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  1. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery August 23, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    It’s the basis of the resentment I hear and see on the part of people who snarl about those unions (who get so! much!) those striking Verizon workers, those students on the J-1 visa, teachers, public service workers, and others.

    I think a lot of union resentment isn’t based on “I don’t have X, so you shouldn’t either,” but rather, “You haven’t earned X, so you shouldn’t have it.” Some of the ways unions behave — like valuing seniority over results or defending unqualified members from being fired, for example — really offend people’s sense of justice. I know that when I hear about teachers being put in “rubber rooms” and paid to sit around doing nothing because rules forced on states by politically connected unions prevent them from being fired, it pisses me off — especially given the fact that every year that goes by produces another graduating class of kids who have been failed by this education system we continue to put more and more money into.

    It’s pretty clear that increased funding hasn’t done the trick to fix our broken education system — we’ve been increasing per-pupil funding since the 70s. Can’t we allow that, just maybe, the way the unions do business might be a small part of the problem?

  2. catfood
    catfood August 23, 2011 at 10:34 am |

    Tom, the unions have gotten weaker and education keeps getting worse. What do you think that means?

  3. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 23, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    Tom, first of all, what catfood said. Not to mention the fact that where I live, you need to go to grad school to become a teacher in the public schools, and you start out making far less than what I’m making now (which isn’t much). So you’re paying back loans, working far more than the hours everyone thinks you’re working (creating lesson plans, correcting work, and in the cases of my friends who work as teachers, devising new materials/plans for kids who are struggling with the subject), and blamed if the kids in your class–who could be dealing with a whole host of issue that could be getting in the way of them learning–don’t do well in school. It’s a slap in the face to bleat about how evil the unions are and bitch about teachers when they’re busting their asses.

    Also, I don’t see this “earn your money” insistence when it comes to c-level executives, who routinely fuck up companies (and claim they are paid so well because they’re held accountable). They get golden parachutes if they’re fired, and while they’re serving as CEO’s, they continue to get huge salaries, bonuses, and stock option packages–even if the company isn’t doing well.

  4. scrumby
    scrumby August 23, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    Tom Foolery: ” Some of the ways unions behave — likevaluing seniority over results or defending unqualified members from being fired, for example — really offend people’s sense of justice.

    It’s doesn’t offend my sense of justice, Tom, because I haven’t been deluded into thinking I’m the wiz kid who could really make it if not for organized labor keeping me down. Meritocracy is crap. For every one guy (and it’s pretty much always a guy, white too) who pulls himself up by the bootstraps to achieve wonders in business there are a hundred more smart, dedicated, exceptional workers who didn’t achieve shit because they couldn’t afford the extra schooling, or had a sick kid to take care, or were being harassed for their gender, race, sexuality, etc.

  5. Kristen J
    Kristen J August 23, 2011 at 11:43 am | *

    Silly Sheelzebub, the problem is proles think they should be able to access a profession while still eating and living in more than a cardboard box. If they simply realized that all education and professional positions are just for those who already have money, then they’d stop taking on such enormous debt and be happy working with widgets at a sub-living wages. Because capitalism.

    Also, CEOs earn their money by attending copious amounts of meetings without making decisions until the decision is made for them. That sort of leadership is priceless dontchaknow.

  6. EG
    EG August 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    Some of the ways unions behave — like valuing seniority over results or defending unqualified members from being fired, for example — really offend people’s sense of justice.

    And what those people don’t get is that unless the unions did that, there would be nothing, but nothing, keeping employers from, say, cutting costs by laying off teachers who have been working hard for 25 years in favor of fresh-faced newbie kids who will then have nobody to mentor them and significantly less hands-on experience, but will make less money than those teachers who have climbed up the salary grade through years of hard work. We all acknowledge that experience is inextricably linked with skill in other fields–if I have to have surgery, I want a surgeon who has successfully performed the procedure hundreds of times before, not a newbie, no matter how much enthusiasm he brings to the table. How, exactly, is teaching different?

    If unions didn’t demand that employers investigate and prove wrongdoing or incompetence on the part of employees before firing them, what, precisely, is going to prevent the Board of Ed from claiming that teachers are incompetent and/or bad actors, and firing all the teachers who happen to be black, or insisting on teaching evolution, or teaching controversial books?

    It’s pretty clear that increased funding hasn’t done the trick to fix our broken education system — we’ve been increasing per-pupil funding since the 70s. Can’t we allow that, just maybe, the way the unions do business might be a small part of the problem?

    If the schools have enough money, why, precisely, are teachers and parents buying classroom supplies out of their own pockets? Why did my best friend’s little sister go to a high school that was so overcrowded that it was on split shift and nobody could have a locker?

    Do you think the wildly disparate quality of our public education system just might have something to do with tying the funding to property values, thus ensuring that schools in wealthy areas have money for things like swimming pools, while schools in poor areas don’t have enough money to fix broken ceilings? Do you think our national poor education outcomes might have something to do with the overall dismal quality of our social safety net? Kids can’t learn well if they’re hungry; they can’t learn well if they’re sick; they can’t learn well if they have to prioritize helping to support their family over schoolwork; they can’t learn well if they’re worried about whether or not Mommy is going to be able to find a job soon enough to keep the electricity on and the refrigerator stocked; they can’t learn well if they’re worried about Mommy’s health; they can’t learn well if they don’t see a reason to, because even with an education, their future chances are bleak; they can’t learn well if they have to prioritize taking care of their own kids over their schoolwork. Kids are people, not learning automatons. And teachers are only teachers, not, despite what numerous Hollywood feel-good stories want us to believe, miracle workers who just need to believe in their charges to get them to succeed. None of this has anything to do with the way unions do business. It has to do with our national priorities. Despite some empty rhetoric, child welfare and education is not a national priority; if it were, we’d make sure that every kid had a good chance at learning.

    I have a friend who was a teacher in a public school in Philadelphia. She had to break up an average of three physical fights per day, at least one of which involved actual adults, rather than the kids. How, precisely, is she supposed to teach kids well in such an atmosphere, where they can’t be sure of their physical safety? And how, precisely, is that the fault of union policies?

  7. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery August 23, 2011 at 12:36 pm |

    Also, I don’t see this “earn your money” insistence when it comes to c-level executives, who routinely fuck up companies (and claim they are paid so well because they’re held accountable). They get golden parachutes if they’re fired, and while they’re serving as CEO’s, they continue to get huge salaries, bonuses, and stock option packages–even if the company isn’t doing well.

    I 100% agree that, in many industries, there’s a huge problem with senior management accountability. As two examples, the banking and auto industry senior management is staffed by people whose careers should be in ruins. It’d be great if the state stopped bailing out losing businesses, so that boards of directors could face consequences for bad CEO hiring decisions, but our two ruling parties seem united on the idea that bailing out losers is a must.

    Tom, the unions have gotten weaker and education keeps getting worse. What do you think that means?

    I think it means you haven’t examined the stats very thoroughly? Private sector unions have been weakening, true — but public sector unionization has been increasing every year over the past decade. You are living in a fantasy world if you think teacher’s unions have gotten weaker every year. The American Federation of Teachers donated $31B to political campaigns since 1990 — in the top 10 for total money contributed. Public service are incredibly influential in politics — moreso than nearly any industry out there.

  8. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery August 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    If the schools have enough money, why, precisely, are teachers and parents buying classroom supplies out of their own pockets? Why did my best friend’s little sister go to a high school that was so overcrowded that it was on split shift and nobody could have a locker?

    That’s a great question! Why? Why do we spend $13,000 per pupil to no great effect? Why have we increased funding two and a half times in inflation-adjusted dollars while attainment decreases? You’re asking these questions as if you have an answer, and I would love to hear what it is.

  9. EG
    EG August 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm |

    I would suggest it’s because we’re spending it in a massively unequal manner, meaning that a small percentage of schools do very well, and a great number do very poorly.

  10. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm |

    Do you think the wildly disparate quality of our public education system just might have something to do with tying the funding to property values, thus ensuring that schools in wealthy areas have money for things like swimming pools, while schools in poor areas don’t have enough money to fix broken ceilings? Do you think our national poor education outcomes might have something to do with the overall dismal quality of our social safety net? Kids can’t learn well if they’re hungry; they can’t learn well if they’re sick; they can’t learn well if they have to prioritize helping to support their family over schoolwork; they can’t learn well if they’re worried about whether or not Mommy is going to be able to find a job soon enough to keep the electricity on and the refrigerator stocked; they can’t learn well if they’re worried about Mommy’s health; they can’t learn well if they don’t see a reason to, because even with an education, their future chances are bleak; they can’t learn well if they have to prioritize taking care of their own kids over their schoolwork. Kids are people, not learning automatons. And teachers are only teachers, not, despite what numerous Hollywood feel-good stories want us to believe, miracle workers who just need to believe in their charges to get them to succeed. None of this has anything to do with the way unions do business. It has to do with our national priorities. Despite some empty rhetoric, child welfare and education is not a national priority; if it were, we’d make sure that every kid had a good chance at learning.

    THIS. Also, I have friends who are teachers–they are spending their own money on various materials to help struggling students in their classes learn, and they are buying the supplies for the kids out of their own pockets. I’m sure they’d love to know where to catch this gravy train that the teachers are supposedly riding on.

    There is a huge wealth disparity between cities and towns–a wealthy town will have the money to fix building problems, fund enrichment programs, and keep the schools safe and supplied, unlike your average poor town (which will likely have a population of students dealing with a whole host of other things that can get in the way of learning).

  11. bhuesca
    bhuesca August 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm |

    I’m disturbed by the OP’s usage of ‘all or none’ language when describing unions. Some are great and protect their members from abuses – private unions come to mind, working to end child labor and instituting a 40 hour day, etc. Some protect and perpetuate abusive and ineffective members – more like the public unions htat make the news lately – police unions covering up abuses and preventing public scrutiny of officer-related deaths for instance, teachers’ unions spending $200,000 in Cedarburg to protect a teacher fired for accessing child pornography on his computer, people who have been promoted or retained to the point of not just ‘lack of bright new youthful spunkiness’ but Peter Principle incompetence, etc.

    My question is, then: I think sometimes unions are good, and sometimes they are bad – does anyone else share this belief? If more but not all industries/professions were unionized, I think I’d be supportive under some circumstances, and if less but not no industries were unionized, I think I’d ALSO be supportive under some circumstances.

  12. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery August 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm |

    There is a huge wealth disparity between cities and towns–a wealthy town will have the money to fix building problems, fund enrichment programs, and keep the schools safe and supplied, unlike your average poor town (which will likely have a population of students dealing with a whole host of other things that can get in the way of learning).

    It is not the case that poorer districts do not receive funding. Take a look at this chart, sourced from the U.S. Census.

    The top-spending districts are Camden and Newark — not models of suburban prosperity. While I don’t doubt that there are issues with how money is distributed, but it it’s simply not the case that public schools in ritzy neighborhoods get all the money while inner city schools get the shaft. On top of that, the huge amount of per-student funding doesn’t seemed to have moved the needle on graduation rates, especially when compared to districts that spend a fraction of what they spend.

    But I apologize — I’ve kind of derailed here, the thread isn’t about education, or education spending, or any of that. The only point I wanted to make is that, along with the endemic factors that EG expressed about the poverty in disadvantaged communities, teachers unions may be in part responsible for some of the issues that our schools face, and that may be a source for some of the frustration people have with unions. It’s clear that you guys don’t agree. We can move on, if that’s the case.

  13. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    Actually, I never said that unions were perfect; I’d recap it but frankly, you can reread the OP for the actual content.

  14. bhuesca
    bhuesca August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    Oh, and RE: per-pupil cost – it’s a very deceiving number which people of every political stripe use to try to sway people and score points. I don’t think it’s a very credible number to use, at least not broken down.

    For example, the largest school district in my state of origin spends $14,000/pupil average. The smaller school district I attended spent around $8,000/pupil average, and the parochial school nearby was around $7,000. (My mom just retired from teaching, and near the end of her tenure she was the curriculum coordinator and grant-writer at an administrative level-ish, so I got to hear these numbers at the dinner table all the time.) I know this is an extremely small sample size, but my school and the parochial school had around 5% drop-out rates, whereas the largest school in the state has hovered around 50% for many years and doesn’t even get close to that for Black and Hispanic male youth, despite spending nearly twice what my school did. Now my school had good and bad teachers, but so did the other schools, and we had better (and enough, and up-to-date) textbooks, desks, lockers, etc than did the larger school.

    We also had a much lower level of LD-diagnosed students with IEPs. It is extremely possible to spend twice as much on average and not have adequate textbooks for pupil population as a whole. Now whether students (young minority males especially) are overdiagnosed and overmedicated isn’t the discussion the OP intends to occur on this thread, I’m sure. So I’d just like to add, not derail, that when considering per-student cost as a measure of school quality or a community’s commitment to or ability to pay for public education, LD rates and severities need to be right in there with all of the other intersectionality issues raised earlier.

  15. bhuesca
    bhuesca August 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    Thanks for the reply to my question, Sheelzebub!

  16. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |

    Tom, your link also points out that the costs associated with the districts that spend more on schools aren’t all in teacher’s salaries–much of the money went to programs that were designed to help underachieving kids (which may be more of an issue in poorer areas, for the reasons outlined in previous comments), security, and other things that are needed when you’re trying to educate a population of kids who are coping with the issues of poverty.

  17. Jadey
    Jadey August 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    Unions are an adversarial response to an adversarial system. In our current system where the driving force is to exploit and take advantage of every opportunity for profit, I’d much rather there be some kind of counter-force, even an imperfect one, than for workers to simply acquiesce or fight each battle alone. It’s absurd to suggest (although people keep doing it) that workers shouldn’t take the same steps to protect their own interests when their employers sure as hell aren’t going to do it for them, as history has shown over, and over, and over, and over again.

    I’d much rather live in a society where issues of labour, compensation, and productivity weren’t adversarial, but we don’t get there through submission.

  18. cartooncoyote
    cartooncoyote August 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm |

    Until we ban corporations, which, when you get right down to it, are nothing more or less than unions for the business class, no one is allowed to even SUGGEST that the power of labour unions should be curbed.

  19. Drydock
    Drydock August 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm |

    1. I encourage Feministe to have more posts about the global “class war” and the resistance to it.
    2. While there is an argument that having a union is better than not, I’d argue the most important thing is the mobilization of the working class and not unions in themselves. The US has a higher union density than France but conditions for workers and the poor is much better in the latter, i.e. best health care in the world, less inequality, better pensions, longer vacations, shorter workweek etc. The reason being is that when the French government and ruling class attack with their various neoliberal austerity schemes French workers and youth hit the streets massively with strikes, protests, blockades etc. US unions rarely mobilize workers in this way.

  20. EG
    EG August 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm |

    I think sometimes unions are good, and sometimes they are bad – does anyone else share this belief?

    No, I don’t. Unions are the only effective means I know of for workers to gain some kind of power and voice in the conditions of their employment. For that reason alone, I would always want more unions rather than less. Without unions, what chance does a worker have against his/her employer? What check on corporate power can exist? And yes, when the state takes on the role of an employer, it’s even more important to have unions, because the state has physical as well as financial power at its disposal.

    The fact that sometimes unions use that power and voice for crappy purposes? Well, workers are human beings, welcome to the world, human beings are sometimes lousy. Unions do, in my opinion, far less damage in those cases than do corporate employers when they use their disproportionately large power for crappy purposes. Teacher who looks at child porn? Total asshole who should be fired and jailed, no doubt. But without teacher unions, do you really think the state is, just out of the kindness of its heart, going to provide pensions for teachers? Or should teachers, en masse, just resign themselves to sitting on the streets with cups, begging for change, when they get old?

    The AARP has been running ads noting that it was founded when a former principal visited an elderly woman who used to be one of her teachers, and found her living in a chicken coop in ill health, because that was what she could afford on her pension. I can’t find info at the moment about how accurate the anecdote is, but there is no doubt that in 1947, retired teachers were trying to live on utterly inadequate pensions. This was in 1947, not in the misty recesses of the 19th century. Before the AFT rose to power, during the Depression, female teachers were forced to sign “contracts which still stipulated that an employed teacher must wear skirts of certain lengths, keep her galoshes buckled, not receive gentleman callers more than three times a week and teach a Sunday School class.” In the 1950s the AFT defended teachers and professors whose political beliefs were not in line with HUAC. Do you really expect me to believe that were teachers prevented from joining unions, such incursions on their rights and stifling of academic freedom would not crop up again, because the state is just so much more enlightened now? Because I don’t.

    Let me be clear: when you attack teachers’ unions/the AFT, you are attacking my union. You are attacking my right to collective bargaining and to have a voice in determining the conditions under which I work. You are attacking my chances of winning maternity leave. You are attacking my ability to afford health care. You are attacking my academic freedom. I am a professor at a public university, and last semester, the administration, without running it by us, upped our enrollment cap from 25 to 30. That’s a huge leap in the classroom; it’s a huge blow to my ability to teach my students (I teach English, and there’s simply no way I’m allowing anybody to write drafts for me to look over when there are 30 students in the class–my colleagues at private colleges regularly have classes of 14 students. They require drafts of their students. Guess who gets the better writing tutoring? Guess whose writing improves more? Guess who has a better chance of securing a white-collar job? This is about hardening the boundaries between classes.); it’s a huge increase in my labor, given the amount of writing that I look over and comment on in an English class. I could switch to multiple-choice tests. Some of my senior colleagues did that several years ago. And guess who gets shortchanged then? Our students. I expect this to be an issue as we negotiate our next contract.

    So, when my union does something crappy, like defend a teacher who looks at child porn (and it is established that this isn’t a situation of a worm/Trojan horse getting into his/her computer, or a hostile administration setting him/her up), I will work against that, but I will do it from inside my union. Because without my union, I am completely vulnerable to the whims of my administration, some of whom were never faculty, and to the budgetary and political axes that the state government has to grind.

    I’d argue the most important thing is the mobilization of the working class and not unions in themselves. The US has a higher union density than France but conditions for workers and the poor is much better in the latter, i.e. best health care in the world, less inequality, better pensions, longer vacations, shorter workweek etc. The reason being is that when the French government and ruling class attack with their various neoliberal austerity schemes French workers and youth hit the streets massively with strikes, protests, blockades etc. US unions rarely mobilize workers in this way.

    I completely agree, but do not know enough about French labor history to understand how and why this difference came about. Do you have any thoughts?

  21. xenu01
    xenu01 August 23, 2011 at 9:59 pm |

    Hooray for you and for this post. I want to write more on it but my brain is squished. I stand with you!

  22. haley
    haley August 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm |

    Good post. Good comments.

    I’m not well-read on French history, but the little I know seems to suggest that the French have had a pretty solid working class identity for the past couple hundred years. Really, going back to the peasant uprising in the French Revolution to the strong leftist unification (French Resistance) against fascism during WWII.

    And for a short while, from the early nineteen-teens through forties, so did Americans. The class war was literally a war of guns and blood between workers and bosses (or hired goons), fighting in the streets.

    Now it is a mostly silent war (in America); bosses don’t have to resort to shooting workers in the streets, or letting them burn in lockedd factories…they and the ownership class can simply use the law, police, and poverty to slowly let the masses die of preventable disease, malnutrition, poverty-related crime, etc.

    Class consciousness and solidarity amongst poor and working people is the first step towards fighting back. Taking control of your workplace through organization and direct action is vital towards building said solidarity.

  23. haley
    haley August 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm |

    In regards to some of the previous comments concerning organizing, unions, etc.

    When people act collectively and bargain collectively within their workplace, that is a Union. You do not have to have a contract/recognition through the NLRB.

    Not all Unions are set up Democratically, there are business Unions (not gonna name names) and they work with the bosses and take dues right out of paychecks, act hierarchically, and in some cases act as a pacifying force upon workers.

    I think that is very bad, but the solution is not to weaken the rights of collective bargaining, the solution is for workers to join or form democratic unions.

    I don’t consider the Police to be working class. I would consider them Professionals (professional class) and they have their own union specifically to keep them separate from fellow workers. Many unions, by law, cannot organize workers who are required to carry guns as part of their job.

  24. JeanLouise
    JeanLouise August 24, 2011 at 12:10 am |

    haley:
    In regards to some of the previous comments concerning organizing, unions, etc.

    When people act collectively and bargain collectively within their workplace, that is a Union. You do not have to have a contract/recognition through the NLRB.

    Not all Unions are set up Democratically, there are business Unions (not gonna name names) and they work with the bosses and take dues right out of paychecks, act hierarchically, and in some cases act as a pacifying force upon workers.

    I think that is very bad, but the solution is not to weaken the rights of collective bargaining, the solution is for workers to join or form democratic unions.

    I don’t consider the Police to be working class. I would consider them Professionals (professional class) and they have their own union specifically to keep them separate from fellow workers. Many unions, by law, cannot organize workers who are required to carry guns as part of their job.

    I spent more than twenty years in a police union, as a worker with a gun. Although, the occasional should-be-fired member managed to hang on, that was generally a failure of management to build a good case. Those losers with whom you’re stuck can generally be assigned to a low priority position

  25. JeanLouise
    JeanLouise August 24, 2011 at 12:10 am |

    haley:
    In regards to some of the previous comments concerning organizing, unions, etc.

    When people act collectively and bargain collectively within their workplace, that is a Union. You do not have to have a contract/recognition through the NLRB.

    Not all Unions are set up Democratically, there are business Unions (not gonna name names) and they work with the bosses and take dues right out of paychecks, act hierarchically, and in some cases act as a pacifying force upon workers.

    I think that is very bad, but the solution is not to weaken the rights of collective bargaining, the solution is for workers to join or form democratic unions.

    I don’t consider the Police to be working class. I would consider them Professionals (professional class) and they have their own union specifically to keep them separate from fellow workers. Many unions, by law, cannot organize workers who are required to carry guns as part of their job.

    I spent more than twenty years in a police union, as a worker with a gun. Although, the occasional should-be-fired member managed to hang on, that was generally a failure of management to build a good case. Those losers with whom you’re stuck can generally be assigned to a low priority position

  26. JeanLouise
    JeanLouise August 24, 2011 at 12:10 am |

    haley:
    In regards to some of the previous comments concerning organizing, unions, etc.

    When people act collectively and bargain collectively within their workplace, that is a Union. You do not have to have a contract/recognition through the NLRB.

    Not all Unions are set up Democratically, there are business Unions (not gonna name names) and they work with the bosses and take dues right out of paychecks, act hierarchically, and in some cases act as a pacifying force upon workers.

    I think that is very bad, but the solution is not to weaken the rights of collective bargaining, the solution is for workers to join or form democratic unions.

    I don’t consider the Police to be working class. I would consider them Professionals (professional class) and they have their own union specifically to keep them separate from fellow workers. Many unions, by law, cannot organize workers who are required to carry guns as part of their job.

    I spent more than twenty years in a police union, as a worker with a gun. Although, the occasional should-be-fired member managed to hang on, that was generally a failure of management to build a good case. Those losers with whom you’re stuck can generally be assigned to a low priority position

  27. EG
    EG August 24, 2011 at 12:28 am |

    Well, the militancy of working-class Americans organizing in order to fight for their rights goes back before the teens, at least into the nineteenth century. I believe the earliest example I can think of goes back to the 1830s union of factory women in Lowell, Massachussetts.

    I suspect that the blow to US working-class militancy came about in the 1950s, when McCarthy broke the back of the American Left. Unions conducted self-purges in order to avoid suspicions, and in doing so, pushed out their most militant organizers and divided the movement.

  28. haley
    haley August 24, 2011 at 12:32 am |

    in regards to comments about higher education, unions, etc.

    Talking about the education system in America is frustrating and now I’m gonna throw an idea out that will probably get me yelled at:

    I don’t think the goal for addressing poverty or battling the class war should be getting more poor and working class people a higher education. In many ways, I think College and institutionalized schooling are part of the problem. The same can be said for compulsory education and the lack of youth rights.

    Degrees are a paper race, the entry point into the “professional” class keeps getting raised. Jobs that once required High school now require associates, jobs requiring 2 years college now require bachelors, etc. Universities are a business and they put most working/lower class youths in debt, which makes them less willing to risk the loss of a job to unionizing later on in life.

    Also the whole educational system caters to the idea of Meritocracy, that if you play by the rules and are smart you will be upwardly mobile, but the stats just don’t support that. Elementary through High-school is about obedience to authority and forcing you to attend M-F, 8-3 a place you may or may not like. Sounds like good conditioning for that job you’ll end up having….

    Yes, poor and working class people deserve and aught to seek education. But throwing money at them (us), as Tom mentioned is not fixing the problem. There are solution, but they require radical actions and thus will probably not occur anytime soon.

    The American educational system is fundamentally flawed. I do believe many teachers are wonderful, smart, caring people and they are doing their best to steer the ship….its just that ship is sinking.

  29. EG
    EG August 24, 2011 at 12:51 am |

    I actually agree with you in many points, haley. It has always been very clear to me that making a college degree a requirement for any white-collar, and many blue-collar jobs, is about maintaining class boundaries; I know for a fact that when my best friend, who had five years of full-time successful experience in publishing, having moved up the ranks more swiftly than anybody else in a particular company, applied for jobs elsewhere in the field, she was told that those companies wanted someone with a college degree. This was despite the fact that she had clearly demonstrated that she was extremely successful in the field. Having recently completed college, I also knew firsthand that while I’d loved it and learned a lot, I hadn’t learned anything that had anything to do with working in the publishing industry.

    It’s absurd that we force people who do not want a liberal arts education to get one simply in order to become bank tellers or cops or executive assistants, and thus to earn enough money to live a middle-class life. That’s stupid. I do think that a liberal arts education should be available for anybody who is interested in pursuing one, but a liberal arts education should not, and was never meant to, be vocational school for white-collar occupations.

    I am in favor of compulsory schooling, in order to give all children and teens the opportunity to find out if they want to pursue a liberal arts education. If a kid has the capacity to be a mathematician or a neuroscientist, but he/she doesn’t have the family background who can and/or will provide the opportunity to discover that, that kid is very likely to miss out on what could be the passion of his/her life, and the rest of us will miss out on what he/she could have achieved.

    My perspective is informed by the fact that I went to an excellent public school for both elementary and high school, so I have a sense of the possibilities of what primary and secondary school could be, if we, as a country, gave a shit about our kids. I learned about ancient Egypt and how to read hieroglyphics in first grade (I no longer remember how to do this, sadly). It was fascinating. I agree that we would need radical actions to make experiences like that, the kind of experiences that foster a love of learning in rather than beating it out of kids, available to everybody. But I really do think it’s the only moral thing to do.

    One major disagreement, though: universities are not businesses. With very few and very recent and very sketchy exceptions that are not esteemed by the scholarly/academic community at large (i.e. University of Phoenix), universities are not-for-profit institutions. They do not exist to turn a profit for shareholders or owners, which to me is the defining characteristic of a business. That doesn’t change the fact that private universities and colleges put most of their students in great debt, but universities don’t exist to make money. I don’t know why higher education costs have skyrocketed so sharply over the past few decades; I do find it deeply disturbing.

  30. Aaron
    Aaron August 30, 2011 at 10:13 pm |

    While universities are nonprofits, that doesn’t mean they don’t operate like businesses. With tuition rising at alarming rates, even when endowments were also growing at alarming rates (theoretically making those tuition hikes partially unnecessary), the “profit” is just spent on something rather than distributed to shareholders.

    Instead of shareholders capturing the economic surplus, it may be the full tenured faculty (business professors at leading schools, for example, are paid quite well). Or it may be spent on a proliferation of endless administrative bureaucracy, like the old joke that every third resident of Cambridge is an Associate Deputy Dean. I’ve also heard the endless parade of new buildings blamed for rising education costs, as well as the proliferation of various “centers” and “institutes” that never die, only multiply.

    What I think is going on is that education costs grow so fast just because they can. The universities in a given cohort or tier are competing with each other, but not on the basis of price. Instead, they compete with all that other stuff (buildings, institutes, administrators, etc). Price isn’t as big a factor for education decisions as for other decisions, because we’ve been told so many times what an investment it is in our future. And student loans are usually quite easy to come by (unless there’s a credit crisis and you’re not a U.S. citizen), even in subsidized forms. So the universities can get away with massive tuition hikes. They’re all doing it, and they all use the fact that all their peers are doing it as a justification for it. They don’t have any strong reason to compete on price, so they’d really rather not.

    And all those education subsidies end up in the pockets of administrators, or construction firms, or full tenured professors.

    Just because they’re nonprofits doesn’t mean they’re altruistic.

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