Unions: Cause or Coincidence?

Thomas Russell of Barrington pushes a logical error frequently confused for an argument:

I am (unfortunately) old enough to remember the state of education before the birth of teachers unions. Teaching positions were treated as patronage jobs, and salaries were so low that many graduates only turned to teaching after they failed to find work doing something else.
It is ironic that so many people seem to want to return teachers to that status even as they proclaim themselves to be champions of education improvement.

Education has so dramatically changed in ways entirely apart from the employment arrangements of teachers that it’s nearly got to be a deliberate avoidance to voice Russell’s point. Most profoundly, the importance of education is much more frequently proclaimed, and for a broader cross-section of Americans than it was in those pre-union days. That is, society has come to value education (at least in the abstract) so hugely that the value of those who provide it is unlikely to decrease just because they don’t periodically go on strike, work to rule, or otherwise bully school committees into signing unaffordable contracts.
Personally, I hope and expect education employment reforms to elevate teachers’ status, because they will no longer be associated with such unseemly union behaviors… not to mention union characters who need not be named, here.
Of course, this accepts Russell’s statement of history for the sake of argument. I, myself, am too young to remember those olden days, but the statements of respect for teachers that one frequently hears from folks who were their students suggest that his assertion is, at best, exaggerated.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

“I am (unfortunately) old enough to remember the state of education before the birth of teachers unions. Teaching positions were treated as patronage jobs, and salaries were so low that many graduates only turned to teaching after they failed to find work doing something else.”
There are others who will remember when smart women only had two chices, nursing or teaching. Many of those chose teaching. There was doubtless a societal benefit there.
I can remember when many of my male teachers were WWII vets, I assume they had taken advantage of the GI Bill. My memories of them are not distinct, but I seem to recall them being more “balanced” than than those who had not served. Sort of exciting times then, I recall that my ski instructor had been a “ski trooper”, 10th Mountain division. He had stories that would hold a kids interest.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Education has so dramatically changed in ways entirely apart from the employment arrangements of teachers that it’s nearly got to be a deliberate avoidance…

It has? That’s totally contrary to what Kohn has to say…
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alfie-kohn/how-to-sell-conservatism-_b_767040.html

Seymour Papert, known for his work on artificial intelligence, began one of his books by inviting us to imagine a group of surgeons and a group of teachers, both from a century ago, who are magically transported to the present day. The surgeons visit a modern operating room and struggle to understand what’s going on, but the teachers feel right at home in today’s schools. Kids, they discover, are still segregated by age in rows of classrooms; are still made to sit passively and listen (or practice skills) most of the time; are still tested and graded, rewarded or punished; still set against one another in contests and deprived of any real say about what they’re doing.
Those tempted to point defensively to updates in the delivery system only end up underscoring how education is still about delivering knowledge to empty receptacles. In fact, snazzier technology — say, posting grades or homework assignments on-line — mostly serves to distract us from rethinking the pedagogy. Interactive whiteboards in classrooms amount to a 21st-century veneer on old-fashioned, teacher-centered instruction.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Russ – why should anyone here care what Kohn has to say, besides the fact that you seem to think he is some sort of progressive genius?
Still resorting to allowing others to speak for you?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
10 years ago

Russ,
Actually, from your quotation, I’d suggest that Kohn really has no choice but to agree with me. Note how much more learning is required for artificial intelligence research and surgery. Note the growth in numbers of careers requiring increased education.
My point wasn’t that education is structured differently, but that it is more valued across a broader swath of society.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Hmmm, not so sure about that, but I get what you’re saying.
I thought Warrington’s point was a good one. I was just reading about the history of women at U.Va. (largely limited to teaching and nursing until surprisingly recently).
uvamagazine.org/features/article/women_at_the_university_of_virginia/
Dan, illuminating as always.

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