The Thinking 

The Greatest Jobs Program in History

September 7, 2010


A MIDDLE-AGED MAN I know was laid off almost two years ago. He could not find a new job in the private sector. After a long and desperate search, he finally took a position as a high school math teacher in a major American city. He now teaches 100 or so students a day and sadly returns to school this week, desperately depressed.

“Oh, I hate it,” he said recently. He has an engineering degree and is in his early fifties, with two children to put through college.

“Teaching” is far too strong a word for what my friend does and it is no wonder that he hates it. He is both prison warden and inmate, authority figure and whipping boy. He has no recourse against disruptive students and there are always three or four very disruptive students in his classes, thus very little is accomplished in the course of the day. The administration takes virtually no disciplinary action. If there is a serious problem, teachers are told to phone the police. Imagine being a teacher and having no recourse in the event of serious aggression but to call 911?

My friend is not permitted to consider behavior when grading. Suspensions and expulsions are rare, if not non-existent. Wherein lies this breakdown of authority? Why isn’t a teacher permitted to teach?

The answer to this question can be found in the disdain any monopoly has for the customer and in the most powerful goal of the education industry: to protect itself as an employer. A secondary goal is to confine young people during the day. That way they are out of the way and unable to find better things to do. Ironically, these twin goals lead to a reluctance to defend the safety of teachers.  If not for this monopoly, teachers would rarely accept such conditions and parents would see that students learn more and behave better in schools where there is discipline.

Whatever its failures or triumphs in the realm of learning, the American public education system is a resounding success as an employment agency and as a prison system. The National Education Association is the largest labor union in the country and it upholds this enormous industry with more than 2.6 million full-time members and a budget  of $356 million. Many teachers are nice people, intelligent and extremely dedicated, but they belong to a publicly-subsidized racket that has long ceased to reflect the will of the people because the people are never given the option of refusing to support it.

There is the appearance of democratic input with elected school boards, but it is only a question of how much of the property owner’s money they will use, not whether they will use it at all. Because the mere mention of the word of “education” creates a whiff of sanctity to the public official’s pronouncements, many states now subsidize gambling so that they can support their schools. How long before the states open brothels or heroin kiosks so they can keep the education funds flowing? It seems there is no low to which America is unwilling to sink to keep its children in these factories of bad ideas.

But American schools are undeniably good employers. And, they work as prisons – prisons without bars and with terrible security for the guards. That learning does occur in almost every school and that many teachers are smart, dedicated and intelligent only prove the reality of human resilience and the ubiquitous presence of good, especially among the young. Institutions functioned in Communist Russia too.

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