The Class War

My friend Mark Safranski of Zenpundit recently discussed class resentment in the context of education reform

The mostly lower middle class, status-anxiety rage against teacher’s unions has it’s root in being an obstacle to forcing teachers to accept second-class citizenship and artificially low standards of living for the benefit of every child except their own. A system that also depended on free-riding a national labor force sharply segregated by gender. That component of creaming a talent pool with limited options is never returning, no matter what happens to unions

Mark is right on several key points.

  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is most acute lower in the economy spectrum
  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is related to economic anxiety
  • Teachers will not willingly sacrifice their will being for the good of society
  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is partially a result of encouraging women to have careers beyond teaching.

Teachers formerly were the central actor of the educational system. That role has been taken & is being took over by the federal-academic complex. The proximate reasons for the collapse of the positions of teachers is that teachers do not understand how to educate children and their are not empathetic to other stakeholders.

The ultimate cause, however, has to do with the lobotomization of the teaching workforce in the United States. The historical pay scale for teachers way high enough to attract ambitious and educated workers because the economic system of the United States funneled women into teaching on the basis on non-cash rewards. While it would be possible to pay teachers like professionals, the integrated workforce means the cash cost of this would be quite high, and I doubt it will happen.

This lobotomy added a new stress to American families: it was now harder to find a good school. The same desegregation that lead to the collapse of the American teaching profession also allowed more mothers to leave the home, go to work, and use that extra income to purchase access to a better school district. Of course, other women did the same, which bid up the cost of good schools and lead to an increase in general misery. In a competitive market higher prices caused by greater demand should lead to better production. Unfortunately, the American teaching monopoly was already in a cycle of incompetence and lack of empathy, so such an improvement did not happen.

Like most economic stresses, the problems caused by the low quality of the American teaching workforce hit the working poor and lower middle class the hardest. The lumpenproletariat simply does not care about the quality of education, while the well-off spend a lower fraction of their incomes on securing a good school district. The anger felt by these against teachers — who are protected from evaluation by their employers and have summers off – is real, and it has material causes.

Teachers find themselves in a bad position. Their workforce quality is probably not high enough to become more competent or more empathetic. And as Mark mentions, they are not selfless, and don’t want to see themselves or their families hurt. Thus they fight the losing fight against all the forces in the world, and soon they themselves will leave the scene as a force capable of great things.

3 thoughts on “The Class War”

  1. Hey Dan

    The search for a high quality/high productivity -low cost workforce for public education that can also be treated shabbily at need in order to bolster the fragile self-esteem of LMC clientela is apt to as fruitless as the search for the free lunch. Effectively, that would demand a workforce that can comprehend calculus and rational choice theory without ever applying he latter to their own economic position. If nothing else, people vote with their feet.

    For that kind of altruism, you would need the secular equivalent of a religious order or a system of compulsory labor ( the latter, I suspect, is the reason for Mayor Bloomberg’s highly punitive and capricious new teacher eval system – to introduce random punishment on coin-toss margins of error and drive the largest number of teachers away in the shortest time possible, thus creating a climate of fear).

    If teachers thought strategically, they would enlist politically influential and affluent UMC communities that are happy with their “good school districts” that corporate ed reform will negatively impact or disrupt. Being able to afford $15 -30,000 k in private tuition does not mean you want to needlessly pay that after a good district in which you bought your $350-750 ,000 house has been “reformed” down to test prepping curricula.

    Perhaps, they might also start lobbying and suing to make certain charters followed the law and took in kids from Mayor Rahm’s bottom 25 % instead of de facto excluding them – which might spark a more honest national conversation about what student demographics need what kind of instruction at which developmental stage instead of the current one-size fits all pretense that prevails in law.

    Hmmmm, teachers might gain more concessions from politicians simply by threatening to start that conversation… 🙂

  2. Hey Mark,

    As always, we disagree on very little!

    I think we agree that for the last few decides the public’s policy goal has been a “high quality/high productivity,” which, as you said, would be capable of understanding rational choice analysis while avoiding conducting such an analysis on their own lives.

    The cost that society has paid for this is a steady decline in the quality of teachers, especially for districts that don’t offer the non-cash compensation of involved parents, good students, and so on.

    The three options this leads to are:
    1. A change in policy preferences to treat teachers like professionals
    2. A collapse in the quality of education to a sustainable, and low, level
    3. A reduction in the amount of material teachers are expected to master

    I think the third is most likely to happen

    As I wrote in a comment to Bruno [1]:

    “We can divide the tasks historically performed by teachers into three broad categories

    First, Control of Student Attention.
    Second, Instruciton.
    Third, Evaluation.

    Control of student attention needs to be conducted on the ground. ”

    … but the other two functions can be performed remotely.

    Attention-Control may be more than simple baby-sitting, but it is less skilled than what teachers were traditionally taught of as doing. I think that’s the future.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2012/02/29/the-continuing-fall-of-the-teachers-unions.html#comment-1112164

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