post. :-)


Occidental Girl said...

Excellent points, all.

I don't think the entire blame should go to the teachers' unions, but they do play a part and have an effect.

Adding layers of bureaucracy would lead to more inefficiency, not less. Oy!

If it were federalized and it all ran perfectly, no problem! But it's not going to be that way. By theorizing about education, as No Child Left Behind does, it leaves out the real, daily factors of the problems in education. Like you said, the schools don't have to improve, just look like they do. I'm sure some have, but there are so many problems with it I just can't even begin! So I won't.

Thanks for the book recommendation.