Thomas Sowell

IT IS AMAZING how many people who are "pro-choice" when it comes to abortion are against choice when it comes to education. Indeed, that is the official position of the Democratic Party.

Despite Al Gore's rhetoric at the Democrats' convention in July about being against "powerful special interests," there is no more powerful special interest in the country -- nor one with more destructive impact on more people -- than the teachers' unions. These unions -- the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers -- are dead set against parents having a choice of where to send their children to school.

The last thing these unions can afford to let happen is open competition between the public schools that their members have dumbed down and other schools that are free to omit the fads, bureaucracy and red tape that have ruined the public schools.

Despite the teachers' unions' Big Lie that parental choice will cost more money -- "drain money from the public schools" is the pat phrase -- in reality, voucher schools get less money per pupil. That leaves more money per pupil in the budget for those students who remain in the public schools.

The teachers' unions do all they can to create the same handicaps for the voucher schools, or for homeschooling parents, as already exist in the public schools. Among these handicaps are requirements that teachers, including homeschooling parents, must be "certified" -- that is, subjected to the same Mickey Mouse courses in education that serve as a barrier to keep out many well-educated people who would like to teach but hate this junk. Studies show that such courses do nothing to make teachers more effective in the classroom. Moreover, students taking such courses have some of the lowest test scores of people in any field.

The American Federation of Teachers has complained that teachers in charter schools and voucher schools do not have the "protection" of labor unions. But the whole point of having alternative schools is to get away from the things that are dragging down the regular public schools. Iron-clad tenure for incompetent teachers, and paying good and bad teachers the same, are among these handicaps created by teachers' unions.

The more bureaucratic requirements the teachers' unions can get imposed on voucher schools, charter schools, or homeschooling parents, the more frivolous lawsuits they can launch against these competitors, claiming that they did not jump through this hoop or submit the right form in triplicate. Even when these lawsuits have no chance of winning, they accomplish their purpose by draining money and time away from those who are competing with the public schools.

Despite the newness of charter schools and voucher schools, their lesser amounts of money per pupil and their need to rent space, instead of having it provided free like the public schools, the results are starting to come in, showing that these alternative schools are getting better academic results. So is homeschooling.

The response of the education establishment was exemplified recently by one of its spokesmen who tried on TV to minimize the rise in children's test scores after transferring to private schools by saying that this was "no panacea." Apparently only a panacea would be better than our failing public schools.

One of the scare tactics of the teachers' union is to claim that "anybody" can set up voucher schools and teach "anything" -- including weird, off-the-wall stuff. But "anybody" cannot teach in either voucher schools or public schools. Only people who satisfy parents can get students to enrol in voucher schools. In the public schools, only people who have gone through worthless courses in education can become "certified" teachers -- which means that many highly educated and intelligent people are repelled.

As for teaching "anything," that is what our public schools are increasingly doing -- teaching everything from New Age paganism to homosexual techniques. Children have been subjected to weeks of morbid "death education," even when parents complain of their children's tears or nightmares.

The only justification for these excursions into weirdness is that it allows intellectual losers to feel important as "agents of change" by taking advantage of other people's children behind their parents' backs. Teachers and teachers' unions talk a great game about their concern for children, but their actions reveal their over-riding concern for their own egos and their own jobs. But will the voters wake up to this before the election?


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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