Randi Weingarten promotes her union agenda in the guise of “cultural literacy.”
Almost 30 years ago, education professor E.D. Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy, in which he claimed that there are facts and cultural references that every American should know. His list was both celebrated and attacked, and is still controversial.
While many approve of a “core knowledge” curriculum, our polarized citizenry can’t seem to agree on its makeup. To get to some sort of consensus, the Aspen Institute has initiated a project that asks, “What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate? Give us your top ten!”
While the responses clearly give a clue as to the politics of the responder, the choices tend to be, at least, mostly factual. However, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s contribution is devoid of facts and, consisting instead of her leftist, pro-union agenda.
#1 on Weingarten’s deeply flawed list informs us that “More than half of American public school students live in poverty.” What she doesn’t bother to mention is that what constitutes poverty these days is something of a joke. As Robert Rector wrote in 2011, “The following are facts about persons defined as ‘poor’ by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:”
- 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
- Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
- Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
- Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
- Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
- More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
- 43 percent have Internet access.
- One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
- One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.
The Okies would have killed to live in such “poverty.”
#2 – Weingarten’s next core knowledge “fact” is that “Thirty-one states are spending less per pupil on public education than they were in 2007.” Because spending on education varies from state to state and from year to year, it’s much more instructive to look at the big picture. As a nation, we are first in the world in spending, investing over $600 billion dollars on public education every year. Also, as the late Andrew Coulson wrote in 2012, “Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment.” Hence, we spend a fortune on education and the unionized workforce has been growing precipitously. So Weingarten’s “fact” is ultimately meaningless.
#3 – “High school graduation rates, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and college entrance are all at record highs.” Well sorta. NAEP scores have been rising in elementary and middle schools but not high schools. Regarding high school grad rates, it depends who is doing the counting and how the rates are measured. But even if the NAEP scores are rising and high school grad rates are up and college entrance rates are at an all-time high – more importantly, what happens when students get to college? Are they prepared? The answer is a resounding “No!”
Despite our misguided insistence that every student go to college, we’ve done little to ensure their readiness to do so. Via Joanne Jacobs, we see that while 66 percent of our students do apply to college, only 38 percent are ready for the experience. (Note to Randi – regarding your #2 and #3 points: you claim that spending is down throughout much of the country, yet students are flourishing. Maybe we should cut spending to further improve performance?)
Numbers 4 through 8 are equally lame, but let’s skip them and go directly to #9. “Twenty-eight percent of the public workforce will be eligible to retire by 2018, and many state and local governments are not prepared, especially in areas like public safety and corrections.” Not prepared? As the need arises, more will be hired. But if she is referring to pensions, of course they are not prepared! That’s because public employee unions and their hand-picked cronies in local government have already mortgaged all of our futures and built mountains of debt which will be shouldered by generations to come. Many big cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. In fact, Chicago now has “more retired police and firefighters than working.” New York City is in the same boat. In New York State, it is not uncommon for cops and firefighters to pull in six-figure retirement checks.
And then there is #10 – “Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts $2.37 back into the economy.” This one is an Oscar winner for its audacity and mendacity – a canard perpetuated by the National Institute on Retirement Security, a public pension advocacy group. As researcher Jason Richwine points out, “The stimulus effects are based on the uncontroversial notion that economic activity (such as paying pension benefits) begets further economic activity. The fallacy is in ignoring what economic activity would be generated by taxpayer money if it were not diverted to pensions in the first place.”
So if you steal a dollar from Joe but assure him that the money will be put to good use, the crime is then justified, right, Randi?
Had Weingarten’s fact-free twaddle appeared a few weeks later, I would have assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. But no, sadly, her pro-union propaganda is deadly serious and should be scorned by anyone who truly cares about cultural literacy.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.