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Propaganda Every American Should Disregard

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.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The National Education Association is relentless in pushing for “reforms,” all the while engaging in world class duplicity.

(While the themes I explore here have been covered before, they must be repeated because the National Education Association is dogged in its attempt to acquire even more power than it now has. It is incumbent that parents, taxpayers and all concerned citizens remain mindful of the fact that the largest union in the country is not content to sit back on its haunches. Its lust for money and power knows no bounds and must be exposed at every turn.)

On February 8th, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a letter to President Obama with some “suggestions” for the latter’s State of the Union address tonight. Most of it is fluffy, boilerplate bunkum, but beyond the banality are three suggestions for the president – and therein lies the treachery.

Van Roekel’s first suggestion: “Opportunity requires an economy that works for everyone.” He goes on to write,

In order for the economy to truly work for all Americans, we need to continue to pursue fiscal policies that promote fairness and prosperity (such as corporate tax reform that generates revenue), create jobs, make college affordable, and lift children out of poverty. It is entirely unacceptable that one of every five children we see in our classrooms lives in poverty. (Emphasis added.)

Corporate tax reform? He wants corporate tax reform? Let’s start with his corporation! While many American corporations are burdened with the highest tax rate in the world, labor unions get a pass. According to its latest tax filing in 2010, NEA brought in $376,500,485, but as a 501(c)(5), it paid not a penny in income tax. I think that before Van Roekel points fingers at Big Oil, Big Pharma and other “Bigs”, he should show us the way by having “Big Union” set aside its brazen hypocrisy and start paying its “fair share.” And it’s not just the NEA that is getting away with this tax dodge. The American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers union, took in $176,265,529  in 2010. The state teachers unions are also in on this swindle. In 2010, the California Teachers Association reported $185,222,341 in tax-free total revenue.  So the two national unions and just one state’s combined take is $737,988,355 – an almost three quarters of a billion dollar wealth transfer from the taxpayer to the teacher – who never sees the money – to the union. And again, the unions don’t pay a penny in tax on their “profits.”

And regarding the “one in five children living in poverty” myth, can we give it a rest? As has been pointed out by many, most recently by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, we have redefined poverty so far up as to make it a meaningless concept.

…poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

Then, Van Roekel bangs the “public school” drum. “Opportunity begins in great public schools for every single student.” He claims that

…we have always believed that the gateway to opportunity for individuals and the cradle of innovation and ingenuity for our country begins in our public schools. We hope that you will pursue an aggressive agenda to remedy the extreme and pronounced inequities of opportunity that our public education system continues to perpetuate. (Emphasis added.)

What the union boss does not mention is that the inequities in our public education system are largely the doing of NEA and its state and local affiliates. Tenure, seniority, byzantine dismissal statutes, restrictive collective bargaining contracts, etc. have turned public education throughout much of the country into a jobs program that benefits adults at the expense of educating our children, and has resulted in parents all over the country clamoring for charter schools and vouchers. If Van Roekel was serious about inequities, he would favor having a free education market where schools would compete for students. But then again, that would threaten the $376,000,000 NEA bottom line, not to mention Van Roekel’s $620,250 dollar a year position. With those numbers staring at you, I guess it’s easy to understand why the unionistas find it easy to throw school kids under the bus.

His third point is another world class exercise in audacity. “Opportunity requires a democracy that protects every American’s voice and vote.” He elaborates,

Finally, the crisis of opportunity for Americans to participate in our democracy was on full display during the last election cycle. Reactionary state laws, unequal and unethical administration of voting procedures, and the unfettered access of corporations to influence electoral outcomes has severely damaged our democracy. (Emphasis added.)

Van Roekel actually has the unmitigated chutzpah to complain about corporations influencing elections. Is it possible that he is not aware that the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than

AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.” 

It’s hard to know Van Roekel’s true state of mind when he makes these loopy pronouncements. He is either deluded or a liar. In either case, he must be busted every time he mouths off, and American families must become educated, get active and fight to undo the grave damage the implacable teachers unions have visited on our country.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Povertism

A word that is not in the dictionary but should be, “povertism” aptly describes the philosophy of the “povertists,” aka the “poverty is destiny” crowd.

It is claimed by many that poverty leads to a myriad of personal and social ills. The regnant theme of these poverty cultists is that until we eradicate poverty, unemployment, family dissolution and general ignorance will continue to be a problem. As with any myth, it gains currency because it sounds good.

But a peek below the surface demonstrates that that this belief is just plain wrong. If poverty causes crime and divorce, the Great Depression – the most devastating economic disaster this country has faced – would have seen an upsurge in lawlessness and family break-ups. But in reality, crime and divorce rates went down. In fact, the 1920s – a boom time in America – saw much higher crime rates than the 1930s, a decade when many families fell into abject poverty. And even during the latest recession, many sociologists predicted an uptick in crime, but in fact crime rates actually went down.

Could the opposite be true? Is it possible that poverty is not a cause, but rather a result of crime and family instability? Yes. High crime in a given area chases businesses and jobs away, which in turn leads to an impoverished neighborhood.

In the same vein, government largess, via welfare, has made things worse for children. For decades now, the povertists have contributed to the destabilization of families by incentivizing women not to marry which greatly increases the likelihood of poverty. As economist Walter Williams has pointed out, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do. . . . And that is to destroy the black family.”

When we get to the subject of education, the povertists are light years from reality. The teacher union elites and their fellow travelers – poverty pimps at heart – are relentless in banging the povertism drum. They believe that poverty could be eradicated by pouring money into early childhood education and other sound-good, yet self-serving and failed schemes. “No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” an article on the National Education Association website, typical of the mentality, claims that cuts in education spending will doom many-a-child to a life of poverty. (Never mind that education spending is at an all time high!)

Using an Education Week exchange with former teacher Anthony Cody and the Gates Foundation as his focus, edu-pundit RiShawn Biddle eloquently lays waste to the povertist argument. Several examples of Biddle’s wisdom on the subject:

As with so many traditionalists, Cody would rather ignore the fact that reformers actually do talk plenty about addressing poverty, just not in the manner that fits his impoverished worldview on the role education plays in addressing those issues. He also ignores the reality that the education spending has continued to increase for the past five decades, and that much of the troubles with American public education has little do with money than with the fact that so much school funding is trapped by practices such as degree- and seniority-based pay scales for teachers that have no correlation with improving student achievement. But those are matters for a later day. Why? Because Cody’s puts on full displays the problems of the poverty mythmaking in which he and other traditionalists engage.

…the biggest problem with Cody’s piece lies with its rather unjustified contention that anti-poverty programs are the long-term solutions for fighting poverty. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

But anti-poverty programs and quality-of-life efforts aren’t going to address the reality that 1.4 million fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate are likely to drop out in eight years. More importantly, we cannot ignore the consequences of American public education’s failures on the very communities at which its schools are the center of the lives of the children who live in them. This can only be addressed by overhauling how (we) educate all children — especially our poorest. They deserve better than last-class schools.

The bottom line here is that the government needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars by throwing money at poverty. In the world of public education, we have seen a tripling of edu-dollars over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it. There is an obvious (although politically difficult) solution to our education problem, which Biddle addresses.

…Overhauling American public education is critical to fighting poverty for the long haul. Revamping how the nation’s ed schools recruit and train aspiring teachers, for example, would help all children get the high-quality instruction that is the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. Just as importantly, reforming education can even help address the immediate problems that stem from poverty. After-school programs and extensions of the school day (and year) — the latter of which is a hallmark of the Knowledge Is Power Program and other successful schools and systems — can help poor families address child care issues by providing healthy, crime free, and nurturing environments in which kids can continue learning. Expanding high-quality school choices, including charter schools and school voucher programs, can help revive communities by bringing schools into communities that can appeal to both the poor and middle class. And Parent Trigger laws can empower poor families to take over and lead the overhaul of failure mills in their own communities (and help them take the next step of taking on other challenges in their own neighborhoods).

While we are making some progress in the reform direction that Biddle suggests, we are still too much in thrall to the trappings of povertism and the lies that prop up this sound-good, feel-good philosophy that is destroying our children’s future in the name of saving it.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.