I came across the following correspondence that appears to describe an ingenious plot to plant someone named “Diane” as a double-agent in the teacher union ranks. Once “Diane” gains their trust, her mission is to rile up an Army of Angry Teachers whose slogan-chanting would become so bellicose and unreasonable that it would undermine the popular impression of teachers as a loving extension of the family.
As I’ve argued before, the teacher unions play a double game. They put out a public image of being like the doting aunt or uncle who cares about our kids almost as much as (if not more than) parents do. They know that as long as the public sees the school system as part of the family, they will favor policies that exempt education from the rigors of the marketplace. People see their families as a refuge from the rough and tumble of the marketplace. Families are governed by affection and mutual obligation rather than choice and competition. But in the corridors of power, the teacher unions haggle over pay, benefits, work rules, and autonomy as if they were auto workers, not your favorite aunt or uncle.
The purpose of Diane’s under-cover operation appears to be to undermine that double game and make the self-interested power-grabs by the unions more transparent for what they are. If teacher unions are not viewed as extensions of the family, people would stop exempting education from their normal expectation that there should be choice and competition in the provision of goods and services. If “Diane’s” double-agent sabotage succeeds, the image of teachers buying school supplies out of their own pocket and believing in student potential regardless of difficulties would be replaced with the image of teachers demanding benefits for themselves and blaming circumstances for student low performance.
I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this correspondence, but if accurate it sure would go a long way toward explaining what has otherwise seemed inexplicable.
I’ve inserted videos throughout this post that may provide evidence to substantiate the existence of this conspiracy.
We commend you on your willingness to accept this difficult assignment. We know you will have to estrange yourself from former friends and adherents. We know that you will have to ingratiate yourself into a new network whose company may at times be difficult to tolerate — what with their obvious self-interest thinly disguised by shallow slogans, inconsistent arguments, and indifference to empirical evidence. But those qualities are precisely the things that will allow you to gain their trust and rile them into a self-destructive frenzy. Just feed them more shallow slogans, inconsistent arguments, and non-empirically-supported views and they will be like putty in your hands.
There will also be compensating benefits. We know that reformers have stopped paying much attention to you as they shift focus to rigorous quantitative analyses of test results rather than stories spun by polemical historians. But your new teacher union friends will shower plenty of attention on you, as they make no demands for rigor in quantitative or historical analyses and instead judge the merits of arguments based on how they serve their interests. Your new friends will also shower plenty of cash on you as they invite you to speak around the country at about $20,000 a pop. Kozol and Kohn have earned a summer home or two doing this, so don’t let anyone tell you that advocating for public education is not financially rewarding. Of course, if you are successful in this mission, your efforts will undermine the effectiveness of their advocacy by making it seem extreme and self-serving. If you succeed we will reward you even more richly.
Good luck in your efforts!
The Pentaverate —
It has been some time since you sent me on this deep-cover operation, but I am pleased to report that our plan is progressing well. I’ve launched a blog on Education Week as a platform for my sabotage. I’ve written a best-selling book whose arguments are so weak that a grad student could pick them apart in a few blog posts, but which is like catnip to our target audience. I’ve recruited Valerie Strauss, a previously normal and respected journalist, to join our efforts at agitation. And most importantly, I’ve developed a following of 17,307 on Twitter to whom I send about 70 missives a day. I just get the ball rolling and then my followers write the craziest stuff, which I can then just retweet with the plausible deniability that I wasn’t saying it.
For example, I retweeted a message from Gary Stager describing Bill Gates’ view that education can overcome poverty as “Sad, pathetic, ignorant, dangerous, genocidal, wrong.” Genocidal! That’s gold. That weak Jay P. Greene just says that the Gates Foundation has a flawed strategy, but I have folks saying that Gates and anyone who believes that poverty is not immutable is advocating genocide. If stuff like that doesn’t undermine teacher union credibility with sensible people I have no idea what will.
In short, as you have requested I have assembled an Army of Angry Teachers and, like Pogo, they have met the enemy and they are it. Last weekend we marched on Washington for the Save Our Schools (SOS) rally, which should reveal the nuttiness of my Army to policy and opinion leaders nationwide.
We are very proud of your efforts and admire your heroism is fulfilling the unpleasant task of mobilizing angry teachers into a fevered state. For that work the members of The Pentaverate have decided to award you the Keyser Soze Medal for Excellence in Deception.
We are, however, a bit disappointed with the SOS Rally. You only managed to get 2,000-3,000 people to show up, which makes your army seem like a distinct minority of all teachers (which it probably is). We did, however, like your transparently false description of the rally as the spontaneous outpouring of a grassroots movement, even though it received half its roughly $100k funding from the teacher unions and another quarter from donations by you and Kozol (we will reimburse you for those expenses, just like before).
We liked your speech, particularly the part about how education policy should be made by educators, not by policymakers. Of course by that reasoning energy policy should be made by energy-producers, not policymakers and tax policy should be made by accountants and lawyers. Again, these flimsy and shallow slogans/arguments are doing a great job of undermining the teacher union cause.
We were also pleased with Kozol’s lecture. He’s still rehashing the same stories he acquired from spending a few weeks with poor kids several decades ago, but his slightly slurred and irate delivery gives it just the right touch of insanity. Even Kevin Carey had to comment that Kozol is “edging into deranged preacher territory.” Excellent work!
Still, the small crowd was very discouraging. We know that you couldn’t control the fact that there was a debt crisis going on at the same time, but we are worried about your success at convincing opinion and policy leaders of how representative and unreasonable the Army of Angry Teachers really is.
The Pentaverate —
I appreciate your concerns. It is true that we only managed to get CNN and the HuffPo to cover our rally while the rest of the media ignored us. But we did get Matt Damon to speak at the event. He’s always so eloquent. I’ve attached a video of his speech below.
We will redouble our efforts and I assure you that by the time I am done with this Army of Angry Teachers, they will have thoroughly discredited the teacher unions.