Last night I was watching Mike Huckabee on Fox as he outlined an alarming storybook tale approved for K-3 students where hens, tired of having their eggs stolen by a farmer, agree to stop laying eggs until he meets their demands (which he does). Huckabee labeled the work “indoctrination,” and implied that it had no place in front of young children because it teaches kids liberal values. Presumably Huckabee, an ordained minister, does not feel the same way about Matthew 19:24, with its pesky “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Class warfare!
I guess the appropriate counter-story for these children would explain how the hens present their demands and the farmer decides to buy a bunch of Chinese and Indian chickens to lay eggs and converts the original chickens into Nugget form before depositing his savings in the Caymans. The end. Oh, and the guy who shot Bambi’s mom was the hero. Sweet dreams, kids.
This segment was a set-up for an interview with the author of a book called Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind, written by someone named Mallory, who was interestingly enough a man and yet not Archer. The title is a doozy, evoking imagery of conspiracy-theory (“Shadow,” “Control America”) organized crime (“Bosses”), violent crime (“Rob”) and victimhood (good folks like us are “Blind”). I’m duly impressed that so much effort went into a title that just repeats the argument that the bulk of waste in American government is due entirely to the fact that cops, firefighters and teachers are getting away with murder earning their $35,000/year.
While the book appears to discuss all unions, this segment focused on teachers’ unions and their role in the decline of American education. As a side note, for every other problem where the Europeans have America thoroughly beat — health care, infant mortality, gun violence, income equality, supermodels per capita — conservatives deny the very existence of the problem lest we ask the obvious follow-up and embrace the crypto-socialist policies that solve those problems everywhere else in the world. But with education, conservatives are willing to embrace the idea that market socialist countries have better educational systems without inviting calls for more publicly provided benefits (to reduce the need to provide health care and other benefits as part of education spending), a more centralized curriculum, and funding distribution. It’s actually kind of impressive that they’ve pulled this off.
Anyway the author, Mallory Factor (I guess I didn’t give his full name before) brought up the tried and true argument that tenure (the policy that protects experienced teachers from being the first laid off) is responsible for the decline in American education. Factor informed us all that sometimes state “Teacher of the Year” winners are laid off because of tenure, a frustrating argument because (a) It’s purely anecdotal and most “Teachers of the Year” come from the ranks of experienced teachers under the cover of tenure; and, (b) it ignores the fact that those lay offs are entirely the product of government budget cuts caused by 30 years of tax cuts leaving schools unable to cover their costs.
The basis of these attacks on teachers rests on a rhetorical concept called dissociation. To demonstrate, think of you or your children’s 5 best teachers. I am willing to wager that at least 4 of those teachers had 3 or more years of experience (or have since accumulated 3 years of experience). Well, congratulations because those teachers are probably tenured because in almost every state tenure kicks by the third year on the job. And this isn’t shocking. Teaching, like every other job ever, is something people get better at with time. To convince an audience to reject their warm feelings for their own experienced teachers, the argument encourages a dissociation from your “good” teachers (i.e. teachers committed to teaching) and the shadowy “bad” teachers (i.e. teachers committed to lining their own pockets at the expense of children) that is a “reality” existing outside your own personal experience.
The reliance on this argument gives rise to the conservative fascination with devolving more and more control over schools to local communities where those who can afford it reward their teachers while withholding funds from the presumably “bad” teachers in other school districts — school districts unable to raise local funds to overcome the deficit in state funding. The great sin of teachers’ unions is that they build bridges between teachers in different school districts and remind people that there is no artificial break between your teachers and those in the next neighborhood over.
There’s nothing wrong with dissociation per se. It’s a technique — a tool to be employed. But recognize it when you see it because can be an easy mechanism for pulling a fast one on an audience and in this case can be a much more powerful tool of indoctrination than a cartoon about chickens.