The Straw Teacher

The primary Democrat message this year seems to be to try to make every possible Democrat constituency feel like the most noble-possible victim.

We’ve got the “war on women”, “war on immigrants”, “war on over-charged college students”…

…and now, the “war” on those most-benighted victims in our society, teachers, according to this bit by Jeff Kolnick of the university formerly known as Mankato State U of M Marshall.

He tees it up with the story of his friend, a teacher, who is busy…

…surviv[ing] furlough days that cut short his pay as well as the education of his students to save money in tax-starved California.

There’s your first tip-off that our writer is approaching this first and foremost from the left; California is hardly tax-starved.  Cali is indeed a bounty of taxation – it’s why business is leaving the state as fast as it can move.

No. California isn’t tax-starved.  It’s spending-addled.

And after all this service to his community, instead of receiving praise and thanks he has a target on his back. Conservative forces in America have made public school teachers public enemy No. 1: If our schools are failing, blame the teachers. If our states are broke, it is the pensions of the greedy teachers. You name the problem and teachers are the cause.

Well, no.

Teachers, as individuals, aren’t the problem.

It’s the way they, their academy, and especially their public employees’  union and the government that, in California, that union pretty much controls have committed the state to pay for teachers and their (very very early) retirement first, and worry about balanced budgets second if at all, that are.

But Mr. Kolnick doesn’t seem to be interested in economics:

I am sick of it…

…conservative forces blame public school teachers for everything. A colleague of mine related a story to me about a person who blamed public school teachers for failing our students. The person complained that Minneapolis and St. Paul schools failed young people of color and he put the blame squarely on teachers and teacher-preparation programs.

Mr. Kolnick is listed as a history professor at the school formerly known as Marshall.  I bring that up because I’m trying to imagine what would happen if one of his students brought him a paper that started “A friend of mine says that The Jews were behind 9/11.  This paper will demand accountability from The Jews”.  I’m going to guess Kolnick’d send it back for a rewrite – right?

“Conservatives hate teachers because someone that my teacher friend placed as a conservative had an irrational complaint?”

Fed up with this garbage, my friend responded that his kids got a first-rate education in the Edina public schools with teachers who had union contracts and graduated from the same teacher-prep programs as the teachers in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.

Let’s stop blaming the teachers and think about public education in terms of the evidence.

Yes, let’s indeed.

Because identical licensing notwithstanding, Minneapolis and Saint Paul graduate less than 3/5 of their students, and a minority of black, Latino and Native American students.  Afro-American, Hispanic and Asian families – who may be personally conservative, but currently vote overwhelmingly DFL – are deserting the city schools, decamping for charter schools and, via open enrollment, the suburbs.

And these are districts that are at the front of the pack for per-student funding, year in, year out.

And I’d suggest that if Mr. Kolnick wants to wave the various teachers’ paper credentials and bureaucratic certifications in those parents’ faces, he not do it while standing on 50th Street or Afton Road, in front of those parent’s cars, as they head to Edina and Woodbury.

But Mr. Kolnick said we needed to make this argument about “evidence”.   What’s his?

The attack on teachers is not about educating our young people. It is about ending public education and collective bargaining. It is about taking public dollars from public institutions and turning them over to for-profit corporations.

So Mr. Kolnick’s “evidence” is a paragraph of Democrat cant about unions.

There is no “attack on teachers”, there is a reasonable questioning whether our society can survive by forcing most of us to work until we’re 75 so that teachers – to say nothing of principals, assistant principals, curriculum specialists, special ed coordinators, and the other throngs of public employees that work in the system but never set foot in front of a classroom –  can retire at 55.

And since Mr. Kolnick asks; since when is collective bargaining “about education?”  For that matter, can you honestly say that the current public education system – not teachers, individually or as a group, but the institution, the entire educational/industrial complex – is “about education?”

In 1995, free-market evangelist Milton Friedman wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post calling for the privatization of the public school system. Now almost 20 years later, we are on the verge of seeing his ideas become a reality…In December 2005, a little less than a year before he died, Friedman wrote of an opportunity to privatize public schools in New Orleans after the tragedy of Katrina. He called for a radical reform of schools because they failed the students. “New Orleans schools were failing for the same reason that schools are failing in other large cities, because the schools are owned and operated by the government”.



How is this, in and of itself, either wrong or, for that matter, an “attack on teachers?”

The sole purpose of public educational institutions is to educate. They may not be perfect, but they have only one goal.

And that’s at best a platitude, at worst a statement of complete ignorance.  Public schools have always had ulterior motives; “creating better citizens” (free of all those radical immigrant ideas) in the 1800s, or creating a society that reflects the goals of the educational academy today (diversity, multiculturalism)…

…and, above all, to serve as a big interest group and voting bloc, to gain and hold control of the government apparatus that feeds it.

Which is not a knock on teachers as individuals; lest Mr. Kolnick dive further into stereotype, my father, two grandparents and my sister are teachers.

But teachers as an institution demand that I work until I’m 75 so that they can retire at 55 – and vote relentlessly liberal to enforce it – and on the other hand work for a system that, for many of is, is an abject failure, whatever the individual teachers’ personal professional merits.

Do we really want to let corporations be responsible for teaching our young people? Come on, let’s get real.

“Come on, let’s get real”.

It’s always a treat to debate a classical Socratic logician.

Let me ask this:  if we presume a teacher is in fact capable, what difference does it make who pays them – a corporation, or a government body?

And if you can honestly answer that question in terms that aren’t foremost about defending the defined benefit pension, you’ll be doing better than Mr. Kolnick, so far.

Jeff Kolnick is an associate professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Submitted without comment.

7 thoughts on “The Straw Teacher

  1. Do we really want to let corporations be responsible for teaching our young people?

    Corporations teach their employees all the time — training and continuing ed is ongoing in any organization that’s worth a darn. It’s just that corporations insist on a return on their investment, something that you’ll never get from the warmed-over Howard Zinn that our august professor has on offer.

  2. Great piece, but Southwest Minnesota State and Minnesota-State Mankato are two entirely different institutions. Southwest Minnesota State is in Marshall.

  3. Great piece, indeed! If this is what passes for persuasive writing, I’m glad that isn’t the subject this august educator teaches. Even /I/ could find a flaw in his argument, mainly that there isn’t one (and cannot be, unfortunately for him). If all teachers are educated as well as he, maybe teachers ARE the problem. Thanks.

  4. JC, calling California tax-starved is a HUGE stretch! Even in the 80s when I lived there the taxes were huge and onerous and they’ve only gotten worse. For someone to try and push the idea that California is tax starved is completely nuts … but wait, I forgot where the folks who are pushing that idea get their funding.

  5. It’s hard to believe the article was written by an academic. Unsourced anecdotes mixed with invective isn’t an argument. The only “conservative” Skolnick quotes is Milton Friedman, and the word “teacher” does not appear in the quote. There is quite a bit of push-back in the comments, even from pro-public-school writers.

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