Teachers used to be devoted to teaching. Now, teachers–or rather, the various branches of the education establishment–are devoted to not teaching. The education establishment, personified by the nation’s biggest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, is categorically opposed to everything–memorization, spelling lessons, phonics-based reading instruction, order in the classrooms–that might be actually conducive to learning something in our nation’s public schools.
The latest target of the ed-establishment is–natch–the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002–which requires school districts to demonstrate, via frequent testing, that their student populations, especially its minority student populations, up to grade level in achievement or risk losing their federal education funding. Sounds fair enough to me, since my taxes (and yours) go to pay for the boodle that public-school teachers and administrators perpetually have their hands out for. But the No Child Left Behind Act is the creation of the Big Bad Bush Administration, and as we all know, the NEA is virtually a branch of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, it dares to make teachers responsible for teaching something–and we can’t have that!
Now, after drawing forth pools of sympathetic op-ed ink in the liberal press about how the testing requirement encourage “rote learning” (what a dreadful idea!), the NEA is suing the U.S. Education Department, on the novel theory that the No Child Left Behind Act is an “unfunded mandate.” The idea seems to be that the government’s threat to withdraw money somehow constitutes an order for the states to spend money. How’s that again?
The lawsuit also seems to suggest that it’s impossible for minority students to learn anything without a multi-billion-dollar cash infusion from the federal government. (If that’s the case, why do poor minority kids at cash-starved parochial schools do so much better than their public-school counterparts?)
And naturally Bush’s education secretary, Margaret Spellings, has turned into Public Enemy #1 for the educrats–because she’s fought back against foot-dragging states such as Connecticut and Utah. I happen to like Spellings, a tough-minded former single mom who, when a reporter asked her what her religion was, replied, “Phonics.” But–ooh, she’s hated by the ed-establishment and the mainstream press. As Slate’s Mickey Kaus observes, the New York Times’s Sam Dillon recently wrote a hysteria-driven profile of Spellings, asserting that she’s playing “bare-knuckle politics” and “hardball.”
“It seems she once called somebody ‘unAmerican’ and contacted Utah’s governor instead of its education superintendent! She even threatened to cut off federal funding if Utah flouted the law’s requirements for getting federal funding! If that’s Dillon’s idea of ‘bare-knuckle politics’ he must have grown up in an ashram.”
Mickey also quotes from an earlier New York Times article about Spellings (sorry, you have to pay to read the whole thing):
“The rift grew last week when Ms. Spellings, asked about Connecticut during a television appearance, said it was ‘un-American, I would call it, for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete, are not going to be prepared to compete in this world and are not going to be educated to high levels. That’s the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects.’”
As Mickey writes:
“Wow. It’s the New McCarthyism, I tell you! … Those whining states that Dillon champions are so vewy sensitive! … P.S.: This is an exceptionlly pathetic bit of crusading journalism, even for the NYT.”
All I can say is that if I were a public-school teacher, I’d be thinking about another line of work.