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  • Just say it! Teachers Unions are morally illegitimate

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on October 5th, 2010 (All posts by )

    It’s nice to know that the rhetoric I’ve been using on my website for about 6 years now, which some called “extreme,” has gone mainstream.

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editors are dipping their toes in the water of truth. They ought to dive in head first, and start rescuing children.

    Hating ‘Superman’

    The new film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” is getting good reviews for its portrayal of children seeking alternatives to dreadful public schools, and to judge by the film’s opponents it is having an impact.

    Witness the scene on a recent Friday night in front of a Loews multiplex in New York City, where some 50 protestors blasted the film as propaganda for charter schools. “Klein, Rhee and Duncan better switch us jobs, so we can put an end to those hedge fund hogs,” went one of their anti-charter cheers, referring to school reform chancellors Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The odd complaint is that donors to charter schools include some hedge fund managers.

    Or maybe not so odd. Teachers unions and the public school monopoly have long benefitted from wielding a moral trump card. They claimed to care for children, and caring was defined solely by how much taxpayers spent on schools.

    That moral claim is being turned on its head as more Americans come to understand that teachers unions and the public bureaucracy are the main obstacles to reform. Movies such as “Waiting for ‘Superman’” and “The Lottery” are exposing this to the larger American public, leaving the monopolists to the hapless recourse of suggesting that reformers are merely the tools of hedge fund philanthropists.

    Teacher’s unions are on the moral defensive because people have finally started to question their moral legitimacy. (welcome to the club) Teachers Unions have none, and, as a concept, they have no right to exist.

    Every dime a teachers union extracts from a tax payer for pay, benefits, pensions, etc., is a dime that can’t be used to better educate a child. It’s so obvious that it’s been staring us in the face for decades.

    Just as Reagan hastened the fall of the USSR by challenging their moral legitimacy (evil empire, ash heap of history), we must openly start telling our neighbors that teachers unions have no right to one iota of say in education. Their interests, and the interests of society are diametrically opposed.

    You don’t negotiate with such an entity, you abolish it. It’s that simple. Get to work.

    You want to teach? Compete in the open field of professionals and processes that can better educate our children.


    9 Responses to “Just say it! Teachers Unions are morally illegitimate”

    1. Mrs. Davis Says:

      I’m not so sure they’re morally illegitimate, whatever that means, but I am sure the NEA constitutes the greatest threat to our national security.

    2. Tom Holsinger Says:

      It isn’t as simple as you assume.

      The arbitrary and petty acts of many school administrators are more the driving force behind school teacher unions than material benefits. This is due to the psychological fact that loss of existing property is emotionally more important than future gain.

      Union contracts and their labor dispute arbitration requirements are a great means of reducing the number of employment-related lawsuits which would otherwise swamp the courts.

      I agree that teachers unions, and public employee unions in general, are so inherently abusive that they should be prohibited from bargaining with public employers, on public policy grounds. But don’t assume that, for at least teachers, their unions do not provide important benefits too. An alternative means of providing those benefits should be found if teachers unions are prohibited from bargaining with public employers.

      IMO a flat prohibition on the existence of teachers unions, or prohibiting public teachers from joining them, would be federally unconstitutional. All that can be done is denying them the right to bargain with public employers.

    3. Robin Goodfellow Says:

      Money spent per student (adjusted for inflation) and public school district employment has grown steadily and dramatically over the last several decades, yet educational outcomes have stagnated or regressed. This points to the problem being institutional rather than merely in a lack of resources.

    4. Anonymous Says:

      The NEA creates a certain level of immunity from consequences for Public School Teachers. This is likely a bigger problem than overspending related to smaller class room size, increased pension and health benefits. As a country we are more than willing to overpay for marginal bank or corporate management, however this coincides with the ability to sever employment for underperformance. The NEA blocks the ability to sever employment of bad or underperforming teachers.

    5. Bruno Behrend Says:


      I agree. If there is one class of people that are worse (from a moral perspective) than teacher union hacks, it is the administrator.

      Let’s do away with both.

    6. Bruno Behrend Says:

      The moment the money follows the child, the power shifts from the provider (union, system, district) to the consumer.

      It is NOT a panacea. It’s just better.

    7. class factotum Says:

      Union contracts and their labor dispute arbitration requirements are a great means of reducing the number of employment-related lawsuits which would otherwise swamp the courts.

      You mean like all the lawsuits in the non-union private sector?

    8. Tom Holsinger Says:


      Yes. Businesses exist to make a profit, and this concentrates the mind of their owners on important issues. They tolerate much less crap from their managers. Public schools don’t have that sort of market discipline, which gives vain and petty egos at the top more freedom to express their personal issues.

    9. Alan K. Henderson Says:

      Should unionism (public or private) as practiced in the US be treated as a form of racketeering? I cannot figure out why a union isn’t a glorified protection racket. Maybe it’s a Southern thing.

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