The appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U. S. Secretary of Education over the fevered and unanimous objection of Senate Democrats is a natural and perhaps inevitable (in hindsight, anyway) turning of the tide against the hegemony of the teachers’ unions in public education. Unions depict themselves as combinations of the weak against the strong in the service of justice, for fair pay, decent working conditions, and respect their members otherwise would not enjoy—goals not unworthy in themselves. The concentration of power in the teachers’ unions, with the full collusion of a Democrat Party dominated by its left wing, however, has given rise to a set of conditions unfavorable to education, and to which sensible Americans are now calling a halt.
Reinhold Niebuhr, in Moral Man and Immoral Society, a book as penetrating and significant now as when published in 1932, analyzes the inferiority of group morality to that of individuals in terms of a focused, collective egoism that repels self-criticism and is constitutionally bereft of the spirit of contrition and amendment that only religion can bring—an egoism by nature irreformable and increasingly destructive of both itself and its society.
Applying Niebuhr’s analysis to the teachers’ unions one finds a group of mainly decent people, few of whom are manifestly vicious or selfish, with many dedicated to the work of educating children, but who are part of a malign collective. For the individual teacher as a positive moral agent there is a heavy price to pay for union membership, for only to a point will society accept the union’s plea that it only seeks justice for its members, especially when it detects that in the exercise of its power it has become increasingly inimical to the interests of the students it professes to serve.
When, for example, the teachers’ unions, in the spirit of Governor Wallace, enrich politicians for standing in the way of voucher programs that have helped underprivileged children receive better educations than have been available to them in the inner-city government schools, and for which Mrs. DeVos is a fervent advocate–programs for which their parents are clamoring, ignored by their Democrat representatives who do not send their own children to these schools (the Clintons and Obamas being recent examples)—nowhere is the hypocrisy and selfishness of these unions, and the necessity of breaking them as a negative social element, more evident.
It is likely the highest price paid by the teacher in exchange for the powers of unionization was his transformation in the public mind from a giver to a getter, from a self-sacrificing master in the tradition of Socrates and Jesus, to a skivvy due no more respect from his students or society at large than any other wage-earner, in whom whatever application there might be to the spiritual and intellectual enlargement of the next generation is decidedly subordinate to the interests of a hireling.
The status of “professional,” to whose educated opinions on the contents of the curriculum and the intellectual development of children the rest of us are supposed to be deferent, is an unstable mid-point between master and mere pedagogue, difficult to maintain where people are increasingly able to recognize the educational “authority” as impractical and self-interested–an impertinent plebeian liberty deeply resented and loudly protested by “experts” in the schools and teaching departments who are now feeling their government backing slipping down the same drain as their respect.
The DeVos confirmation does indeed point toward a popular and multi-racial desire for a revolution, a turn-around, in American public education, and should be a hopeful sign for competent, devoted teachers, since it affords the opportunity to demonstrate their independence as moral individuals from what has become the immoral society of the unions and their Democrat Party enablers. The minimization of union power inspired by practical concern for the good of the students presages–one would hope–the return of a more traditional order to the schools, and with it a return of the status of and respect for teachers that is necessary for serving their students.