Teacher Unions = The Tobacco Institute

I want to add a little to my post the other day about how the teacher unions lie and so should not be treated as credible players in policy discussions. 

The unions don’t have to lie.  The NEA didn’t have to falsely claim that the DC voucher program “yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement.”  They could have said something about the effects not being large or that there are other harms to vouchers that are greater than the benefits.  A pattern of lying fundamentally undermines the credibility of the teacher unions so that they will increasingly be shunned in policy discussions and lose in policy debates.

You may think that the unions are so powerful that they can just lie and get away with it, but you’d be wrong.  Remember the fate of the tobacco industry.  They created the Tobacco Institute, which produced “research” claiming to be unable to find links between smoking and cancer. 

The tobacco companies didn’t have to do this.  They could have just said that people should be free to choose whether they smoke or not regardless of health risks.  They didn’t have to lie about health effects, they could have just said that it was none of the public’s business whether people chose to smoke or not.

At the time it was conventional political wisdom that the Tobacco Institute could get away with lying because the tobacco lobby was so powerful and rich that they could do almost anything.  But eventually lying destroys one’s credibility in a way that no amount of money can restore.  And the teacher unions may suffer the same fate as the Tobacco Institute.  They may seem all-powerful right now, but over time it is hard to sustain dumb ideas, especially when lying.

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4 Responses to Teacher Unions = The Tobacco Institute

  1. allen says:

    For political purposes, a problem postponed is a problem solved so the “eventual” loss of credibility is a problem for the future. On the basis of the weight many people put in the pronouncements of union officials today I’d say “eventually” still hasn’t arrived. I’d counsel against holding your breath in anticipation of that event.

    Further I suggest not wasting too much energy on indignation.

    You know union officials are going to continue to lie. You know there’s nothing you can do about it. You know why they’re going to lie which is why you know they’re going to continue to lie and you know that from their point of view they’re doing the right thing in advocating for their membership in any legal way they can divine. So getting upset about the fact is a waste of time and energy.

    But much worse then the waste of time and energy resulting from impotent moral indignation is that it masks the underlying truth that, given the facts of public education, this is the proper outcome. Union officials aren’t going to suddenly wake up to their responsibilities to the public, they have none. Their responsibilities are to their membership, at least theoretically, so they’ll continue to act in that interest.

    If you don’t know anything about lions you might see the lion lying down with the lamb as a good thing. But if you do know anything about lions you’d know that when a lion does lie down with a lamb there’s something wrong with that lion.

  2. Allen says that I’m wasting my time because people are going to put a lot of weight into what the teacher unions say regardless of what I write: “On the basis of the weight many people put in the pronouncements of union officials today I’d say “eventually” still hasn’t arrived. I’d counsel against holding your breath in anticipation of that event.”

    But Mike Antonucci over at EIA says the exact opposite — that I am wasting my time because everyone knows that the teacher unions have no regard for the truth.

    One of you must be wrong.

    Here are Mike’s comments: http://www.eiaonline.com/intercepts/2009/06/22/the-turn-of-the-screw/

    “Jay’s anger is misplaced, mainly because he perceives teacher unions are being treated as “credible actors in education policy discussions.” I read virtually every article and column written every day in newspapers that mention teachers’ unions, and it’s clear to me that they are treated as a powerful special-interest group who can generally get what they want from politicians and school boards. THAT’S why they are contacted for comment. They have proven time and again that what they want is likely to become public policy, so it’s incumbent upon reporters to find out what that is.

    Any lawmaker who believes what he reads in an NEA press release or e-mail blast is too dense for public service. Such people may exist, but if they do, spend your emotion on getting them voted out of office.”

  3. allen says:

    I’m right of course.

    Actually, we’re not really disagreeing all that much but Mike appears to believe that the credibility of the teacher’s unions is already exhausted and I’m saying that their credibility isn’t exhausted yet.

    As to the reasons why teacher’s union officials still have credibility chalk that up partly to some people’s desire to believe that teachers are special people and thus their leaders, which union higher-ups might truthfully claim to be in a sense, are special as well. Being bestowed with the responsibility of society’s children any other view but that teachers are special, are more compassionate, caring, devoted then the average citizen, would be a discomforting thought and a thought many people would shy away from.

  4. [...] for the Wall Street Journal the very real decline in teachers union popularity, which follows their Tobacco Institute-like loss of credibility. Especially after last night, the loss of political power looks to be right behind. Commonsense [...]

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