Our culture is so used to the adversarial conditions in education that most people don’t know that before the 1960s there was a deep and respectful relationship between parents and teachers. Then a disturbing trend in education started. Educators started to blame parents for the problems in the classroom. The students aren’t responsible for poor test scores and dismal graduation rates. The teachers certainly aren’t. Of course not! Parents are to blame.
Parents are the ones who refuse to vote for tax increases to fund schools and pay teachers the salaries they deserve. Parents often don’t check homework, don’t attend parent-teacher conferences, and don’t provide healthy food and a positive home study experience for their children. When their precious little Johnny or Sue gets bad grades, parents erupt in outrage and blame the teacher. Parents used to be co-educators with teachers, united in a common front to teach children, but now they are villians.
How did this happen? How did parents suddenly turn into the enemy in the classroom?
The answer is clearly the National Education Association. In 1959 Wisconsin passed a collective bargaining law for public employees. The National Education Association, with only 766,000 members in 1961, is now a labor union with more than 3.2 million members today. The NEA’s purpose is not to educate students. Their purpose, as in all labor unions, is to increase membership and to keep their members employed. In order to keep the money coming in, they need an enemy to keep their members frightened of what will happen to them without the protection of their union.
In business, the capitalist business owner is an excellent bogeyman for the labor unions. But what enemies do schools have? Everyone wants the best education for their children and their community. There is no enemy in schools, so the labor unions had to create one. They chose parents. The NEA poisoned the beneficial relationship between parents and educators and you can see the results today.
Today our schools are funded like never before but student test scores are flat or falling. This chart is from “Losing the Brains Race.” by Veronique De Rugy, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Labor unions reward seniority instead of merit and protect bad teachers. Enough of those bad teachers in the system and the entire profession of teaching falls under a cloud. Today’s teachers make the news in all the wrong ways. A teacher who molests his students is given a high salary for years while he sits in a “rubber room.” Two teachers are secretly filmed bullying special needs students. Another teacher who screams at students is given his job back. Teachers march in strikes while the students they are supposed to be teaching sit at home, where the taxpaying parents make less than the teachers who are striking for more money. I’m sure you can add your own examples to this list.
Parents who wish to get involved in their children’s school lives are blocked at every turn. You want to help with the school’s math textbook selection? No, thank you. You want to request the students read something other than the teacher-selected English books? Not only no, thank you, but you’re a book-burning fanatic for even suggesting it. Do you want to remove your child from a bad teacher’s classroom and get them into the good teacher’s class down the hall? Don’t even think about it. All teachers are the same. Except of course, they’re not, and everyone knows it. The LA Times did groundbreaking study of inner city elementary schools where students of the same background, poverty level, and parenting situation were compared at the end of the education year. Good teachers brought their students up by more than a grade level. Bad teachers left their students behind and failing. It wasn’t the parents, or poverty, or classroom size. It was the teacher.
I know the solution to this problem, but as impossible as it sounds it needs to be done. We need to get rid of the NEA. Without the NEA bad teachers will be fired and good teachers will be rewarded, just as respected professionals are treated outside the labor union world. Without the NEA parents will again regain their deep and respectful friendship with the teachers who educate their children. Without the NEA there will be no strike lines, no rubber rooms, and teachers who are struggling will have the opportunity to be mentored instead of being shielded.
I’m lucky and privileged to have my children taught by some of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. They are kind and dedicated, skilled educators that work magic in the classroom. Good teachers like these deserve better than what the NEA has done to their profession. Parents deserve better than to be cast as the enemy in the classroom so the NEA can exert its power. And most importantly our students deserve better from our education system.
The NEA is the real enemy in our classroom.