For almost a century I have been a rider on the merry-go-round called education. Experts with many ideas have jumped off and on. The dashing horses have been painted new colors and given new names. Sometimes the horses were replaced with elegant carriages. But the music didn’t change much; the same melodic sounds remind you that it is still a merry-go-round. People come and ride because it is nostalgic. Workers come and go and try to change the music, but powerful groups like the music as it is.
The monopoly continues. Before compulsory education, literacy rates were higher than before this compulsory monopoly was created. Millions of Americans over the age of sixteen can’t read or fill in simple applications with personal data. Many can’t write simple letters or messages or do simple arithmetic problems. This monopoly has created a system of protections for unfit, unwilling, and non-productive personnel; unions not only protect these people, but they make it difficult for the great committed people to do their jobs. Student learning suffers. It is a puzzle, but the puzzle doesn’t have many pieces.
There is a local union supported by a state union supported by a national union supported by union philosophy in general. There are members in all these unions, many who would not belong to unions if they had choice. I know that many union members would not want their dues to be spent on political campaigns. These are the wonderful professionals who are committed and passionate about their work. Think of the money that will be spent on unions this year for pure political reasons. Most of the reasons will be related to power; few will be relative to teaching and learning. Much of the commentary will be about teaching and learning, but the bottom line in action is power.
The committed educators spend their time and energy helping young people accomplish their dreams. But their environment is clouded by the demands of the negotiations, the multi-level government requirements, and the malaise of many who are forced into this monopolistic monolith, public education.
In addition, the more that we try to be all things to all people, the less we are to anyone. State directed curriculum and state and national testing have added great burdens for our teachers and students. Legislation is passed because of pressure from one group or another. Trying to meet the various directives buries educators under mountains of paperwork that take valuable time from teaching and learning activities.
One might ask how this entity stays in business, why parents don’t make other choices. Public schools are protected with government compulsion. Children are forced to attend; parents are forced to pay school taxes, school boards must negotiate with the unions, and unions oppose any school choice options that appear. In addition, private schools are out of the reach financially of most families. Charter schools particularly are opposed by the unions, and therefore, by many teachers who enlist the aid of their students’ parents to also oppose them.
Until this monopoly is broken, or by some magic, choice becomes a viable option for all, our merry-go-round will only see surface changes, new paint, a new melody here and there. The price for our young learners may become more critical. We now must add the fact that we have a carrousel not suited to many riders of the last century, but one now playing music that is not even recognized by the natives of the digital learners of the 21st century.