Why School Reform Is Not Like Welfare Reform

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball writes about education ‘reform’:

To many Democrats, embracing education reform is the only way the party can retain its traditional advantage on education, which Republicans have had increasing success portraying as a wasteful example of big-government excess.

While I’ll have more to say about the ongoing teachers’ strike in Chicago, I think a lot of Democrats are playing this wrong. This is not like welfare reform. Even if we leave aside the racism that infused much of the opposition to welfare pre-Clinton era reforms*, welfare recipients were seen, by the target audience, as lazy good-for-nothings who were parasites. The problem (for those who needed welfare anyway) was that many people, again, in the target audience, didn’t know any welfare recipients–and sneering or ignoring someone late at night with WIC checks in line at the supermarket does not count as “knowing.” It’s easy to stereotype someone you don’t know.

The education reformers are trying the same tactics with teachers, but I don’t think it will work (could be wrong though). There are literally millions of teachers, former and active, in the U.S. (I really do mean literally, not ‘literally’ sensu ‘seriously dude!’). There are many more who know teachers: they are our neighbors (one mine actually), our friends, and our relatives. You can’t ‘other‘ them. Sure, we all know some ‘bad’ teachers, but most of us know dedicated ones–and far more of the latter than the former. It’s telling that initial reports are that the Chicago police are solidly backing the teachers. Middle-class people like teachers, and would be proud to have their kids become teachers, in part because it’s a good job.

The other problem is that the demonization just doesn’t pass the smell test. One doesn’t usually associate ‘kindergarten teacher’ with ‘union mob boss.’ That’s just silly (“Pay up or we’ll send Mrs. Lefkowitz over to break your kneecaps.”) The other thing is that many successful people can remember a teacher who, in one way or another, helped them get to where they are now (I certainly can). You can’t have doctors and lawyers (and Mad Biologists!) without teachers.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic–and never discount the ferocity of a well-funded media campaign targeted at the mandarin class–but I don’t think this is going to gain traction, especially, as is the case in Chicago, strikes are as much about teaching conditions, which are also student learning conditions as they are about wages.

Why the Democrats are jumping at shadows over this–especially when undermining teachers and their unions is so damn costly–

*But wouldn’t it be nice to have some additional automatic fiscal stabilizers kicking in right about now? Just saying.

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8 Responses to Why School Reform Is Not Like Welfare Reform

  1. Grung_e_Gene says:

    You hedge your bets nicely sir. But, the campaign to demonize teachers as a subset of the lazy government workers whose fat pensions (brought about perhaps unknowingly by the knee-capping mob bosses) and the Democrat Party allies is exactly the meme being pushed by the late Brietbart and his legion of right-wing lizards.

  2. JohnV says:

    nice touch with the “Democrat Party” sir :p

  3. Markk says:

    I agree with #1, living in one center of anti teacher action – Wisconsin. Yes there are lots of people supporting teachers. But here there are more people NOT supporting the da– Teacher Unions and teachers who work 9 months and get paid like executives with huge pensions … blah blah blah. The teachers definitely lost here. But they are still used as the whipping boys. Teachers unions are the first example used of how evil unions are. Why? I don’t know, but I guess a lot of people don’t have fond memories of their teachers.

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  5. joemac53 says:

    Hey, I got one of those great-deal pensions. I contributed 11 per cent of my salary towards it. It is one of the best-funded pensions in the country. I still get to pay $700 per month for my health care package (I still have a dependent kid). I still work, just not as a teacher.
    I won’t get tired of saying: Teachers are not the problem. Teacher unions are not the problem. Work harder on the problems the kids bring with them and their school problems will diminish almost overnight. Don’t let people cloud the issue.

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  8. jukk0u says:

    Why must any discussion about inefficiencies in the educational system or the welfare system or any other government system, be couched in phrases like “libtard,” or “racist” etc., ad nauseum?
    This camp entrenchement stands in the way of any meaningful dialogue or progression to solution.
    (“They started it” is not a cogent response.)

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