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Written by Amanda Gynther on September 13, 2012.
The problems with education in America are plentiful and colossal. There are many places to begin to discuss this issue, but I think I will start with the teacher’s union as there is presently a strike in Chicago. I am sure my opinion on this issue will be misunderstood so I will try to be as clear as I can be. My view on this is not going to be popular. I am not asking anyone to agree with me. Only to think very very carefully about what I am about to say because it is important and it needs to truly be heard. What box you file it under is your business.
I have a huge problem with some (not all) of the things teachers are demanding in Chicago. The reason why is because it is so self serving. The teachers who unionized made a calculated educated decision. They decided, they wanted to protect all their teacher brethren and themselves from getting abused by the system. They chose to accept that no teacher would be payed what they are worth when they chose to create a system that made it nearly impossible to fire teachers. That is the compromise, job assurance at low pay. So pretty much no matter how poorly you do your job, you get to keep doing it and children pay the price by failing to get the education they are entitled to. For this assurance and to keep everything equal so that all stand together, the teachers themselves have chosen that all teachers get payed the same amount of money a low amount of money. I can’t feel too sorry then when they complain that good teachers and/or all teachers don’t make enough, though I agree with the sentiment. A good teacher is a priceless teacher. Most teachers in the public school, if they could make the cut would go to private schools for a higher pay. Which is perfectly fair. The ones who don’t make it then run around demanding massive pay raises. I just think that is kind of unreasonable, especially, when they refuse to accept any kind of measuring system to see if they themselves are making the grade as teachers.
I would be happy to pay the good teachers more. I think it unreasonable that we don’t. I wish we could identify those teachers for just that purpose while identifying the very poor ones for immediate termination. But unfortunately due to the Teacher’s Union we can’t do that. The method Chicago, would like to use is rather reasonable actually. Chicago, would like to use the test scores of students as a basis upon which to evaluate teachers. Teachers object to this, whining about how they do not control the environment of their students. But they make no outcry on behalf of their students who have even less control over their environment than the teachers do, and are evaluated based on their standardized test scores. If teachers find it fair to evaluate children with no control over their own lives and situations based on such tests, then it should be just as acceptable to teachers to be evaluated by those same tests and scores. Anything else from them is just disingenuous and unacceptable, at least to me.
The students in America have so little power they can’t even strike. You see, they don’t have a union. It is no accident, that the nation of the world with the strongest student union, also has the highest educational standard. It is no accident that they meet that standard consistently, unlike the united states which fails consistently to meet one of the lowest educational standards in the western world. It is no accident that tuition in the United States sky rockets each year, while students in Finland, the nation with the strongest student union on earth, go to university at no cost to them. They even get PhDs that way, while receiving a stipend to live on from the government. Finland’s system is so good, that they offer every subject in at least three languages, one of those languages is English. What is more, their free education policy is open to even foreign students. So for less than $2000 an American student, could go get an entire education through their doctorate over in Finland. I do not understand why we are not seeing a mass exodus of young people headed for Scandinavia. A free education for the price of a one way plane ticket and a few cold winters.
Finnish teachers all have at least masters degrees plus full teaching certification. They are constantly evaluated by other teachers and they push themselves to continually do a better job. They use all sorts of social media to teach their students over 75% of them are trained to teach special education and work those techniques into their mainstream class causing Finland to have a very low rate of children who need to go to a special education program. The social media is incredibly entertaining for the students who do on average more than 65% of the talking in their classes with the teachers making up the rest. It is quite obvious then why Finland turns out a ridiculous number of researchers each year. The teachers teach how to think rather than names and dates. The students get interested and look into it themselves. School time is reserved strictly for education in Finland. There are no inter school competitive sports in Finnish schools though there are sports clubs that meet after school hours and there is of course, PE so Finnish student’s only focus is their academics. Their federal government funds education equally for every child in Finland including foreigners studying at their universities. So it is not dependent on property taxes. The result is, Finland has a very high rate of upward mobility due to it’s incredible education. And what is education but opportunity? In ten years they will be out competing the USA. We will not be able to hold a torch to the highly educated population turned out by Finland and the rest of Scandinavia which also boasts very good education. Teachers in Finland, make about the same in euros as American teachers make in dollars, which may actually work out to less as the cost of living in Finland is very high even by European standards, yet Finnish teachers have no complaints. Neither does their well funded teacher’s union.
Teachers in Finland don’t need to get payed as much as American teacher’s get payed. In Finland, they have a real social system that supports everyone the rich and poor alike. They have single payer health insurance so their teachers are not bogged down with worries over paying for their medical coverage and that of their families. The teachers themselves have no student loan debt, education for them was free. I think that is pretty cool. So all teachers have to worry about is purchasing food, entertainment of whatever kind they enjoy, car insurance if they choose to have a car, and rent. Imagine that for our teachers! I think it would simplify things and would make things a lot easier for teachers. So if I were striking I would be striking for the same healthcare insurance that the Senate gets on tax payer dollars. That is what our teachers should have for themselves and their families. I also think, that all un-tenured teachers should have their student loans forgiven. A very small salary bump across the board is in order, as a minimum wage for our American teachers. In exchange for this they must agree to the same kind of evaluation as their own students receive. Those teachers who consistently have students that excel several years in a row should then be awarded a small salary bump so that not all teachers are paid the same and there is incentive to do better. Those teachers who consistently do not make the grade should get fired. The standardized test scores should be evaluated perhaps on a slant for teachers working in low income areas, so that they get a fair evaluation actually reflective of their their affect on their students.
I am tired though of watching the Teacher’s Union and the school systems in America abuse the students. With poor teachers and many other horrible things. I want to tell a few horror stories that I have either witnessed or lived through myself.
The first story is about Rhode Island public schools. In which, it is apparently a common practice for students to sign behavior contracts with their teachers and the school. If students break the rules or do anything that violates this “contract” they are then subject of course to your standard punishment, but in addition, as happened to a friend of mine’s son, they get told they will not be permitted to attend their own graduation. This practice, practiced not just in Rhode Island but in schools all over the country is a gross abuse of our young people. Who can not rent apartments or buy real estate at fourteen, because it is illegal for them to sign contracts. What is more it is illegal to hold children to contracts they have signed because they can’t sign contracts. But do you think my friend’s son was allowed by Rhode Island schools to go to his own graduation, which he had earned in addition to earning the punishment that he received for breaking whatever rule it was he broke? No, because he signed a contract with them, that they knew or should know full well violate his constitutional rights. Who was looking out for him and his right to not be abused by the school and his teacher? No one. Why not? Because, American students have no student union, unlike Finnish students.
When I was in school they wanted to put me on Ritalin for a disorder that later turned out to be a vitamin deficiency. They made me go through all this horrible testing. When my parents and I were not in favor of popping pills, they tried to remove me from my very competent parents, pillars of the community well respected professional people. They had me meet with a woman they claimed was a Doctor. This woman, put her three hundred pound six foot body between me and the door of the room. I was sixteen and under one hundred twenty pounds five feet two inches tall. No one else was in the room. No one was watching, while this woman screamed and raved, and ranted and threatened and used her body menacingly while trapping me in a corner of the room trying to force me to answer questions about my family. Questions like this one: “Does your father sexually abuse you on Monday or Tuesday?” check the box for yes or no. My family is a typical family, it has it’s issues but one of those issues is not and never has been sexual abuse. It doesn’t take an idiot to know this is not a yes/no question. So I refused to answer it and other such questions. My school sanctioned jailer got angrier and angrier and more and more terrifying while she physically held me hostage blocking the door, refusing to allow me to go to the bathroom or to leave the room to get some air. She was angry because she had to send in the questionnaire to get it graded. It would cost the tax payers 50 cents to mail it, or so she raved at me. I gave her five dollars and I told her to tell the tax payers to keep the change. She held me in that room against my will for over 6 hours even after I covered the cost to the tax payers. This happened in one of the best school systems in the country, Lexington MA. Later, I would discover after reading the horrible report she wrote about me that read like something Clint Eastwood may have written in a letter to the empty chair, that this woman did not even have a masters degree in any field from any university. She was just some random cracker jack. Who, was there to protect me? No one. No parents were allowed, no other school officials except this one lone nutcase that was holding me hostage in that room and who could I complain to? The school that had siched her on me to begin with? I had no recourse. But…. If American students had a union such as teachers do….. I might have had some basic protections.
This next story also took place in Lexington. When I went to school, we had a small group of truly vile students. It would have pleased me to nail their mouths closed due to the hate and filth that came out of them. But all they ever did was talk. And when teachers heard them, they would send them to the office and deal with them appropriately, by not sending them to prison but penalizing them for being hate filled racist creeps. Well, they hired a new teacher one year. He, like half of the teachers happened to be Jewish. One day, he was found beaten in the hallway with swastikas drawn all over and around his body. Of course the usual suspects were rounded up. Of course no one believed them because they were disgusting vile excuses for human beings. Of course criminal charges were filed against them as they should be in a case of an assault. Later, after these kids had been serving their punishment for some time, it came to light somehow, that the teacher had actually done it to himself, he beat himself up. Because if you are beaten in the course of doing your job you get due to union rules a year off while receiving full pay. This teacher it turned out had pulled this same shenanigan three years running in three other school districts around the country. But the school could not give the next school district a heads up, because this teacher was protected by the union. This is where the Teacher’s Union goes critically wrong. Firing someone for being miserable at their job is not abuse. Nor is it abuse to fire them for trying to rip off the tax payers and the students. Nor is it abuse to fire them for any reasonable legitimate reason, yet it is nearly impossible due to all the ridiculous rules, to fire teachers in the USA. That being said, our teachers must be protected from actual abuse. They must be protected from being injured or shot by students, they must be protected from being terminated without proper reason why. They must be protected from sexual abuse/harassment by co-workers/bosses. It isn’t abuse to get fired for just cause. No other industry gets to take having a job no matter how badly they do it for granted. I don’t think teachers should get that kind of assurance either. Especially not when it is an abuse to the students who would otherwise be learning more from a more highly trained or more entertaining teacher.
The last abuse I have seen of our students is huge. It knows no racial or sex based boundaries. It only knows economic boundaries. It is a real problem to have our education payed for by property taxes. It breeds generation after generation of poverty. If there was a student union, someone would be looking out for those disenfranchised students living in areas with low property taxes. Someone would step in and represent their interests, some organization would be hiring an army of lobbyists to go to the capital and demand all students receive the same amount of funding and that property taxes cease to be the method by which American students receive their education…. But unfortunately, American students must go all the way to Finland to get any representation. While teachers, get protected from all termination while they abuse the system. And yes, there are plenty of them who do. And those same individuals in their desperate effort to hide their ineffectiveness at their jobs drag all the good teachers down to the same pay grade as they themselves are worth… There has to be a better way. Seems to me Finland has found one. Why are we not paying attention and following their lead? Because there is no student’s union to push us in that direction and in the direction of free education through university. The problem with American education is less an issue of the Teacher’s Union and more an issue of a lack of a student union. That being said, the Teacher’s Union needs to check itself, in Chicago and everywhere else. Their motivation is less about what is best for their students and more about what enriches them personally often to the detriment of the students they are payed to serve. But who can balance the system? The student union of course… If only American students had one…