Teachers union protest in Wisconsin.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011


What to do about public employees, particularly teachers, who go out on strike?

Fire them.

Contrary to the lady’s assertion that she is not replaceable, and I guess she believes that her professionalism makes her irreplaceable, she is very replaceable. I’m a professional, and I’ve been replaced many times. Though I have to admit that on the rare instances when I’ve contacted former employers, they’ve told me that my replacement hasn’t been as good as I was.

The crux of the problem with teachers is in the training of teachers. Teachers may have a specialty, such as English, but that is secondary to their primary training, which is education. In order to get a BA or BS in English, Classics, Chemistry, Physics, or any other field outside of education you have to take a certain number of classes, usually about 8, in your area of specialization. That’s 8 classes in your junior and senior years. You’ve probably taken classes in what will become your major field as a freshman and sophomore. You also have to pass an exam to show that you have some level of expertise. When I was an undergraduate at George Washington University you had to maintain a B or B+ average. The education department required a C+ average.

The training of teachers requires that they take a large number of courses that people outside of education departments regard as laughable. My reaction when I found that I needed to take a course called Sociology of Urban Youth was “What is the matter with the rich is idleness. What is the matter with the poor is poverty.” That, I thought, summed up the sociology of urban youth pretty neatly. While I might enter a demurral against John Tanner’s maxim now, I’m not sure that sociology has made any great strides since, oh, the death of Max Weber (June 14, 1920).

So there’s sociology, psychology, and educational methods. Now the student has spent 12 years, by the time they enter college, observing teachers use film strips, talk, run computers, and so forth. Surely, in all this time that they’ve spent observing the process, they should have some idea how it’s done. So just how much need is there for methods courses? Outside of elementary school, I can’t see much need for methods courses.

The typical student who is majoring in something other than education will take a variety of courses in other fields. If they’re like me they’ll take courses in subjects that relate to their primary interest. As an undergraduate, once the required lower level general courses had been completed and I was embarked on the major I took courses in Classics, Russian Lit (Soviet lit for a while, until I was forced to drop out, and after I returned Gogol), and Chinese literature. I contend that this breadth would have made me a better teacher than the Ed department graduate.

The teacher’s unions require the education courses, and the state certifications as a means of controlling employment. This does not mean that they ensure that only good teachers get hired. It means that only those teachers who have been properly indoctrinated get hired, and that others, who are actually more qualified, and who have chosen not to waste time in meaningless drivel, are not hired, or are forced to go to private schools, or seek employment outside of teaching.

In any community of a decent size, a city or a state, you will find people who have specialties in fields such as English, Chemistry, Physics, or anything at all and who would like to teach. They may be retired and need to boost their income a bit. They may be employed in fields outside of their academic specialties. There is in fact a vast pool of talent that is misallocated because the teacher lobby requires the dilution of specialized knowledge in favor of busywork courses.

Abolish the state certification requirement. Require specialized education in the subject being taught. Hire from the pool of available talent.

That my friends is how you solve the problem of teachers in Wisconsin and elsewhere.