Found the link to this video clip on Daily Kos this morning, but want to say some things about it that the Kos blogger didn’t say:
On the page of a Facebook friend the other night, I posited the notion that Scott Walker is serving the rhetorical function that propaganda theorists call “the decoy.” As you might imagine, decoys are examples that look much worse than what you want your audience to accept, such that your proposal looks a lot better in comparison. The simplest example (roughly paraphrased from the textbook I use in my Propaganda class) is the real estate agent who shows you a dilapidated house with a very high price tag, so that when you look at the not-very-nice house with the slightly-less-ridiculous price tag, the second house looks like a great deal.
So I’d already been considering this idea in relation to the newly elected governor of my own state (PA), Tom Corbett, who is also a Republican with strong conservative credentials; before his election to the Governorship, Corbett was one of the Republican state attorneys-general who filed lawsuits to kill the new healthcare law. Not long after the Wisconsin protests hit the news, Corbett was able to say that he has no interest in union-breaking, which makes him sound quite reasonable–except that Walker has said the exact same thing. And except that Corbett will almost certainly sign individual pieces of PA legislation that do most of what Walker’s budget repair bill does in terms of union-busting.
Sorry for the diversion into local politics there… Anyway, so when Michelle Rhee, one of the virulently anti-union education “reformers” who’s led the national charge to attack teachers and eviscerate any meaningful notion of education, shows up on Fox News (quel surprise!) to talk about teachers’ unions, she able to distinguish her own position from Scott Walker’s, ostensibly, while agreeing with the really insidious parts of it. That is:
[Scott Walker is bad]: I don’t want to bust unions; he’s overreached; unions should be able to negotiate some things.
[Scott Walker is right]: Unions should only be able to negotiate salaries, not policy or working conditions.
[Conclusion]: Look at how reasonable I sound! I’m not as crazy as he is!
The problem here, I hope it’s obvious, is that the position is incredibly offensive. I don’t want to speak for other teachers and teachers’ unions, but my hunch is that most of us would trade some of our salary and benefits bargaining power for the power to negotiate policies and working conditions. In fact, we know for a FACT that the Wisconsin teachers’ union would do this BECAUSE THEY ALREADY OFFERED.
More importantly, Rhee’s position is offensive to teachers because who knows better than teachers do what our jobs are? Who knows better than somebody who works with students, and administrators, and (for K-12 teachers) parents EVERY DAY what it takes to do the job well? Somebody who (like Rhee) was an abject failure at the job? Somebody like Bill Gates who, by all accounts, wasn’t even a successful student much less teacher? Somebody like George W. Bush who, by his own accounts, was utterly uninterested in his own education except the diplomas that his family name earned him?
This isn’t to say that teachers at all levels, especially those whose schools rely heavily on public funding, shouldn’t be answerable to those who fund us. Of course we should (Just like Congress should! And the Pentagon! And all the corporations that suck down corporate welfare and then hide their crimes behind “proprietary interest” laws, and hide their accounting practices in other countries’ banks!). And if the pitbulls on the right would actually shut their yaps and listen every once in a while to anybody other than themselves, they’d realize that we already do exactly that–we try quite diligently to discuss results, polices, outcomes, needs, possibilities, curriculum and pedagogy, lots of parts of our jobs. But they don’t want to hear it, and continue to contend that they (knowing NOTHING about what we do or what it takes for school systems to work) should have complete control over the schools.
Lots of us on the left decry the anti-intellectualism that’s really pervasive in our culture these days, but I’m not talking about the street level version of it right now (of course it’s related–school board members have to win elections, and as the mayoral race in DC showed last year, education policy can cost elections too). I’m talking about the level of the agenda setters, the folks who have access to the mass media that charts the terms of the discussion, the people with recognizable names and faces.
If it didn’t depend on punishing students in the process, I’d challenge Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates and Arne Duncan to spend a year as a full-time teacher (not a week or a month, as I’ve seen others propose–that’s not long enough), in a school that actually operated according to the principles they espouse. But I wouldn’t wish that on any student, much less a school full of them. So instead, I’ll challenge the educational reformers to do something more practical and, maybe over the long haul, more useful. OPEN YOUR DAMN EARS AND LISTEN!
Your unwillingness to listen to anybody else’s point of view is exactly what would make you suck as teachers and colleagues, which I suppose is no surprise now that I think about it….