Tag Archives: United Front

The Bank of the Federal-Academic Complex

The battle for education reform is being occurring along three major axes — power (among States and Districts), childcare (among Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers and Parents) and money (Teachers and Publishers). Tradtionally, Teacheres were able to oversee all three of these axes through united front organizations they created — such as the NEA, AFT, NPTA, and Districts whose boardmembers were elected by the NEA, AFT, and NPTA activists. Unfortunately for Teachers, Democrats created a new power nucleus which is now overseeing a radical transformation in the teaching profession.

In 1950 President Truman created the National Science Foundation, and in 1979 President Carter created the Department of Education. As outline in Jonathan Cole’s excellent book, The Great American University, the NSF was created to use America’s excellence in the practical sciences to better society. The Department of Ed was a tentative move to subsidize teachers while removing a small amount of power from both States and Districts.

As the NSF & DOE matured together, it created a federal-academic complex unlike any other player in the political economy of education. DOE bureaucrats wanted more power, the NSF “Research Directorates” wanted more funds, the academics who won NSF grants wanted more freedom to research, all these players interacted with advocates for childcare. The Federal-Academic Complex contains interests at least as aligned as other blocs such as “teachers” or “publishers,” so is capable of political action, but it became interested in all of the axes in the education debate (power, childcare, and money), due to its diversity of operating environments.

In short, the interlocking relationships between DOE and NSF stakeholders created a federal-academic complex, or “bank.” Both Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Education Workers were always able to translate their interest in childcare into money, but the DOE/NSF (“the federal-academic complex”) made it easier to translate their interest in money into political power over education. The same of course was true for Districts and States, who had the standing Federal-Academic complex to lobby and influence. Likewise, Teachers and Publishers could invest funds (and expected funds) harvested from education funding and translate that into power through the Federal-Academic Complex.

With the exception of States (who viewed the Federal-Academic Complex as essentially an arm of the federal government, and so focused on opposing it), every rational actor began using the bank of the Federal-Academic Complex to pursue its interests. States rationally opposed the Federal-Academic Complex, other rational players rationally used it. Teachers, suffering from the lobotomy of low wages and arrogant in their united front organizations, stupidly saw the complex simply as another source of profit and ignored the changing political landscape.

Districts put up propaganda posters in favor ofhe NSF and DOE, and fawned over funding for NSF Computer Labs and other sources of funding that could be used to weaken State power. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for a better educated workforce. Publishers, observing the possibility to increase their revenues, used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for changes that would require buying more goods and services from publishers. Parents, the easiest of all forces to satisfy, slept soundly knowing that entrance of a new force meant it was even less likely would have to care for their own children.

Politically naive teachers imagined the Federal-Academic Complex would mean higher pay without greater responsibilities. And so they voted in blocs in favor of intiatives that aggrandized the Federal-Academic Complex, and subsidized the step by step the encirclement of their own united front organizations.

The Encirclement of a United Front

According to the Communist International, a “united front” is

simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie

Except for Cuba, the remaining Communist countries still have bureaucratic offices to manage the ‘United Fronts,’ which are now just shadows of their former selves. No one imagines that the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese KMT or China’s other “democratic parties” have any real power, and hence they have no legitimacy. “United Front Work Departments,” or their equivalent, exist in Vietnam and North Korea.

But as the example of North Korea shows, even a “United Front” can be encircled by hostile forces. North Korea’s incompetent leadership has acted so erratically, empathetically, and selfishly. And its emasculated United Front partners are unable to help it.

Teachers in the United States are the analog of the North Korean Kim Family Regime. US teachers have emasculated their United Front partners, alienated all but one outside force, and have allowed a massive brain drain to lobotomize their movement.


Under previous, smarter, leadership, teachers had created a United Front that remained relevant until the late 20th century.

  • Teachers allied with labor unions, even though as public workers teacher wages were paid from funds partially taken from labor. To this day, the National Education Association is the largest labor union in the United States, and the American Federation of Teachers is the second-largest.
  • Teachers allied with parents to form the National Parent-Teacher Association. While the NEA and AFT use labor-rhetoric to form alliances, the NPTA uses the rhetoric of childcare, used the rhetoric of childcare.
  • Teachers allied with Districts, using a quirk in US election law to dominate the boards. In the US, even though local elections have the greatest impact on the lives of citizens, these elections also have the lowest turn-out. Therefore, an organized minority can regularly influence the outcome of local elections. Using both individual initiative and the NEA/AFT/NPTA alliances, teachers regularly take school board seats, allowing them to also act as stake-holders in districts.

Yet this “united front” is now as worthless as North Korea’s. The labor movement union has passed the teachers by, and the main utility of the NEA and AFT seems to be to obtain divisive partisan allies (which increases the stakes greatly). Parents are lukewarm allies, as they only want to make sure nothing wrong with child care. Districts have been under assault from the States for more than a Decade, and the harm caused by Teachers to Districts influence in that fight outweigh the influence Teachers are able to exert through local elections.

Teachers have allowed themselves to become encircled.

By failing to prepare workers for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), teachers have alienated Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers. By not flattering State power, they have alienated States. By refusing to help Districts in political battles against States, they have alienated the local school boards, too. By virtue of their position as a consumer of education resources, they naturally alienate Publishers. And by refusing moves to allow the measurement of their performance, they have alienated the Federal-Academic Complex.

The encirclement of the Teacher’s united front has happened because the teaching profession has been lobotomized. Previously, highly discriminator labor norms effectively closed off many professions to ambitious women, funneling “the best and the brightest” into teaching. A small number of people may be able, for a short amount of time, to ignore their own interests for a political cause, but everyone else requires economic incentives. De facto and de jure discrimination against women in other fields had the effect of economically incentivizing smart and ambitious women into teaching. Now, however, those same incentives have the effect of moving smart and ambitious women away from teaching. As the ambition and sharpness of the teaching profession has declined, it is not surprising that this has effected the political abilities of teachers as a bloc.

The situation is not hopeless for teachers. The high-reward, high-risk movement of publicly aligning with the Democratic Party raises the possibility of a new set of political allies. But this is risky, and the agitators like Diane Ravitch appear to criticize Democrats (President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Chairman Gates) at least as much as Republicans. The old united front is now to emasculated to carry water for teachers. And teachers have shown no signs of being empathetic to other stakeholders in the education reform debate.


I don’t know what will happen to North Korea. And I don’t know what will happen to Teachers. Both groups built earlier success using a clever United Front, both emasculated their traditional partners, and both now find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies. The future of both is bleak, but not hopeless, and there’s always chance a great leader might be waiting in the wings…