Earlier this week, I wrote about the protests in Wisconsin that hit the national news feeds so hard. It was the kind of political post that I try to stay away from on this blog. However, I felt it necessary to post about what the protest were about, before I posted about what the protests were NOT about.
In the United States, we spend more to educate consumers about what products to buy than we spend to educate our children. This fact provides a disturbing illustration of US priorities when it comes to education. We do not pay teachers enough to hire and retain the high quality teachers our children deserve. We do not devote enough resources to providing our children with the high quality learning environments they deserve. We do not devote enough resources to develop the best methodologies for teaching our children, nor do we train our teachers in the existing best practices as our children deserve.
Imagine if parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders protested our country low prioritization of education. Imagine if it happened in just one state. The way the protests in Madison have spread, we could raise awareness to new heights. Instead, teachers protest over their union rights, their pay raises, and the amount they must contribute to their benefits packages. If the protesters in Madison are to be believed, union rights are sacrosanct, but our children’s rights to a high quality education are not. If teachers have to be let go, if classes have to be shut down, if services for students with disabilities need to be pared back or eliminated—well, that’s fine. Just don’t touch their union rights.
Our public schools are in trouble. Unions do not help the situation. It seems like nobody is really helping the situation. Our priorities haven’t changed. Our country still wants to provide students with an assembly-line style education for as little money as possible. As much as special education rights represent a dramatic shift from that mentality, that shift has only gone so far. Too many people argue that special education deprives “real” students of the resources they need. Providing those “real” students with individualized education isn’t even on the negotiating table.
Why not? Why aren’t our children our highest priority? Why is it so easy for education budgets to be attacked? Why do we, the voting public, tolerate the federal government’s inadequate support for federally mandated education, while our politicians vote for pork barrel spending to buy off their constituents?
I’m a fiscal conservative. I believe the government should live within a balanced budget. But I also believe that our spending priorities have to benefit the people—not just some special interest groups, but all the people—first and foremost. Few things satisfy that priority like providing our children with a high quality education. But that isn’t our priority because the voting public, the protesters, and the lobbyists do not make it a priority—so our elected politicians do not have to either.
There are a lot of things worthy of protest. There are a lot of things that are worth my time and energy. Protecting union rights are not. Once upon a time, when workers were systematically abused by their employers and unions fought against those abuses, the unions were worth fighting for. Now unions are a political force unto themselves, answerable first and foremost to themselves, and then to the workers they represent. Like any other special interest group limiting information or disseminating misinformation is their stock and trade, a means of influencing their base, and they are good at it.
The irony is that if our present day workers—including the college-educated teachers who are currently teaching our kids—had a better education, then these tactics wouldn’t work nearly so well. But, that’s not really ironic at all. It’s the whole point. Why would decision makers provide their constituents with a high quality education when doing so would require them to meet higher standards of political discourse and legislative action? It’d be like shooting themselves in the foot.