Bureaucratic Bloat – Bathroom Edition!

January 24, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Short version of this post: I clean my own toilet, therefore school staff unions should be abolished.

Long verson: I just had an article come out on bureaucratic bloat in Oklahoma schools, in which I noted that only half of the state’s K-12 public education employees are teachers. That’s pretty much par for the course nationwide.

(Before you ask, the breakdown looks similar if you do it by dollars instead of by headcount. I use headcount because it’s simpler – with dollars you have to navigate a more complex set of categories – and because there are categories of spending over which states have little control, such as debt service, whereas headcount is more flexibile.)

One argument I made was that instead of focusing on bloat in “administration,” we should really focus on privatizing services in the giant “other” category – bus, cafeteria, etc. Private companies already exist that can provide all those services better and cheaper. There’s no reason these functions should be performed by unionized civil servants under outrageously dysfunctional personnel rules that ensure substandard performance and with gargantuan nuclear exploding pensions that cost ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

A disgruntled teacher writes in (anonymously) to say, among much else, that my argument is invalid because I don’t clean my own toilet:

 Not only do you expect us to teach our children, which I gladly and proudly do well, but you expect us to do so with out the assistance or limited assistance of janitorial staff, nurses, aides, bus drives and cooks. So we are to teach successfully as well as clean the toilets, cook their meals, take their temperature and drive buses (which we do anyway)…I wonder if Mr. Forster has someone that cleans his office and bathroom or if he does that himself?

(Read the letter in all its unabridged, unedited, undiluted glory here.)

Now, there are several problems here. As William F. Buckley once wrote: “I have seen non-sequiturs in my life, baby ones, middle-sized ones, and great big ones, but they all stand aside in awe at yours.”

First, I didn’t argue that teachers should clean their own toilets; I said we should hire private service providers to do it instead of using unionized civil servants. The teacher herself, curiously, seems to recognize this, but only in the non-toilet context; she complains elsewhere in the letter that under my argument “we are to contract out to professionals to provide meal service.” (I will leave unremarked upon her implicit acknowledgement that unionized civil servants cannot be considered “professionals”; unremarked upon as well will be the question of what this implies about teachers.)

The real problem with her argument, though, is that I do, in fact, clean my own toilet. The office in which I work does not hire janitorial staff. We are all responsible for cleanliness, including the bathrooms. On my first day, this fact was impressed upon me with some force by the administrative staff. And I’m proud to say that I have lived up to my responsibilities.

After all, I learned my skills through discipleship with a true master – the Li Mu Bai of toilet cleaning.

Sure he can walk on water – but does he clean it?

My first job in education was working for Jay Greene – yes, the Jay Greene – and we had no janitorial staff in that office either. In addition to our each taking responsibility for our messes daily, Jay appointed a regular schedule for comprehensive office cleaning. We each took a task – dusting, vacuuming, etc.

Jay always took the bathroom cleaning job. Every time. He told us this was his way of setting an example for the staff, citing a motto from the Israeli officer corps: “Follow Me!”

I still do.

So, if my arguments would be invalid if I didn’t clean my own toilet, doesn’t it therefore follow that since I do clean my own toilet, my arguments are valid?