Friday, 23 February 2007

10 Institutions That Ruin The World - #6

I am developing a list of the 10 institutions that are ruining the world and how, in spite of their lofty aspirations, they actually end up doing harm. Today we have:

#6 - Education Institutions and Education Unions

It should come as no surprise to those following the development of this list that education institutions and unions have been included. I have not lumped them together as the 'Education Establishment' because they do damage in two quite distinct ways even if they are philosophically joined at the hip.

In a nice piece of timing, Apple's Steve Jobs has raised the issue of teaching quality while participating in an education reform conference. As reported by AP:
Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions Friday, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers. Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs. "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference. "Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, 'I can't win'" ... "I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," Jobs said. "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy." At various pauses, the audience applauded enthusiastically.
Enthusiastic applause for someone saying that unionisation and lifetime employment is "off-the-charts crazy"? How remarkable in this day and age. Education unions effectively bring to America, Australia and Canada the French employment system in which a company has to go to court in order to dismiss an employee regardless of competence, effectiveness or honesty. The goal of education unions is to ensure not only lifetime employment for their members but also control of their remuneration and conditions making them the most powerful force in the education system. Does this help teachers? Some might argue that it helps them financially. I would argue that it financially helps the low standard teachers while penalising the high standard ones, and I would add in that it has seriously damaged the prestige of the profession due to the lack of focus on excellence and learning. Worse than the effect on the teachers, though, is that it hurts our kids.

The answer to low standards brought about by education unions is to introduce school vouchers. Each child is assigned a voucher to the value of their year's education, parents choose where their children will go to school and the value of the voucher is then transferred to the school. How will this fix standards? It will result in schools that develop a reputation for academic discipline and excellence receiving more students which, in turn, allows higher wages to be paid to high performing teachers. Why shouldn't a teacher be able to earn $150,000 if they're at the top of their profession? Why should they earn the same as a teacher that doesn't even know where to stick an apostrophe? It is not only a national disgrace but also a national tragedy that this situation is allowed to continue.

Education Institutions have a longer history of doing damage than the unions. Yes, the social sciences and arts faculties are staffed by professors with a solidly left wing political view (surveys put the ratio of left to right in these faculties at greater than 40:1, which is pretty amazing) but why should that impact on the quality of education?

The fact is that our education institutions are being used more and more for indoctrination of left wing propaganda, while at the same time not allowing a right wing view to be expressed let alone taught or debated. Why are eight year old kids being shown Al Gore's apocalyptic documentary, An Inconvenient Truth? Why are young children being given Heather Has Two Mommies or Jenny Lives With Eric And Martin to read? How is it that American professor Ward Churchill could even be appointed to the post let alone retain it after referring to the victims of 9/11 as not innocent because they were 'technocrats' and 'little Eichmanns', and repeated occurrences of 'serious academic misconduct'? If he was a conservative he would have lasted about a nanosecond and not have been defended by the University which said that he was just expressing his Constitutional right to free speech. In Australia we have people like Economics Professor John Quiggin who has been making predictions for years that have been even less reliable than a 1958 Ford Edsel but always finds a way to say that he was right. "Looking at the desperation with which opponents of climate science, and of sensible policy responses such as Kyoto, are holding on to positions that have clearly become untenable..." writes this tenured Keynesian throwback on his blog. $20 trillion dollars for no discernible impact is a "sensible policy response"? A 50% rise in the price of power in Europe since they introduced their emissions trading scheme that has seen companies move overseas is a "sensible policy response"? As our favourite Czech President correctly points out "We know that there exists a huge correlation between the care we give to the environment on one side and the wealth and technological prowess on the other side. It's clear that the poorer the society is, the more brutally it behaves with respect to nature, and vice versa." So economically weakening Europe will help, will it? Unfortunately, the Quiggins and Churchills abound in our academic institutions. Guaranteed tenure and lack of accountability are not a combination that tend to be associated with serious commentary or excellence.

My issue is less that teachers and professors have a particular political view rather than those views are now being projected into their classes in a much more pronounced way than a few decades ago. Students are being taught what to think, not how to think and are leaving school or university never having heard of who Stalin, Mao or Lenin were but completely clued up on slavery, discrimination against women and blacks, supposed destruction of the planet and the evils of capitalism. They spend too much of their time forming opinions rather than forming the tools they'll need to succeed in the workplace. That students leave school having been brainwashed by leftist propaganda is not actually the huge problem it may first seem. The fact is that a few years facing up to the reality of life in the workforce is all it takes for enough people to understand the weakness of the leftist arguments to migrate to the conservative side of politics and maintain the pretty close to 50-50 ratio that has existed for years.

In a world in which China, India and others are rising at a spectacular rate we need to ensure that we maintain our competitive position in the world market, which underpins our standard of living and guarantees the future prosperity of our country. The combination of education institutions pushing a stridently left wing message and education unions ensuring that quality cannot be rewarded means that students now finish their education less equipped with the basic skills required to compete in a global market
than ever before. For those reasons Education Institutions and Education Unions are #6 on my list of 10 Institutions That Ruin The World.

Update: Test scores at odds with rising grades

#7 - Government
#8 - The Social Justice Movement
#9 - The Peace Movement
#10 - The Intelligent Design Movement, Discovery Institute


Anonymous said...

Utah has school vouchers now.

Jack Lacton said...

Go, Utah!

Always said they were a sensible lot.