The Coming School Strikeout

America is getting a demonstration of why public schools and teacher unions are worse than useless.

For two centuries, as the influence of labor trade unions has ebbed and flowed, it's always had one fundamental basis of power: the strike.  Workers who join a union believe that their skills, knowledge, and experience are so essential to their employer that, if their labor is withdrawn, the boss will quickly come to terms.

Sometimes that's accurate: for many years, industrial unions like the UAW and Boeing's engineering union were able to cost their employers billions in a walkout, thus reaping salaries that, in many cases, seemed to far exceed what their actual skills would appear to justify.  In the short run this worked well; in the long run, it's led to factories moving to other countries where labor is cheaper.

Other times it's flat wrong:

On Fathers Day 2003, all of the 130 workers at the Congress Hotel in Chicago walked out on the job, protesting management’s decision to cut wages and bring in minimum-wage, subcontracted workers.

Ten years later, the union — United Here’s Local 1 — is giving up its fight, and not because management gave in to any of the union’s demands. It simply decided that the fight had gone on long enough, and that its resources and attention would be better spent elsewhere.

Turns out that pretty much anyone with a pulse can clean hotel rooms, who'da thunk the workers would be so easy to replace?

Still other times, the strikers are both right and wrong.  In 1919, the Boston police felt they were underpaid, under-appreciated, and essential, so they walked off the job.  They were certainly right about being essential: within hours, the city was a madhouse of looters, thugs, rioters, and arsonists, much as we see today when police are ordered to "give them space."

Rather than knuckle under to the strikers' demands, though, the mayor and governor summarily fired them all and sent in the National Guard with shoot-to-kill orders. Declaring, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Republican Governor Calvin Coolidge's firm action swept him into the White House.  My, how Massachusetts has changed in a hundred years!

Which brings us to the bemusing case of America's teachers unions, who seem to have unanimously decided that a) they don't want to risk their lives by actually teaching kids in school, and b) they expect to be paid even more for not doing it than they've been getting for pretending to do it in person.

Covid Clowns

The nature, infectiousness, and consequences of the Chinese coronavirus that has turned the world upside down have been amply disputed elsewhere.  Amid the furor, though, there's one thing that basically all experts agree on: children rarely catch the disease, even more rarely spread it, and just about never die from it.

It follows, therefore, that a school full of kids should be one of the safest possible places to be: if you ignore the children who pretty much don't count for purposes of covid transmission, every teacher who is the only adult in the room is more socially distanced at school than they are in their own homes.

In the entire world, there has been not one single documented case of covid being transmitted from a student to their teacher - and remember, some countries never closed their schools at all.  That's right: it is more likely that a given teacher will be hit by a bus and struck by lightning on the same day, than that they'll catch covid from a pupil.

But according to such epidemiological experts as the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, to be willing to perform the jobs for which they are being paid requires:

  • Paid sick leave for parents
  • Class sizes of no more than 12 students and 1 adult per classroom
  • Additional support for parents who have vulnerable individuals in the household to be able to stay home
  • Increased mental health and academic supports through increased staffing of counselors, psychologists, and PSWs, and PSAs
  • No standardized testing
  • Free, universally available, tutoring classes for parents
  • Installation of hand-washing stations in every entryway and classroom
  • And, shock of all shocks, an utterly unprecedented, never before mentioned demand for:

  • Dramatically increased federal and state funding

Even in the land of fruits and nuts, this was never in a million years going to be swallowed whole - are there even enough plumbers in the entire country to plumb hand-washing sinks in every single classroom and doorway?  And if something cannot happen, it won't.  It didn't, and sure enough, the Los Angeles schools will not be reopening.

Instead, parents will be stuck having to figure out how to arrange for someone to monitor their kids all day at their own effort and expense, particularly the younger ones.  At the same time, they're paying outlandish property taxes that supposedly go to fund education, which everybody agrees is severely harmed by classes being virtual.

If we were to think of the UTLA collectively as being a single employee, they'd be a character on The Office attempting to answer the age-old question of how useless, lazy, obnoxious, and unproductive someone can be before they finally get fired.  This is not to say that every Los Angeles teacher is personally useless, lazy, obnoxious, and unproductive - but as a system, this year LA's schools will be accomplishing precious little at vast expense.

Consider: For most Americans, the primary function of public schools is as a babysitter so Mom and Dad can go to work.  Once upon a time, Mom stayed home, and if kids stayed home with her too, that was fine.

Today, as Chief Elizabeth Warren brilliantly expounded in her seminal work The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke - which we strongly recommend to readers of Scragged, though preferably obtained used or from a library - most American families require two full-time incomes in order to keep their heads above water, whereas their grandparents were able to do just fine with only one.

How exactly are Angelenos supposed to make this work?  As the famous spoof New York Times headline has it, "Poor, minorities hardest hit."

White-collar lawyers and executives can work from home, or hire an illegal babysitter; if something goes wrong, they can always call in sick.  Working-class types have no such luxury: they can't very well cart Junior in to the sweatshop or bodega, and assuming there even are two parents in the home, both incomes are absolutely required to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Folks understand that teaching is important and that teachers need to be educated and thus paid at least a middle-class wage.  How willing will poor people be to put up with teachers making more than they do to not really teach at all?  And what of the countless billions of dollars worth of school-district infrastructure sitting empty, prey to graffiti and arson?

At some point, most people with anything even close to half a brain will figure that they could make their own far more effective arrangements to educate their kids, for far less than they're paying in taxes to a school district which clearly has no desire to do it anymore.

Answer Came There None

Most regular readers of Scragged will by now be screaming in frustration, "Vouchers!  School choice!  Homeschooling!  Private school!  Anything at all is better than public-sector-union captivity!"

And if we had a Republican party worthy of the name, so would every single Republican officeholder and half the voters.  Alas, they aren't called the Stupid Party for nothing - aside from the occasional incendiary Trump tweet, none dare to promote educational solutions that both command overwhelming support from minorities and would financially kneecap the Democrat party's prime paymasters, public-sector-union bosses.

But this year is different: this year, most Americans will be homeschooling whether they like it or not.  It's not too much further a step from that to officially homeschooling in the hopes that the kiddos might actually learn something more useful than how to throw Molotov cocktails... and then, only a little more to reach the resentment of exploitation that fuels taxpayer rebellions.

If only we had leadership with eyes to see and ears to hear!  If we'd spent millions on high-powered conservative think tanks in ivory towers for decades, we could never have come up with a more blatant demonstration of the absolute uselessness of the public schooling industry than America is presented with today.  What fools we, if we simply let this crisis go to waste!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments

Good article that shows why forced union membership AND government schools are terrible.

July 28, 2020 1:46 PM

" . . . Republican Governor Calvin Coolidge's firm action swept him into the White House."

Yes, but indirectly. He was Harding's running mate in 1920 and assumed the office when Harding died. He was elected in his own right in 1924.

August 8, 2020 10:05 AM

One word to blow up the educrat monopoly....vouchers. I’m sure that Milton Friedman’s solution to schools run by self interest monopolies could work now. I’d have a lot more respect for Black Live Matter if the word “ better education “ was in any of their bumper stickers. Lacking that, let’s hope the parents who want their kids to do better have a choice.

August 8, 2020 5:51 PM

"Most regular readers of Scragged will by now be screaming in frustration, "Vouchers! School choice! Homeschooling! Private school! Anything at all is better than public-sector-union captivity!"

I've been making those same cries in the wilderness. Public schools are not educating so much as propagandizing. This also applies to most (private or public) universities because, after all, by the time they get there, they have learned that socialism is "good" even if privately educated. Courtesy of the media.

September 13, 2020 11:36 PM
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