The unholy trinity driving elections today is the teachers’ unions, Democratic politicians, and the media. Along the way, students are involved, although they are more victims than anything else. I know. I’ve taught economics at a public university (California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA) for 3+ decades. I’ve seen the woeful declines in math capabilities and reading comprehension. The purpose of this essay is to show how the interactions among these four groups has gotten our voting system to the point it’s reached this year. (Naturally, as in all my blogs, I’m speaking only for myself and not for any organization I mention including, but not limited to, CSUEB, the CSU system, and the CFA.)
Begin with a basic fact: the Democratic party owes teachers’ unions a lot. Those unions contribute tens of millions of dollars to Democratic campaigns every year, even more in presidential election years. In turn, cities and states controlled by Democrats make sure the union is secure. Activities that support that goal include:
- resistance to charter schools and voucher programs;
- elaborate teacher credentialing programs that have everything to do with process and almost nothing to do with content;
- implicit or explicit support of drastic tenure decisions that prevent bad teachers — in some cases, convicted criminals — from being removed from classrooms.
I should know. I am a union member (California Faculty Association).* About half my union dues go toward political contributions. Our household has been inundated with mailers, phone calls, and e-mails from various teachers’ unions instructing us to vote for higher taxes, vote against measures that would restrict union political activity, and generally vote in ways that support the Democratic agenda: higher taxes, more spending, and no accountability.
The “news” media are complicit in all this. Did you know that most newspaper, radio, and television workers belong to a union? Listen carefully and you’ll hear the occasional disclaimer to that effect. Given their union membership, isn’t it a conflict of interest for them to cover union activities? Would you really expect them to be impartial?
Even if you held those unrealistic expectations, there’s another factor working here: the students. Freshmen who have graduated from a California high school in the top third of their class are supposed to be automatically admitted to the California State University system. Today’s freshmen are radically different from those I saw when I first began teaching at what was then California State University, Hayward. Reading comprehension has dropped unbelievably. Math skills are, in many cases, nonexistent. (Students are supposed to have successfully completed algebra before they enter the CSU. That requirement is one of the biggest jokes around these days.) And many students simply do not know how to study. The CSU schools do their best — on my campus, there are at least two centers that offer math tutoring, help with homework, and a vast array of assistance to students who have difficulty. But when students simply don’t attend class (also quite common), there’s not much anyone can do to help them.
These students are victims of the public education system. They know how to recycle. They are absolutely sure that global warming is caused by human activity. And they are certain that their K-12 teachers were grossly underpaid. But they cannot follow simple logic of the form “if A is the same as B and A implies C then B also implies C.” They don’t know how to do research. Many believe that Wikipedia and Google are all they need. They have not been taught how to think critically about issues and arguments — which is why they buy into Google and Wikipedia and also why they are so easily misled by dubious claims of facts and logic. You can see them today in this election. Every criticism of President Obama is met with “it’s Bush’s fault” or “Mitt Romney lies.” They have no more idea of how to formulate a logical argument than a three-toed sloth knows how to fly.
Algebra? Remember the words of President Obama in one of his appearances on Jay Leno’s show:
‘Jay Leno, reading question from viewer: “When you help your daughters with their homework, is there a a subject you struggle with?”
President Obama: “Well, the math stuff I was fine with up until about seventh grade. But Malia is now a freshman in high school and — I’m pretty lost. You know, it’s tough. Fortunately, they’re great students on their own and if something doesn’t work, I’ll call over to the Department of Energy and see if they have a physicist to come over.”‘
But don’t take my word for it. I know the link above goes to RealClearPolitics.com and many of you simply won’t believe that source. For your edification, here’s a link to a video of the full interview (hosted on my blog’s server, don’t worry about that):
So we have people with little subject matter knowledge reporting what they believe to be news to an audience that has been taught by another group with little subject matter knowledge, namely public school teachers. These are the Democratic voters: dumbed down by the education system, suckers for propaganda. The teachers’ unions, the media, and Democratic politicians should be proud of themselves. They have created a voting class that will support them no matter what because they cannot be swayed by facts, logic or (heaven forbid) mathematics. Nice job, folks.
*I joined the union after a run-in with a university administrator. I’ve continued my membership so I could vote against most of their policies. In California, by state law CSU faculty are required to pay a “fair share” of union dues for all the benefits we get from union representation. This amount has historically been about half of regular dues.