The Unholy Trinity Driving Elections

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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.

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*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.

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.

10 Replies to “The Unholy Trinity Driving Elections”

  1. admin

    The answer to your question depends on the category you find yourself in. Let me take a minute to explain.

    If you simply are ignorant, that’s easy to fix. Go take a couple of economics courses. Tip: when thinking about a course, look at the textbook. If there are more than 2 color pictures on each page and no equations or graphs, you have not found a real economics course. I also recommend any science course — even physics appreciation is good. And there’s tons of readable material out there.

    But I suspect your question is not serious (you forgot the tag, btw). In which case you are simply stupid. Sadly, as far as I know, there’s no cure for stupid.

  2. Tony Lima

    I forgot one other thing: pull the plug on your TV. No cable, no satellite, no broadcast. You’ll be happier, healthier and (bonus) better informed.

  3. James

    Sadly, I was serious. I suspect my careless usage of words was the reason for your suspicion that I was joking. (Concerning the btw tag—thank you, I unaware of this)

    As an individual who has gone through the California’s public education system, I can attest for its deficiencies; But I’ve also come to accept the fact that our public education system (K-12, community colleges, and the CSU system—not including Berkeley) is perhaps inferior on purpose in comparison with private educational institutions (could this be an example of vertically differentiated products? Probably not) anyway, my point is I got what I paid for…or not paid for.

    Since the geographical location of where I lived had determined where I had gone to school (K-12), it’s arguable that there is a correlation between income and successful educational attainment. According to yahoo finance, my city is listed as one of the “15 US cities with most murders last year” (ignoring the fact that I did not provide data and for the sake of argument, lets agree there’s some sort of correlation between poverty, number of murders, and the quality of schools). What is Prop 13? (A student of public education told me its bad)

    Btw, I hear over in France, public schools—the equivalent to California’s K-12—are presumably better than private ones and if I’m not mistaken, not everyone can attend France’s public schools; I believe you have to show competency in order to get admitted. My point is there’s a standard that they must uphold unlike with our K-12 or CSU system (perhaps its a reasonable byproduct of California’s history) I believe the idea is this: “getting an “education” is a Californian’s right regardless if you develop competency of not”. Of course, there’s that laziness mentality problem that spreads in the K-12 system. (I’ve experienced it so I should know. Hell, I should be so lucky to have gotten the “education” that I got)

    I admit that despite the fact that this system has more or less made me into the person I am today, ceteris paribus (did I use that right?) I agree that there are a number of problems associated with this system. Thus, when I had asked my previous question, I was really looking for a solution to: what can I do to compensate for what I did not learn? (In a general sense, no malice intended)

    I would theorize that print, the Internet and social media outlets such as twitter and Facebook would also pose the problem of propaganda. Though, it would be difficult and somewhat impractical to avoid the overall media in our modern society. (i.e. the rise of smartphones, tablets, social media, and etc)

    Because I am the product of public education, please be tolerant for my occasional writing and logic related errors. On the bright side, this will help to reinforce the truth that “some Californian students are unable to read, write, research, do math, or make logical arguments” or in my case, have done it very poorly. (Maybe it’s not too late for me to change but then I’m sure there are some who might feel that stupidity is a necessary evil)

  4. admin

    James and Jim, I’ve pulled together some online resources for learning math. There’s a new tab at the top of the home page called “Learning.” Hover over that and you’ll see “Learning Math” under it. If you know of any good websites (or anyone else does), please let me know. Learning Economics is coming real soon now.

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