Liberal pundits decry the capitalistic, racist system that has created what they envision as a city-prison for inner city and other impoverished kids. In their dystopic vision, greedy corporations, systemic racism and Stasi-like cops have teamed up to “build a wall” to keep poor children, especially those of color, in permanent poverty, subject to addictions and barely at a subsistence level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, forcing them into crime and early deaths in violent ways.
The liberal pundits are not completely wrong.
There absolutely is a cabal of special interests who have a vested interest in ensuring that impoverished kids never leave the inner city and that they grow up to remain impoverished. But the real Devil is not the one they have painted. It’s the Devil they know better than anyone else, the one they’ve sold their souls to. It’s the teachers unions and the politicians that they support with their contributions.
Study after study has shown that the vast majority of students in inner cities benefit from school choice. School choice encompasses a number of benefits for poor children, including school vouchers and charter schools. Inner city parents are overwhelmingly in support of school choice, in part because of the increased success and opportunity that their children can have in charter schools. In fact, in the Stanford University 2015 Urban Charter School Study, the vast majority of charter schools produced overwhelmingly positive results, and at worst (<10% of schools for Math) produced “similar levels of growth” to public schools. Overall, students graduating from charters schools have a far greater chance of going to college and breaking the cycle of poverty than students from public schools in the same area. Despite all of this, the teachers unions go out of their way to undermine these studies and to conduct ad hominem attacks on the study authors, transparently revealing that they too are aware of both the implications and the accuracy of these studies. Witness the unprecedented opposition to President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Despite the fact that the billionaire heiress has spent a good part of her adult life supporting better schools for all children, she was subjected to an overwhelming astroturf attack because she supported the rights of parents and students to choose where their children go to school. Through these attacks on charter schools and school choice the teachers unions have earned the motto “Teachers First, Students Last.”
One could and possibly should expect this from a business (and make no mistake, the union is a business) that makes money from growing its membership and sustaining their employment for as long as possible. Union dues are blind to their source, as bad teachers pay the same dues as the good ones, providing an equal incentive to keep both employed. Indeed, as long as there are bad teachers who contribute to poor student performance there is always an argument to raise more taxes “for the students” and double down on administrators and educators, generating more dues. What other reason could there be for the continual pushback from the unions against any kind of teacher accountability, whether through student testing or measuring the metrics of student matriculation? In less time than it takes your freshman to become a junior in high school, the average teacher has earned their “tenured” status, which is code for “I can’t be fired now, no matter how poorly I perform in the classroom.” When student test scores and performance standards fall at the hands of our public education system, the unions’ knee jerk response is to demand bigger budgets and more personnel. And just ignore the political payback paid by the teachers unions to their political top cover because after all, it’s “for the students”. Our public education system seems to have perfected the growth model of our federal government, which is: “create chaos and offer order,” and business is booming.
The results are obvious and to be expected. Poor teachers can’t be fired, so they are moved in the system to work in schools where parents complain the least. Typically these are schools located in our poorest areas, where parents are overburdened with low income and/or language barriers. These students are effectively taught by the bottom of the barrel, and doomed once again to the cycle of poverty they were born into. This creates effective prisons out of our inner cities and impoverished rural areas, but the liberals who claim to represent the poor and unprivileged remain silent for fear of interrupting the flow of money from the unions to causes that are more near and dear to their privileged hearts, such as climate change and vegan diktat.
But surely if the parents complain the unions won’t be able to do this, right? Sure, and I have a bridge to sell you. The unions invest hundreds of millions of dollars (your tax dollars) on ads lambasting the system and complaining about how poor the schools are. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars more paying politicians to create laws to limit charter school growth, all in the name of “ensuring quality education.” In some areas any changes to education, including just holding open study sessions in a park, would be an improvement over what the kids are currently exposed to. Yet the politicians, in their deal with the Devil, take the union money and pass laws that they know will eliminate options for poor kids to get out of poverty. Yes, they and the union bosses do know the truth, as they shake hands behind closed doors with a wink and a smile, knowing they both got what they wanted at the expense of the children. I would like to think they are making these deals only out of short-term self-interest, but I don’t think they’re that stupid. They know that as long as impoverished parents and their children remain trapped in poverty and the Democratic party can maintain their marketing as the party for the impoverished, it’s in their best interests if those votes never leave the ghetto. Effectively it’s the New Slavery, with poor people of color trapped in the inner cities instead of plantations, being worked for their votes instead of their labor in the fields. When people rise out of poverty and make their way in the world through hard work and toil, they begin to look at other ways than handouts and redistributing wealth to help end the poverty cycle; and if too many people do that, those who have come to power by playing on their fears won’t stay in power for long. I do believe that those in power know that, and their actions are conscious, if not conscionable. This is why Ben Carson, an undeniable American success story, was so loathed by the liberal pundits and subjected to vitriolic personal and sometimes racist attacks from the “tolerant left”.
The teachers themselves bear some guilt here as well. They have far more control over the union agendas than the parents and certainly the students, yet they continue to allow the unions to push agendas that prize teacher job security and compensation over every other factor. I had an acquaintance, a public school teacher of many years who I felt took great pride in her job who told me (in response to my complaints about the teachers unions) that she “just didn’t want to lose her job.” Well, nobody wants to lose their job. But the unions haven’t been working to make sure that only good teachers are kept and nurtured, they’ve been working to ensure every teacher is kept. If teachers continue to allow a union agenda that that allows bad teachers to continue to hide in the system and that shuns any form of accountability then they have cut their own deal with the devil, trading the best interests of their students for job security and benefits.
It’s not that the teachers don’t care, but when the master they serve is the union and not the students, it is easy to understand the inverse relationship between the rise in public school costs and the simultaneous decline in school rankings compared to other nations. There are many good teachers and some amazing teachers in the public school system. I’ve met many of them growing up in public schools in East San Jose and other places. But it’s not enough to be a great teacher in your classroom when you knowingly support a system that you know is not helpful to students, just because it’s in your self-interest.
As for the parents actually believe the union ads against school choice candidates and continue to vote for union-backed candidates who oppose school choice, they are guilty as well. If they place their vote for candidates with full knowledge of their ties to the teachers unions, they too are guilty of a deal with the devil, voting for the candidate they know is making no effort to help their family out of poverty just because they “always vote Democrat.”
There is a path out of these prisons. School choice for everyone, in every city. Give families the opportunity to use public funds for any school options they want that are best for their children, whether it’s public school, private school, charter school, home schooling or other options. Let the families choose what schooling is best for their children, not the government and self-interested unions who want to direct the public funds to themselves. This can start the path to breaking the cycle of poverty and ending the new form of slavery into which liberals have lured the poor.