I’ve long argued that the teacher unions are hardly better at running their political interests than they are at running schools. They compensate for lousy ideas and poorly made arguments with the brute force of mountains of cash and an army of angry teachers.
My view of the teacher unions was confirmed by their mangled reaction to my piece in the Wall Street Journal noting the trade-offs between the number of teachers we hire and their quality. The boss of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, tweeted her response: “They don’t want to pay teachers comp salaries…”
Now, I should say that anyone who attempts to engage in a substantive debate on Twitter is an idiot and so I fully confess that I was an idiot for trying to do so. I responded: “we could have increased teacher salaries by 50% instead of increasing their number by that amount.” And then I reiterated the point: “you seem to prefer having 50% more teachers over 50% higher salaries. Why is that?”
Having raised the issue, Randi Weingarten obviously had not thought through where the argument might go. She couldn’t offer the obvious answer: “Because the teacher union cares more about power than about teachers, so having 50% more of them gives us a larger army on election day while 50% more pay might create more satisfied professionals who are less dependent on the union.”
No, thinking things through is not exactly the union’s forte. They are more accustomed to crushing opponents with ad hominem attacks or distracting the audience with emotional and irrelevant appeals. So, that’s exactly what they did. Teacher union flak, Caitlin McCarthy, chimed in with: “Jay Greene shld model how an XL class size would work w/ Randi sitting in back taking notes for us. LOL.” Randi Weingarten agreed with Caitlin McCarthy, adding to the joke: “I wld have to be in front-so I cld see the board.”
I responded that it is obviously possible to have higher student-teacher ratios since we used to have them and without getting worse results: “student teacher ratios from 40 years ago were modeled 40 years ago. If impossible how did they?”
McCarthy replied with a “these go to 11” argument, repeating that I needed to model how it was possible to have higher student-teacher ratios, tweeting: “Jay, again I suggest u actually model this & not just write/imagine it. Practice what u preach.” This was followed by a series of tweets from McCarthy all of which were based on the notion that only teachers have standing to hold opinions about education policy. She wrote: “ I understand & respect teaching b/c I walk the walk. I’m not all talk. Model ur ideas, Jay” and “Jay, have you ever subbed in an urban area for a wk? Not being snarky. A legit question.” and “Never take advice from someone who hasn’t been there.” Randi Weingarten again joined McCarthy in her argument, tweeting: “Good Q Jay-have u ever taught high school in an urban/rural setting.”
I was struck by the anti-intellectualism of their line of argument. What kind of educator would believe that the only way to know something is by having done it? If that were true, we should dispense with schools and just have apprenticeships. I tweeted: “so the only way to know something is to have done it? Shows no faith in abstract learning” and “As an educator you believe in abstract learning, right? Or do we only learn by apprenticeship?”
Mentioning abstract learning to the teacher union’s army of angry teachers must be like waving a red cape in front of a bull. Caitlin McCarthy charged with all of her bovine might: “I would expect this kind of comment from an ‘abstract thinker’ out of touch w/ reality. Go sub.”
McCarthy threw in some additional ad hominem just to complete her stereotype as a teacher union flak unable or uninterested in discussing the substance of arguments. She tweeted: “Jay was born circa ’67. He never lived firsthand the schools of yore & has a pol agenda.” Oh, the substance of my argument can be ignored because I have a political agenda while she and Weingarten have no agenda at all other than their love of children. And when Texas Parents Union tweeted Randi Weingarten and Caitlin McCarthy “While we wait on @jaypgreene to respond, what is your specific concern with article? Just curious…” McCarthy replied “ Hmm…u link to StudentsFirst & Stand For Children on ur site, so it’s safe to assume u agree w/ Jay?” Never mind the argument, let’s talk about who you link to and who’s side you’re on.
I would like to think that the anti-intellectual, non-substantive, and ad hominem nature of the teacher union response was simply a function of the stupidity of trying to have an argument on Twitter. But unfortunately, this is the main way I have seen them argue for more than two decades. Fortunately for those opposed to the union’s policy agenda, their bullying and mangled arguments only continue to erode their credibility in policy discussions. As I’ve said before, the teacher unions are already starting to be treated like the Tobacco Institute, a well-financed and well-organized special interest that has no legitimacy in policy debates.
-Jay P. Greene