Have American Teachers Moved “To The Left” Of President Obama?

Austin Hill
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Posted: Jan 30, 2011 12:01 AM
Have American Teachers Moved “To The Left” Of President Obama?

It seems like a strange time to “move to the left.”

But it seems to be happening nonetheless.

Since his self-confessed “shellacking” in last November’s election, much has been said about how President Obama’s rhetoric has shifted to the philosophical “right.” Gone are the pejorative remarks about how Americans must stop consuming more than their “fair share” of the earth’s resources, and the scolding of oil and pharmaceutical companies for earning “record profits” (the President would probably be thrilled if any American business were to set profit records today).

“In” are the kinds of comments that are typical of an American President. Mr. Obama recently announced that he wants to embrace “Thomas Edison’s principles,” and that he desires for Americans to “invent stuff” and “make stuff.” He has even stated that he wants to open-up more foreign markets so American companies can sell more of their products and services globally. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic change in the President who spent two years bowing to foreign heads of state, and lamenting America’s superpower status.

But while the President and most of America have moved to the right, big labor doesn’t even seem willing to move the center. In fact, some unions that represent America’s public school teachers seem to have moved further towards the philosophical “left,” even as state and local governments struggle with debt and deficits, and in some cases, the threat of bankruptcy.

A disconnect between the President and the National Education Association is not new. Despite the undying allegiance of the NEA to the Democratic Party, Obama has still been a bit of an infidel for government school bureaucrats because of his support of charter schools.

It’s a concept that has become so popular with parents in recent years that presidential candidates can no longer politically afford to reject it. Still the concept of “charter schools” - schools that are publicly funded, yet managed by private sector individuals and organizations -creates market competition for conventional government-run schools and school districts, and the NEA rejects the idea outright. In fact, the NEA publicly denounced President Obama’s “Race To The Top” agenda at their annual convention last July, precisely because the agenda entailed support for charter schools.

Now, further evidence of a labor union moving starkly to the left of our President has emerged from the very “red” state of Idaho. While the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction have embarked on a effort to completely revolutionize public education in their state, the Idaho Education Association (the statewide chapter of the NEA) seems to have been caught flat-footed, and some of its members seem to have succumbed to brazenly Marxist responses.

On January 10th, Idaho Governor Butch Otter delivered the annual “State of the State” address, and on education funding he promised “a fundamental shift in emphasis from the adults who oversee the process and administration to the best interests of our students.” Two days later on January 12th, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna addressed the state legislature announcing his “Students Come First” initiatives, a plan that would established what he refers to as “customer driven education.”

It’s an outrage that in the milieu of American public education, students often do not “come first” and that decisions are frequently made that serve the interests of employees and not the “customers.” Similarly, “success” is frequently defined by public education bureaucrats in terms of how much taxpayer money is spent (“per pupil spending” is the buzzword of choice), rather than by what is produced with those expenditures.

So in a state that is bound by its own constitution to balance its own budget, Superintendent Luna has vowed that public schools in Idaho will teach “more students at a higher level with limited resources.” To achieve this he proposes that school activity should “not be limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars and geography,” but rather that students should be issued laptop computers with access to online, on-demand instructional content (Luna has already connected high school students this way with Idaho’s state colleges and universities). He also wants to incentivize more productivity from teachers by offering bonus pay opportunities and wants “full transparency” for how taxpayer money is spent (Luna has uncovered evidence of local school districts paying fulltime salaries to “teachers” who do nothing but organize union activity).

Responses from unionized teachers have been swift and visceral. Most noticeable is the opposition to the “bonus pay” proposals, with cries that it would simply be “unfair” if some received a bonus while others did not (note to teachers: Karl Marx would be thrilled with this “everybody deserves the same amount of everything” economic reasoning – but it’s not a “bonus” if everybody gets one). And while the private sector thrives in a world of online conferencing and “webinars” every day, some of Idaho’s public school teachers insist that such technology has no place in their profession.

It’s sad to see college-educated adult professionals clinging to such simplistic and selfish thinking, and it’s infuriating that children are held hostage to it. But for the moment it’s coming from “big labor” – and not so much from “big government.”