The Army of Angry Teachers — When Success Breeds Failure

It must feel empowering for teachers upset by current developments to hold big rallies with thousands of union members chanting slogans.  They must finally feel like their voice is being heard, as Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, and the new breed of teacher union advocates make their case.

While this may all feel like success to the teacher unions, I suspect that it is actually breeding failure.  The unions succeed by intimidating politicians with their raw power while convincing the public that teacher unions love their children almost as much as the parents do.  Maintaining this double-game is essential because it disarms parents, media elites, and others who might otherwise mobilize against teacher unions and apply their own direct pressure to politicians.

As long as teacher unions act like Mary Poppins to parents, media elites, and others, the general public is willing to suspend their normal inclination to desire choice and competition in the goods and services they consume.  Mary Poppins is an extension of the family and we don’t apply market principles to our family.  The family is a refuge from the rough and tumble of the market which is instead governed by a sense of mutual obligations and affection.  Where the family ends, the market begins and people think the market needs choice and competition to stay healthy.

But when the public face of the teacher unions is the Army of Angry Teachers, they no longer seem like Mary Poppins and begin to look a lot more like longshoremen beating their opponents with metal pipes.  Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss may provide psychological comfort to angry teachers (some of whom seem so irate that they may need professional psychological help to manage their anger), but it undermines the double-game that is at the heart of the teacher union strategy.

Giant mobs of yelling protesters and blogs filled with tirades may increase the intimidation politicians feel, but it seriously undermines the image of teachers as an extension of our family.  And as that Mary Poppins image is significantly eroded, media elites and the general public will increasingly think of education as something in the marketplace that requires choice and competition.  And this erosion is extremely hard for teacher unions to reverse.

What feels like success to angry teachers is actually sowing the seeds of failure for the teacher union.

16 Responses to The Army of Angry Teachers — When Success Breeds Failure

  1. The Frustrated Teacher wrote the following on Twitter in response to this post:
    @jaypgreene Don’t we have a right to be angry? Or are teachers always supposed to use their inside voices? We’re adults. We cuss. We yell.”

    Of course you have a right. I just hope you keep on cussing and yelling. : )

  2. GGW says:

    Very interesting.

    I wonder what the DC dynamics are. 600 some teachers just got bonuses (or are eligible, I don’t know the details). 100 or whatever just got fired. Presumably, many of the 600 privately say “I’m glad of this new system which rewards merit.” But they, too, wouldn’t want to confront the Angry Teacher by publicly saying so. What’s the upside?

    There was a good blog yesterday on Gotham Schools. A guy described how he didn’t get tenure — but instead of whining, wondered how he could teach better. A few Angry Teachers ripped him in the comments.

  3. matthewladner says:

    There was a story in a paper the other day about two angry or at least disappointed teachers who were retiring from teaching because of all the “awful” things the Indiana legislature had done this session.

    I need to go bookmark that story so I can refer to it with relish as Indiana’s NAEP scores steadily improve.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Great point, Jay. For decades we’ve been trying to figure out how to get the public to see through the Mary Poppins charade. Turns out all it took was a catastrophic financial crisis so the teacher unions would have to make a clear choice, in public, between clinging to every last cent of their benefits or preserving American civilization. I unsay all the hard things I said about the politicians in both parties who caused the crisis – we couldn’t have done this without them!

  5. Minnesota Kid says:

    Interesting and timely post, Jay. The NRO has a story about the correllary to your claim — the teachers unions are regaining political strength in Wisconsin by hiding their anger — up today at:

  6. Ayn Marie Samuelson says:

    “The unions succeed by intimidating politicians” tells us that politicians have allowed, permitted and sanctioned unions to influence them over the decades. Why? Because they wanted to be re-elected with the resources and votes that come from the unions through mandatory, politician and government sanctioned dues collection. Players throughout the antiquated education system, whether they are politicians, administrators, education elites or other groups that have influence, often fail to serve the students or the captive taxpaying public, who from my experience, have much less influence than these well-funded and well-organized groups. That includes the well-heeled philanthropists who are immersed in influencing education policy. Who pays and who benefits? Yes, I’m a frustrated parent and taxpayer who is tired of the entire sham.

  7. Fred McKenna says:

    While I do not support all of the activities of unions, I do support the efforts of teacher advocates who seek research based education reform. The development of higher level skills is not supported in an environment that only focuses on single day tests.

    In great companies and great schools there are strong leaders who focus the entire organization on the mission. The mission of public schools is to prepare our youth for success in a global economy. It has been my experience that school leadership at the highest levels; i.e., superintendents and school boards have lost sight of this..

    I therefore am curious why so much rhetoric focuses on teachers and not on school boards and superintendents. A perusal of any of the great books written on great companies shows the need and importance for strong leaders who keep the organization focused on its mission and the plan developed to attain that mission.

    Great companies do not bash their employees, they work to mentor, coach and develop them. I have rarely seen this approach from supporters of educational reform, who put the primary blame for failure squarely on the shoulders of teachers. The entire organization is accountable for failure. The school community consists of teachers, parents, students, administrators, school boards and other community members. Everyone shares in the success and the failure.

    Teacher unions can certainly shoulder a share of the blame for the policies that protect incompetence. I do not defend tenure and the poor oversight often found in schools. However, the rhetoric of teacher bashers would make any teacher fearful of job security without it.

    There is a need for a change in the structures that govern our schools, however change must happen in a cooperative environment, engaging all stakeholders. An environment where there is no dialogue will not solve the problem. It will only lead to adults shouting at each other.

  8. Greg Forster says:

    I think your perception that reformers only criticize teachers and never criticize school boards is inaccurate. For example.

  9. concerned says:

    I’d like to point out that many teachers are not supportive of these union activities, although they may still be members. So here’s an alternative…

    AAE membership is growing, while the “big two” are considering raising dues to make-up for falling membership numbers. Disgruntled teachers should check out AAE – the largest national nonunion professional teachers association, advancing the profession through teacher advocacy and professional development, as well as promoting excellence in education.

  10. Dcteacher says:

    This is a hilarious piece of satire.Angry teachers? Who isn’t angry about the educational practices that are being forced down teachers throats. Bubble tests instead of higher order thinking. This poor writer should go into comedy.terribly archaic and misinformed but amusing. So GLAD you are not a teacher! Yay! Hope you and new rude mayor of Chicago share a good laugh over the plight of public schools

    • Jill says:

      Actually, Jay Greene is a teacher. Or do professors not count?

      • Helen says:

        No. Professors do not count. Not such a great view of reality from the ivory tower…Not sure how many professors are required to give their students a standards based test at the end of the term or how many of them have students plopped into their class in the middle of the term either. None of my students have ever had to fill out an application to get into my class.
        I appreciate the educational research I can use that comes from the university, but let’s be real here. We have totally different jobs and I for one am tired of being talked down to by professors who think they know how to do my job.

  11. […] policy expert Jay Greene addresses this phenomenon in The Army of Angry Teachers which was posted on Education Matters, his own blog, and elsewhere last week. The crux of his piece […]

  12. […] policy expert Jay Greene addresses this phenomenon in The Army of Angry Teachers which was posted on Education Matters, his own blog, and elsewhere last week. The crux of his piece […]

  13. Jill says:

    Fab piece, Jay. So many teachers don’t realized that they’re being herded like cattle to do bidding for the union that ultimately will hurt them.

    Many good and effective teachers will be in the crowd at SOS, and that is unfortunate–guilty by association. Unions hinder teachers in a variety of ways. And this SOS is one of them.

  14. […] policy expert Jay Greene addresses this phenomenon in The Army of Angry Teachers which was posted on Education Matters, his own blog, and elsewhere last week. The crux of his piece […]

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