Who has a problem with democracy?
Guest blogger Bob Bowdon is the founder of Choice Media, a non-profit education news service, and directed the award-winning documentary “The Cartel.” In this post, he responds to the debate touched off by Mike’s argument against school boards in Monday’s “Dealing with disingenuous teacher unions: There are no shortcuts.”
I was intrigued to see the democracy defense offered by the Establishment Reactionary Dynamic Duo of Ravitch & Weingarten, as if to say it’s okay to sentence children to chronically failing and dangerous schools, as long as unions succeed in getting the vote out on off-peak election days.
Apart from the underpinnings of their logic, can we at least hope that they’ll remain consistent in applying this “Democracy First” philosophy no matter where the chips fall? Not so much.
When the elected legislature in Georgia authorized the state’s chartering of schools, the Georgia Association of Educators union wasn’t so happy with the voice of the people. They later filed a brief in support of a lawsuit to strike down the law — and that suit prevailed. Democracy be damned.
When elected leaders in Douglas County Colorado passed a voucher plan this year, the Colorado Education Association union publicly opposed the wishes of the local voters, with no apparent bout of misgivings over democratic values.
When the Indiana legislature and governor passed a statewide voucher law this year, the Indiana State Teachers Association financed a suit to stop it. Why persuade when you can sue?
And when the elected Mayor of New York City decided that empty floors in district schools should be offered to the charter school kids, did the UFT union propose a city council vote on the matter, in a flourish of democratic principles? Nah, they chose a lawsuit instead.
In short, teachers unions and their defenders give us lectures about how “the people have spoken” quite economically, i.e. when it suits them. They’re all for honoring the voice of the people, except when they’re not.
The simple fact is that there have been many times in American history when democratic institutions were undermined by bubbles of power and corruption. New York City’s Tammany Hall, Al Capone’s Chicago, Huey Long’s Louisiana… and Frank “I Am the Law” Hague’s Jersey City, all illustrate this point.
So it’s not that Ed Reformers are against democracy. It’s that when millions of union dollars are shoveled into the campaign coffers of politicians — politicians who swear their allegiances to union bidding at the expense of children — that’s a perversion of democracy, not a manifestation of it.
The good news is that democracy does self-correct; these corrupt institutions eventually metastasize to the point of their own destruction. Tammany Hall didn’t die for lack of cash; it began to lose the contest of hearts and minds. That’s already begun with the teachers unions.
In any large war, there are always many battles won by each side. But despite their war chests, despite their ad campaigns, and despite their profligate use of words like “corporate” and “greed” to brand charter and private school operators as collections of Bernie Madoff’s — in the aggregate, we education reformers are winning. We might have lost in Ohio, but we won in Indiana and Wisconsin. And we’ll soon win reforms in New Jersey. The public is starting to sour on the insular, corrupt, job-protecting monopolies of teachers unions. We reformers are simply on the right side of history.
We’re not at the tipping point yet, but how will we know when we get there? Weingarten & Ravitch will go from selectively invoking the democracy argument, to opposing it entirely. Stand by. It won’t be long.
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