The Atlanta Teachers’ Onion, then and now

by cheri block

Reading this morning about the teachers’ union in Atlanta, Georgia, blaming its conspiratorial cheating on the tests, as if tests were life forms, reminded me of why I abhor the teachers’ union: it is a bureaucratic agency that was formed to protect teachers rather than to improve public education.

My first inkling that some California Teachers’ Union and American Federation of Teachers’ members might not be the best behavioral examples for children came in 1973 during the first of three strikes I was to experience during my 26 years in public education.

Just twenty-three years old and teaching English and as  naive as a little filly, I parked my Dodge Colt in the faculty parking lot and trotted in with my saddle bags full of corrected papers.

I  walked through the picket line and couldn’t help but hear some of my colleagues hooting and hollering at me, six inches from my ear.  Having served for seven years  as the famous Ladybug, a day camp counselor who was known for her resiliency to the  potty mouths of ten-year-old boys, I ignored my colleagues by humming B-I-N-G-O is my NAME-O.

But what was to happen in the Faculty Commons, a place Joe had named in the spirit of academic collaboration (I don’t remember too many academic discussions during that year but I do remember Moe, Larry, and Curly playing poker during the lunch break), shocked me so much that I have never forgotten the image.

The image?

The largest man on the faculty was Bruno, the wrestling coach whom Joe had plucked, well plucked isn’t the proper verb, let’s say hoisted, from a rival high school only three miles away.

The most sensitive man on the faculty was Claro, the choir coach, whose wife was known as the finest Armenian cook west of Tehran. Were wit packaged and sold, Claro would be wealthier than the California Teachers’ Union itself.

All I remember that day is the sound outside the door to the Faculty commons, the sound one hears before a tornado hits the house, a deep foreboding rumble, accented by high-pitched bystander screams. I had just visited the coffee pot, where Principal Joe hung out. He said that morning to me, “Baby, you are going to get an education this week.”

The door flung open and in ran Claro, briefcase in hand, his wispy black hair blown back, as if he had been in a ferocious wind. The only wind that day came from the line of union members who drummed, Fair Contract Now, Fair Contract Now. Claro was running at breakneck speed and only needed, I thought for a split second, a white outfit with a red kerchief around his neck. Could this be Pamplona, Spain?

It was possible because close behind Claro, in fact, right by his rear end, came a bull of a man, Bruno.

Bruno entered the building, still yelling something unintelligible to my ears and picked up a folding chair and threw it at Claro. Threw it at Claro.

I’m happy to report that the chair missed its mark that day. As for me, I never joined the union after witnessing behavior that well, didn’t become a teacher.

Back in Atlanta this morning in 2013, the teachers’ onion there, peeling its layers to get to the truth, has blamed the cheating scandal on the tests themselves. Never mind standards. Never mind ethics, but we do mind having to administer standardized tests.

To show you all how we feel about standardized tests, we will cheat on them for about six years. We will open the packages with exacto knives to learn the answers to the basic questions. We will doctor our students’ tests by erasing incorrect answers. Our scores will go up. A money stream will continue to flow.

Oh, we got caught? Let’s deny the charges. Let’s chase the opposition into the building and maybe heave a chair or two.

After all, it’s the test’s fault, not ours.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Education, People, Writing and Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to The Atlanta Teachers’ Onion, then and now

  1. dafna says:

    i learned a new word from richard. the atlanta teachers onion argument sounds like “Bulverism”.

  2. T E Stazyk says:

    You’re right and there is no excuse for the behavior you describe or for what the Atlanta Teachers Union did, but the Atlanta case is a perfect example of what gets measured gets managed. It shows that the approach to delivering, measuring and managing education has a long way to go.

  3. Cheri says:

    Thanks Tom. You are right. My solution has been to run education like a business. This statement will annoy many people I know, but the current model doesn’t work. Most students, unless drug/alcohol addicted or mentally handicapped in some way, want to learn and are willing to do the work. Even kids who are dealing with lousy home situations want a way to shine and move forward. I’ve seen this with my own eyes.

    I am mystified by many teachers’ blatant rejection of standardized tests that measure basic skills. What is everybody so afraid of? I am referring to the type of standardized testing that signals to a teacher, a school principal, or a school district that skills have or have not been mastered (or taught well.)

    Ask Chicago Unified parents why they want out of their broken system, which the union last year helped break in its fiscally irresponsible demands. Ask Chicago Unified parents why they want charter schools.

  4. Richard says:

    The possibilities are endless.

    Burn the cake and say it’s the flour.
    Lose your way and dig up the road.
    Spike the tyre and blame the wheel
    Ban the match to stop the arsonist.

    Beat up your opponent and win the argument.

    Behave selfishly, irresponsibly, violently and antisocially to show you are a union and not an onion.

  5. Cyberquill says:

    Not only are unions pernicious to public education, but unions (almost) killed the Twinkie.

  6. Kurt says:

    You got out too early. Your dream is coming true. Public education is not simply following a business model now; it is becoming a business.

  7. Cheri says:

    Kurt,
    I have read the resignation letter written by Gerald Conti. There are teachers in the United States like Mr. Conti, who I am sure has done more than his job for his 40-year tenure.

    If the majority of teachers were doing the job that you, Mr. Conti and others we know are doing, the “reforms” would never have been unearthed, discussed, legislated or tied to reward money, but the sad fact is that American students generally are unchallenged, out of control, and lazy.

    The Unions have made sure that all of the teachers who are unable to challenge their students, lack the skills or will to do it, (we know a number of these people, Kurt, who are teaching in upper middle class neighborhoods) and who are lazy slackers,to continue to collect their paychecks without any accountability.

    You do not address the issues that caused me to write this post—the fact that Atlanta teachers cheated and blamed it on the test. It does not surprise me at all.

    Christopher makes a joke about Margaret Thatcher, above, and yet, we have had no president in the last 30 years that has put the unions on notice that they will be broken. Parents will be free to choose schools where their kids learn and thrive.

    Until we hold public schools–the administrations and the teachers–to the same accountability and discipline (such as disbarring lawyers, pulling physicians’ licenses, and hey….not hiring plumbers who screw up your plumbing, etc. etc. etc.) that those in business must face, we will churn out mediocre education, both in the comprehensive system and the university system as well.

    We can start by eliminating tenure. I can’t think of any other job with tenure, can you? What an absurd concept.

    If teachers, schools, and administrators were rated on Yelp, and parents could then make individual decisions about who their kids teachers would be and which schools their children would attend, what a different landscape public education would be.

  8. Kurt says:

    Cheri,
    I don’t know where to begin. Lawyers and doctors live in the real and noble world of accountability? A lawyer’s job is to bring in accounts and win cases. If they do that and they make money for their firms, they are successful. They are held accountable to the accountant, not to some high minded principle. (I believe I learned that sobering lesson from your Judge.) Doctors as well aren’t held accountable by the hippocratic oath anymore, and it is precisely because they are treated as businesses. They have to bring in patients and peddle drugs for pharmaceutical companies, unless they work for a company like Kaiser. Before I switched to Kaiser I couldn’t see a doctor who did not routinely pull out a prescription pad for whatever ailed me. It was only when I went to Kaiser, where doctors have job security, that they tried to get me off medication.

    Teachers, after a successful probationary term, need job security because what they mold is precious, our children. And those children aren’t easily “fixed.” There’s no neat bottom line to measure success. As you well know, they aren’t widgets on an assembly line. They all come in at different places with different problems. Simply getting a kid to trust you might be a huge feat. Maybe that kid won’t go home and commit suicide (an all too common occurrence in “idyllic” Pleasanton). Or, the straight “A” student might need to get his first “B+.” Or the presumptive valedictorian may learn that the public education she receives is not for her own personal success. If a teacher is truly successful maybe, just maybe, he can awaken that kid to realize that she has a civic duty. Or sometimes, after we’ve tried everything in our bag of tricks, we realize that the best thing for a kid is to let him fail. My point with all these examples is that in nearly every instance, judged by a “rational” standard of success, the best teacher would fail.

    The “bad teacher” bogeyman is a red herring. Yes they need to go, but you don’t flush down every teacher’s union to do so. We can give and take on tenure and teacher evaluation systems in a more nuanced discussion. The real issue today is that good teachers need protecting. Today, teachers like Mr. Conti are liable to be labeled obstructionists. They are a brought into principals’ offices and asked, “Why can’t you just get with program? Why can’t you just give up all you’ve crafted for forty years and teach to the pacing guide? Get with the program or get out!” This year is the first in all my career in which I was advised by my principal to bring a union rep. to a meeting in his office. My co-chair and I sent an e-mail to our English teachers advising them to tell students and their parents the whole truth about a study being done at our school, and we were called to the carpet because he thought we might be intentionally jeopardizing the study. The study, the “data,” was more important than the truth and more important that what was best for students. I’m more supportive now of my union than I ever have been.

    • Richard says:

      The practice of a profession can be a business, Kurt, provided principle is placed before profit: they are not mutually exclusive. If a professional can test his skills in the market place and thereby earn a living, so much the better.

      Most people try to follow principle in the way they serve, with varying degrees of success. You do not quit just because it gets more difficult and you do not expect special treatment.

      International Rotary, that focus for businessmen, has a motto: Service before Self.

      In the end it all boils down to justice, that indefinable and variable appeal to conscience.

      • Richard says:

        My comment is to be read, please, so as to apply to businesspeople and professionals irrespective of gender. My apologies for the oversight in style.

    • Cheri says:

      “Teachers, after a successful probationary term, need job security because what they mold is precious, our children. ”

      That fact is at the crux of my argument. Job security, as far as I know, has never improved a product. It tends to produce complacency, not innovation.

      When good/great teachers stop being afraid of _____________ (fill in the blank), then unions will go away. I’ve never understood why good teachers are so worried. Great teachers needing a union rep? Nietzsche might have something to say about that.

      • Kurt says:

        Students aren’t “products.” That is the crux of my argument, and you, my beloved mentor, taught me that. I love you.

        • Cheri says:

          Touche’. You are correct: students are not products like soap, but their skills are; that is, products of their 12 years of education. You and I have taught in the clover. The problem would be lessened if teachers like you and Heather were paid what they are worth and could live in the Bay Area without struggling to keep up with the cost of living. That will only happen when fairies sing or when rewarding those who can teach without irritating the union. After all, if some teachers receive merit pay or even a ring at an assembly, the union teachers will be unhappy for their peers because everyone didn’t get a ring and their feelings might be hurt. They might need to call their union rep.

          I remember when Alda O. called her union rep to file a grievance against me because I was allowed to come in a little late because of child care. Never mind that my car wasn’t the first one out of the parking lot like Ron T., Kate T., Bev S., Pat M., and a host of other folks with job security.

          Oh yes. I love you too.

  9. Christopher says:

    Kurt’s and Mr Conti’s passionate and elegant letters paint a picture of their employers being of the sort who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    I don’t know the details of what happened in Atlanta, but if the teacher’s union there was responsible for something unethical happening, why should this justify bashing all unions?

    It behooves anyone who has ever been an employee of anything, to keep in mind that all of the rights in the workplace that are taken for granted – workplace safety, annual holidays, sick leave, reasonable wages, maximum hours, overtime pay, and lots of other things I can’t now think of – were won by unions.

    But for the union, the Dark Satanic Mill would still be the workplace norm. But for the union, the middle-class societies that are the norm in all of the “developed world” would never have emerged.

    • Richard says:

      It’s a struggle to be a small employer these days. Many pay more in a wage than they receive out of their business. Unions today are not exactly the Tolpuddle Martyrs and if their demands are unreasonable or disruptive they risk their members’ security more than anything else.

      The public sector ultimately relies upon businesses that don’t go bust. The greatest costs in commerce are taxation, government-imposed obligation and unpaid administration; they are the prime cause of failure of established businesses.

    • Cheri says:

      Unions may be outdated now.

  10. Christopher says:

    @Richard – ”……It’s a struggle to be a small employer these days…….”

    I agree absolutely. In fact it has always been a struggle to be a small employer, has it not?

    But, is it not also a fact that the small business can survive only because enough people can afford to buy its goods and services, since it’s demand that keeps the small business alive?

    And, where does that demand come from, other than through enough people having enough money in their pockets from their having not only jobs, but adequately paid jobs – that are adequately paid only because of unions or their legacy?

    @Cheri – ”……Unions may be outdated now…..”

    Your sentiment, whether right or wrong, seems now shared by most, given that, in the US, a mere 11% of employees are today unionised. This percentage drops to a miniscule 7% if you consider only the private sector.

    Think, though, how it was in the 1950’s when over 35% of employees belonged to unions, and to how it was in 1979 when the numbers of unionised employees reached a level never seen since, although the percentage was lower than in the 1950’s.

    Unlike how it was in the “golden era” 1950’s and 1960’s, the period since 1979 has been characterised by a growing gap between the Rich and Poor – a gap today not seen since 1928 – and characterised by sluggish economic growth and high unemployment.

    The relative decline of middle-class purchasing power – in no small way because of declining union membership – is thought to be why things haven’t gone well since 1979 – except of course for the Rich!!

    • Richard says:

      Demand, yes Christopher, and fulfilling the demand to a high standard. Strikes do not help businesses and employers have no choice but to work. Thus the merry-go-round of supply and demand keeps going and standards are kept high in a free market where people must work to survive, come what may.

      Thankfully, most employees of small businesses recognise this because they understand that there are two sides to the equation of business: income and expenditure. In the public sector no-one has to worry about income because it is guaranteed through taxation.

  11. Christopher says:

    I happened upon *this article in the NYT* some minutes ago about what’s wrong with education in America, and felt it my bounden duty to pass it along to you.

    I took particular note of the following:

    “……charter schools are not a panacea and have not performed, on average, better than regular public schools. Successful schools — whether charter or traditional — have features in common: a clear mission, talented teachers, time for teachers to work together, longer school days or after-school programs, feedback cycles that lead to continuing improvements……”

    and

    “………”How schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn’t changed much in the century since the Progressive Era. On the whole, we still have the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support……..”

    and

    “…….American education is a failed profession. There is no widely agreed-upon knowledge base, training is brief or nonexistent, the criteria for passing licensing exams are much lower than in other fields, and there is little continuous professional guidance. It is not surprising, then, that researchers find wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms; in the absence of a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, we have teachers essentially winging it as they go along, with predictably uneven results……”

    and

    “……In the nations that lead the international rankings — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada — teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States……..”

    The article says nothing about teachers’ unions. Could this be because teachers unions are not what’s really wrong with American education?

    • Christopher says:

      No sooner than after just posting the above comment with its peroration about the NYT article saying nothing about teachers’ unions, I re-read the article and noticed it had in fact mentioned unions:

      “……..In America, both major teachers’ unions and the organization representing state education officials have, in the past year, called for raising the bar for entering teachers; one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, advocates a ‘bar exam’……..”

      However, the reference to unions appears positive.

      I was, by the way, surprised to read in the article that Canada is included in the nations that lead international teacher rankings, for over the years I’ve listened to lots of complaints about public (taxpayer supported) schools turning out students who can’t read and write properly.

      Not having being Canadian-educated, I can’t make a judgement on this. But, what I do know is that there are teachers’ unions here in Canada, and teachers do sometimes go on strike.

      • potsoc says:

        Indeed Christopher, our Canadian teachers are unionized and they do strike, once in a while. Some kids do manage to breeze through 12 years of schooling and still not read or write properly, but most do learn.
        A bright child will learn no matter what method is used and what teacher he or she has. A good teacher, of course is a great help. And a great teacher, whatever the system may be, will teach.adequately.

        • Christopher says:

          I agree that teachers matter less the brighter a child is. But anyone, I think, whether bright or not-bright, can learn the likes of history, geography, literature, on their own.

          It’s subjects like maths and science – the left brain subjects – that need teachers, and good ones at that. However, I speak as one who always struggled with maths and science. If only I’d been born left-brained!!

          With the internet, and with nearly all of us having a computer at home, we, in effect, now have our own private reference libraries. Wandering at will through this virtual Aladdin’s cave of knowledge, we can learn almost anything we like (except maths and science!!) on our own in the comfort of our home. Ours is indeed the age of the autodidact.

          • Cheri says:

            Remember the story Andreas Kluth wrote in the Economist about the Kahn Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the time, I thought that an in-person teacher would never be as effective as one on a computer screen, but I have changed my mind. In the 22nd century,
            most teaching may stream through the computer.

    • Cheri says:

      Of course I have suspicions about the New York Times…. 🙂

  12. Christopher says:

    In the NYT article, my attention was also drawn to something else it said about the leading teaching nations, namely that they, in contrast to the US:

    ”…….also have much stronger welfare states; by providing more support for students’ social, psychological and physical needs, they make it easier for teachers to focus on their academic needs……..”

    This implies a link between economic inequality and quality of education.

    In terms of the “Gini Coefficient” – used by clever economists to measure economic inequality – all of the other countries listed in the NYT article as being the leading teaching nations, are economically far more equal than America. Which is to say the difference between their Rich and their Poor isn’t nearly what it is in America.

    Hence the seeds of better public school education in America may lie in creating a more equal society.

    • Cheri says:

      Interesting quotation, Christopher. One important factor in creating a “more equal society” in welfare states is that most of the places where education is, arguably, more efficient (Germany, China, Singapore, Japan), are homogenous societies. It’s easier to come to agreement when the majority of the people come from the same stock, so to speak.

      The United States, grand experiment that it is, offers us opportunity to do anything we want. Having taught over 5k students and listened to many parents of all races and religions, rich and poor, and middle class, I still believe that,excluding alcohol and drug addiction or just plain horrendous bad luck, any student reach her/his goals.

      This essay is about the teachers’ unions. They are rich too and wield a great deal of power in state and national governments. They are not interested in innovation or change.

    • Richard says:

      I was taught in a County Grammar School, education modelled on the long traditions of private education but paid for entirely by the taxpayer. It is, and was, a highly successful school providing opportunity for children from the poorest families, to break out of the poverty trap, and many did. Such schools were part of the system and were available to all.

      They were selective by examination at age 11, though, and those who were not selected fell by the wayside in Secondary Modern schools. This was, by some aberration of logic seen by some as divisive and elitist and when they attained the necessary power, they chose not to provide resources and improve the Secondary Modern but to abolish all but a mere handful of County Grammar Schools and replace them with non-selective Comprehensive Schools. This act of social violence was carried out with a self-righteous missionary zeal. There are many good Comprehensive Schools but they are in middle-class areas and so the opposite has been achieved. You have the odd spectacle of schools being required to accept children from all areas who then have a long journey to and from school. The fact remains that the dramatic drop in standards of education and social decay among the underprivileged date from the so- called “reform”.

      So much for the link between economic inequality and quality of education, Christopher.

      Teachers who think they can get their way by stamping their feet and refusing to work are the worst possible example to the children they are supposed to have in their care. And let us remember that when such people talk of “lack of resources” they do not mean more resources for children but more money for their own pockets. Professional teachers – and there is none, in my estimation, more dedicated or hard-working – will relentlessly pursue their vocation, in whatever circumstances, come what may.

      • Christopher says:

        “a…….Grammar School……….is, and was, a highly successful school providing opportunity for children from the poorest families, to break out of the poverty trap, and many did. Such schools were part of the system and were available to all………”

        You forgot to say that Grammar Schools were open only to the top 25% of children, based on the 11+ examination. So the remaining 75% were consigned to Secondary Modern Schools, that were funded lower per pupil than for Grammar Schools. Hence, compared with Grammar Schools, Secondary Modern Schools were short-changed in terms of resources and good teachers.

        While the Grammar School doubtless gave children of the Poor an opportunity to escape poverty, it appears relatively few of them could take advantage of this because pupils at Grammar Schools were by and large of the middle-class.

        Therefore it was mainly children of the Poor who had to go to the inferiorly funded Secondary Modern Schools. This surely must have deepened the class divide in Britain’s already class ridden society, even apart from the fact that children from Grammar (and Public ie private) Schools effectively monopolised access to universities.

        Given the inherent social injustice of this educational system – a social injustice clearly incompatible with a democracy, the move to largely abolish the Grammar School in favour of the Comprehensive School, can only have been an improvement.

        • Richard says:

          It is undoubtedly true that Secondary Moderns were starved of funds, and that was a disgrace. It made the children feel failures at 11, which they were not. Many went on to enjoy successful lives and careers, notwithstanding, while some grammar school children frittered away their opportunities. The Secondary Modern I would have attended was not situated in a poor area and was populated by local children. Some parents, however, sacrificed to pay for a private education.

          Perhaps you are opposed to selection per se. It is an unavoidable feature of life. Within three months at grammar school there was further selection of one in five for the top form and then one in about six of us achieved top position at one time or another in the five years to age sixteen, when we prepared for higher education in the sixth form. About a half in the top form ultimately took state-assisted places at Oxford or Cambridge plus a number at other leading universities.

          Selection is no guarantee of success or a fulfilling life – nor is material wealth.

          I have to say that the non-selective state comprehensive system has served my children well, but that is the result of dedicated and inspired teachers, school catchment and home environment, not the allocation of funds.

  13. John Sabraw says:

    Hey, are you really a Sabraw? There are like 12 of us. I’m a professor as well. Shoot me a line, I like your writing style, particularly your authentic voice.

    Cheers!

    • Cheri says:

      Hi John,
      I am really a Block (thank god) but married a Sabraw. I can tell you there are many more than twelve 🙂 Sabraws out there.

      As the story goes, my husband’s great-grandfather Fred Sabourin changed the family name to Sabraw in a Saskatchewan corn field near Spaulding as I understand it. When my husband proposed to me, I suggested that we take his original surname. This impertinent request did not go over well with his grandmother who considered it quite an affront to his name. I was more concerned about the first day of school each year on which I would announce my name and junior high boys would look humorously to the right and left. Mrs. Sa–bra….or Mrs. Sa-girdle.

      There were five wild Sabraw sons who came down from Canada and settled as carpenters in San Rafael, California during the Depression.

      By the way, your art work is lovely. Many of your prairie scenes remind me of Flint Hills,Kansas. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

  14. Catcher's Son and Thadeus' Daughter says:

    When Newark was striking, I had no intention of not going to class. Conveniently, I ended up in the gymnasium after running around Fremont and into Newark and arriving with the custodians. Also, from what I’ve learned later, I was intimidating enough for no one to challenge me, to question my loyalties, to try to block me. Students waited and baseball team after school. … My father made his living as a professional ball player. As he sunned himself on outfield grasses before night games, he reminded himself: “They pay me to do enjoy myself.” Teaching was that for me.

    Now, you may know of Lory Osantowski (Koppel, Hunton) through Pat Simon. Of me you may know that Pat explained to staff at American that I ran so much, not to stay alive, not for many of the rumored reasons, but because, as Pat quietly allowed: “He likes to eat.”

    Finally, one of the noteworthy happenings of the Fremont strike was a Kennedy happening. One of the striking teachers, on the picket line, was summoned by the school loudspeaker system: “Pleas come to the office. Your made is on the phone and wishes to talk with you.”

    We are sharing stuff at <<>> Katyi Rasmussen led us to your blog.

    Lory Osantowski and Leroy Sprinz

  15. Cheri says:

    Hi Lory and Leroy,
    Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I do remember Pat Simon. That quotation from the Kennedy High School office is very funny. 😀

  16. Christopher says:

    I came across this article *on Finnish education* in this morning’s Guardian, that you just might like.

    Finland is almost at the top of the world education league, despite there being “….no inspectors, no exams until the age of 18, no school league tables, no private tuition industry, no school uniforms. Children address teachers by their first names. Even 15-year-olds do no more than 30 minutes’ homework a night……….”

    However, “……All teachers take five-year degree courses………and, if they intend to work in primary schools, are thoroughly immersed in educational theory. They teach only four lessons daily, and their professional autonomy is sacrosanct. So attractive (some might say cushy) is a teacher’s life that there are 10 applicants for every place on a primary education course, and only 10-15% drop out of a teaching career………”

    Could this be the key to Finnish success, that it appears the best and brightest Finns would go into teaching?

    There’s nothing, though, in the article about Finnish teachers’ unions. So I checked in Google to see if there are any. It seems there are, and they’re described as “powerful”!!

  17. Cheri says:

    Thanks for the link, Christopher. I would agree that if the brightest and best are going into teaching in Finland, then all you mention from the article contributes to the high-quality and satisfaction there. I would observe that Finland is somewhat homogenous which, in my view, is easier to manage in terms of EVERYTHING—what to teach, whose history not to ignore, how diverse multi-cultural the literature should be, etc.
    With all of the positives above, why would they need a teachers’ union?

    • Christopher says:

      “……With all of the positives above, why would they need a teachers’ union?…..”

      I’ll guess “the positives” came out of pressure from the teachers unions, and should the teachers unions disappear, so would “the positives” soon after.

  18. Cheri says:

    I don’t know about either the union or the entity running public education in Finland. In the United States, from the Federal Department of Education to the State to the County–all are swollen with silly programs and people put in place to administer such programs. That, coupled with the teachers’ unions, which by their nature are designed to protect their members, spells out trouble for school children.

    When teachers are paid (and their work and results accounted for) as they are in Finland, then the product (Kurt hates that word but it is, indeed, a product of sorts) will improve. I realize that I beat a dead horse in my comments about education.

    Funny, lots of news articles in the last year have supported my contentions.

  19. Christopher says:

    I happened today upon this *rather startling article* that says, in so many words, that America’s public schools now resemble prisons, in which students are the inmates.

    In your opinion, as someone involved in education, is what this piece says, the truth? Or is the writer overdoing it a bit?

    If the truth, I see………how shall I say……….the positives. Prison-like schools would prepare students for their emergence into adult society, in which – not just in America, but almost everywhere else – the characteristics of the surveillance (police) state are more and more the norm. And they would prepare students for the jobs they’ll do, in which orders are to be obeyed, and talking back to the boss means instant dismissal, with all the dire consequences.

    If the article’s writer was, in fact, overdoing it a bit, would it be too much of a good thing if, one day, what he says becomes the reality?

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Christopher,
      I have now read John W. Whitehead’s post about American public education on his (The Rutherford Institute’s) website. The article is lengthy and needs a fact-checker to spend time with many of his paragraphs, verifying his claims. I see that Whitehead is a civil rights lawyer, taking the cases of anyone (Muslims, rabbis, women, blacks,etc.) –who believes his/her civil rights have been violated. Some of the commentary about the Rutherford Institute and Whitehead characterizes him as left of the ACLU. That’s hard to believe!

      I only have my 26-year public school service in classrooms and schools that were in lower to middle to upper class school districts. Most of my students in the beginning of my career were white, black, and Hispanic. When I came to Fremont to teach, most of my students were white. In the last ten years, the majority were Asian, East Indian, and Middle Eastern. I have only taught in one impoverished school–Martin Luther King in Stockton California. My tenure at Commodore Stockton Junior High (again in Stockton) brought me some hard-scrabble kids. However, I have not spent any time in districts like the one in Oakland, California, where drugs, pregnancies, poverty, and violence permeate the community. ( On a side note, Governor Jerry Brown, endorsed a military charter school in Oakland that produced successful results—the only time in my life that I agreed with anything Governor Moonbeam proposed or said).

      That being said, I can only react to Whitehead’s statistics and thesis with my own experience. I have selected several of his paragraphs early in the essay.
      Here’s one:

      “Indeed, at a time when we are all viewed as suspects, there are so many ways in which a person can be branded a criminal for violating any number of laws, regulations or policies. Even if you haven’t knowingly violated any laws, there is still a myriad of ways in which you can run afoul of the police state and end up on the wrong side of a jail cell.”

      I find this statement startling, exaggerated, and absurd. How many people do you know who have been in jail, “having run afoul of the police state…” ? Really? Today, justice is often applied liberally because of all of the hard criminals who are too dangerous to parole. Very few people go to jail or have ever been arrested when compared to the general populace.

      “From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment she graduates, she will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.”

      Although he overstates much in this paragraph, I agree with him on every point from an overreaction to bullying and its definition to the regimentation of standardized testing. I might add, however, that standardized testing has become more entrenched in American public education because we have terrible results as a nation in math, critical thinking, and language arts. One of the reasons for the decline of American public education is the teacher–often a well-meaning, touchy-feely slacker who doesn’t like correcting papers. Of course, that is a simplistic observation–surely unsupportive parents (the type to which the ACLU caters), poor funding, and other sociological factors contribute to student malaise.

      “By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested”

      You have to read through the lines in this sentence. Is he saying that 1 out of every 3 “average young people” will have been arrested by the time they are 18? Or is he saying that out of all public school students who finish high school, 1 out of 3 will have been arrested. Perhaps his statistic is true in Oakland and East Palo Alto and other districts where poverty, drugs, and hopelessness prevail, but I do not believe that it is true when we add up all the students across this country who are graduating from public high schools.

      In all of my time with over 5000 students, I am unaware than any were ever arrested!

      • Christopher says:

        As to Whitehead saying “……By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested…….”, my Google search bespeaks nearly a third (one out of three) Americans being arrested by the time they’re 23.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/us/nearly-a-third-of-americans-are-arrested-by-23-study-says.html?_r=0

        http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-12-19/youth-arrests-increase/52055700/1

        You said, “…..Very few people go to jail or have ever been arrested when compared to the general populace…….”

        We’ell…..this depends on what you mean by “very few”. Like, do 716 jailbirds for every 100,000 non-jailbirds, represent “very few”?.

        To put this in perspective, an American is six times more likely to be a jailbird compared to a Canadian; six to nine times more likely to be a jailbird compared to a western European; and two to ten times more likely to be a jailbird compared to a northern European.

        Don’t run away. Here’s more. America, with 4.4% of the world’s peoples, has 22% of the world’s jailbirds. Incroyable. Mais vrai………!!!

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/04/30/does-the-united-states-really-have-five-percent-of-worlds-population-and-one-quarter-of-the-worlds-prisoners/

        • Cheri says:

          Well, Christopher, thank you for finding all of these links that refute my general observations about numbers of arrests per capita in the United States. The fact that there are more arrests here than in Canada or Western or Northern Europe. What do you make of these statistics? If they are, indeed, facts (you will forgive my cynicism but I don’t necessarily believe anything laid out as fact by the New York Times, Washington Post, or Google, for that matter), do you have a thesis as to why so many Americans are arrested?

          • Christopher says:

            “…….do you have a thesis as to why so many Americans are arrested?…….”

            I do.

            Given that the American jailbird community – as a percentage of all Americans – is very high compared with anywhere else in the world, it would follow that the arrest-rate would be very high too.

            The arrest-rate would be a function of the jailbird-rate, you might say.

            While you can make a case that the American arrest-rate for young people is lower than one-in-three, I think the burden of proof is on you if you wish to assert that very few Americans are arrested.

            • Cheri says:

              I do not buy into Whitehead’s statistic that 1 out of every 3 high school graduates are arrested.
              We disagree. Whitehead has his own agenda. I can only fall back on my long experience in public school and the number of students I have taught. You, yourself, put some credence in my experience. I believe that is part of the reason you asked me in the first place.

  20. Cheri says:

    Hi Christopher, I will read this article next week when I return home. Thanks for keeping a topic near and dear to my heart in mind.

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