Saturday, February 05, 2011

Have American Teachers Moved “To The Left” Of President Obama?

It seems like a strange time to “move to the left.” But it seems to be happening nonetheless.

Since his self-confessed “shellacking” in last November’s election, much has been said about how President Obama’s rhetoric has shifted to the philosophical “right.” Gone are the pejorative remarks about how Americans must stop consuming more than their “fair share” of the earth’s resources, and the scolding of oil and pharmaceutical companies for earning “record profits” (the President would probably be thrilled if any American business were to set profit records today).

“In” are the kinds of comments that are typical of an American President. Mr. Obama recently announced that he wants to embrace “Thomas Edison’s principles,” and that he desires for Americans to “invent stuff” and “make stuff.” He has even stated that he wants to open-up more foreign markets so American companies can sell more of their products and services globally. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic change in the President who spent two years bowing to foreign heads of state, and lamenting America’s superpower status.

But while the President and most of America have moved to the right, big labor doesn’t even seem willing to move the center. In fact, some unions that represent America’s public school teachers seem to have moved further towards the philosophical “left,” even as state and local governments struggle with debt and deficits, and in some cases, the threat of bankruptcy.

A disconnect between the President and the National Education Association is not new. Despite the undying allegiance of the NEA to the Democratic Party, Obama has still been a bit of an infidel for government school bureaucrats because of his support of charter schools.

It’s a concept that has become so popular with parents in recent years that presidential candidates can no longer politically afford to reject it. Still the concept of “charter schools” - schools that are publicly funded, yet managed by private sector individuals and organizations -creates market competition for conventional government-run schools and school districts, and the NEA rejects the idea outright. In fact, the NEA publicly denounced President Obama’s “Race To The Top” agenda at their annual convention last July, precisely because the agenda entailed support for charter schools.

Now, further evidence of a labor union moving starkly to the left of our President has emerged from the very “red” state of Idaho. While the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction have embarked on a effort to completely revolutionize public education in their state, the Idaho Education Association (the statewide chapter of the NEA) seems to have been caught flat-footed, and some of its members seem to have succumbed to brazenly Marxist responses.

On January 10th, Idaho Governor Butch Otter delivered the annual “State of the State” address, and on education funding he promised “a fundamental shift in emphasis from the adults who oversee the process and administration to the best interests of our students.” Two days later on January 12th, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna addressed the state legislature announcing his “Students Come First” initiatives, a plan that would established what he refers to as “customer driven education.”

It’s an outrage that in the milieu of American public education, students often do not “come first” and that decisions are frequently made that serve the interests of employees and not the “customers.” Similarly, “success” is frequently defined by public education bureaucrats in terms of how much taxpayer money is spent (“per pupil spending” is the buzzword of choice), rather than by what is produced with those expenditures.

So in a state that is bound by its own constitution to balance its own budget, Superintendent Luna has vowed that public schools in Idaho will teach “more students at a higher level with limited resources.” To achieve this he proposes that school activity should “not be limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars and geography,” but rather that students should be issued laptop computers with access to online, on-demand instructional content (Luna has already connected high school students this way with Idaho’s state colleges and universities). He also wants to incentivize more productivity from teachers by offering bonus pay opportunities and wants “full transparency” for how taxpayer money is spent (Luna has uncovered evidence of local school districts paying fulltime salaries to “teachers” who do nothing but organize union activity).

Responses from unionized teachers have been swift and visceral. Most noticeable is the opposition to the “bonus pay” proposals, with cries that it would simply be “unfair” if some received a bonus while others did not (note to teachers: Karl Marx would be thrilled with this “everybody deserves the same amount of everything” economic reasoning – but it’s not a “bonus” if everybody gets one). And while the private sector thrives in a world of online conferencing and “webinars” every day, some of Idaho’s public school teachers insist that such technology has no place in their profession.

It’s sad to see college-educated adult professionals clinging to such simplistic and selfish thinking, and it’s infuriating that children are held hostage to it. But for the moment it’s coming from “big labor” – and not so much from “big government.”


Left State University

William Irvine is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University. He is one of the most courageous and honest professors in the country. Recently, he wrote a column concerning Wright State’s decision to invite the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to speak on his campus. Although he disagrees with many of Reverend Wright’s views, he publicly welcomed him to the campus because he believes that a university should be a marketplace of ideas. That view alone makes Irvine exceptional among today’s professoriate.

Irvine calls out his university for being “curiously one-sided in the speakers it brings to campus.” He notes that liberal speakers are routinely invited and that ultra-liberal speakers including Wright and Angela Davis are occasionally invited. No one seems to think it strange that avowed communists and those with significant criminal backgrounds are paid to speak on campus at considerable expense to the taxpayer. But politically conservative speakers are scarce and in the case of John McCain and Sarah Palin pay for the privilege of using campus facilities.

William Irvine is the rare professor willing to confront his colleagues’ hypocrisy and to publicly quote their silly defenses of rigid ideological conformity. When he confronted another professor with the idea that the university should invite conservative speakers his colleague responded by asking “You mean someone like Glenn Beck?” This kind of reaction shows how off-center our universities have become. What educated person could consider Glen Beck to be more extreme than Angela Davis?

Another professor reacted to Irvine’s reasonable suggestion by saying that it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring any Holocaust deniers to campus. The statement is an odd one indeed. It suggests that most conservatives refuse to accept the Holocaust as fact. I think liberal supporters of abortion are today’s true Holocaust deniers.

Professor Irvine has discovered something I have also discovered about the liberal professoriate; namely, that they see no reason for debate. In their eyes, the debate is over on all the major issues of the day. Of course, in their eyes they won all the major debates. Now, the reward for winning these debates is that we can proceed into the implementation phase. Of course, professors rarely use the word “implementation.” They just mindlessly repeat the word “diversity” like catatonics in padded cells.

Professor Irvine has also discovered that suggestions of bringing people like Thomas Sowell to campus are met with one pretty serious problem: Most liberal professors have never heard of Thomas Sowell.

Many years ago I suggested that Sowell should be required reading for college students. The reaction was amazing. According to one of my left-leaning colleagues - one who actually knows who Thomas Sowell is - the students don’t need to read Sowell because they were raised in conservative homes where those ideas were regularly espoused.

Notice the intellectual sleight of hand my “liberal” colleague employed. His argument is against intellectual diversity. The $64,000 question: Why oppose intellectual diversity? The answer: Since parents do it for eighteen years it is only fair that professors be allowed to do it for four years.

Professor Irvine has accurately identified a big problem in saying that it is now possible for students to get a college “education” without ever encountering a conservative professor. But the problem is even bigger than that. Most professors now believe it is desirable for students to get a college “education” without ever encountering a conservative professor. Their idea of “liberal education” is nothing more than a poorly disguised war on conservatism. This anti-conservative mindset is so entrenched that one of my “liberal” colleagues wants to remove the entire Cameron School of Business from UNC-Wilmington (where I teach). He explicitly stated that a school of business has “no business at a liberal university.” Between his puerile and antiquated lectures on Marxism he denies the existence of any liberal bias. This is the personification of self-indulgence and anti-intellectualism.

Professor William Irvine says that we do not have a fair hearing of conservative views on campus but instead “liberal professors galore, who will be happy to tell you what they imagine the conservative viewpoint on various issues must be and why these viewpoints are wrongheaded.” This statement is bull’s-eye accurate. And his follow-up statement is brilliant: “This is a pale substitute for a genuine political debate, but it is, on many campuses, what students have to settle for.”

Good for him. This debate should remain focused on the shortchanged students. College is not becoming less expensive. But it is becoming less relevant.

The public challenge issued by Professor Irvine is one that every professor, conservative or liberal, should issue to his university. That challenge comes in two parts: 1) Hire at least a few conservative professors. (I’m open to this idea. What better way to remedy the historical oppression of conservatives!). 2) If you cannot stomach hiring conservative professors then at least hire some conservative speakers.

Of course, today’s “liberal” professor will agree to neither of those suggestions. He uses affirmative action to promote his self-esteem not to promote “a diversity of perspectives.” And he uses the word “diversity” only to hide his deep-seated intellectual insecurity.

Our universities are no longer committed to revealing the truth. They are committed to suppressing the truth. And among those truths is that tolerance is not the academy’s most enduring intellectual achievement. It is its most transparent moral weakness.


Australia: Victoria's Education Minister Martin Dixon launches new bid to restore order in classrooms

TEACHERS will seize back control of their classrooms from unruly students under a bid to restore discipline in Victorian schools. The new Baillieu Government will next week push for new laws allowing principals to search students, lockers and school bags for weapons and other dangerous items.

Education Minister Martin Dixon also wants to reverse students' declining respect for authority. He wants to put a stop to bad language, sloppy dress and mobile phones in class.

It follows a surge in schoolyard violence, with Victorian schools now reporting more than 12 assaults every week. Over the past decade, the number of students aged 10-14 committing violent acts has jumped by 80 per cent. "Put simply, violent behaviour in the school yard will not be tolerated," said Mr Dixon, a former principal with 15 years' experience.

"These new powers will ensure principals and teachers have clear authority to maintain order and safety in schools. "We want to send a strong message that we will protect that authority."

Mr Dixon said restoring respect was his top priority. "There's a growing number of parents that have got a lack of respect for any level of authority, whether it be police or school principals," he said. "(And) there's an increasing use and threat of violence in schools. "Assaults, verbal or physical, on teachers and principals used to be unheard of, but they do occur now. It is an issue. We've got to protect principals from that too."

Under the legislation to be debated in Parliament next week, principals would have the power to order students to open lockers and school bags, and turn out their pockets, to prove they were not carrying weapons. Any potentially dangerous items - including glass bottles, sporting equipment and trade tools - could be confiscated.

The legislation would not permit teachers to conduct body searches, but would legally protect them for handling prohibited items, such as knives or guns, before handing them over to police.

Mr Dixon said he was personally opposed to mobile phones in classrooms, sloppy dressing and swearing in school grounds. But principals would set the rules and penalties in their own schools.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said the move would make schools safer.


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