Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Teacher Strike Miscellany

Question: Why don't mainstream education reporters ever uncover material like this?

by Doug Henwood

In a post yesterday ( Why teachers unions are different: A reply to Doug Henwood), Matt Yglesias takes exception to my speculation on why elite liberals don’t like teachers unions ( Why do so many liberals hate teachers' unions?). Boiling it down to a soundbite: unlike labor disputes in the private sector, where raises would come out of the pockets of shareholders, raises for public sector workers come out of the pockets of “taxpayers,” meaning you, me, Matt, and everyone else—mostly, that is, people of fairly modest means.

This use of "taxpayers" is a fascinating bit of ideology. Its dispersion into wide use marks a very successful deployment by the right of a very conservative notion. It is founded on a view that one lives in this world primarily as an individual, and consumes privately. Any sense of collective consumption (or investment, if you prefer), via the public budget, is ruled out. As is so often the case with right-wing concepts, reactionaries have a much clearer and more consistent sense of the politics behind their buzzword. Liberals, or neoliberals, like Yglesias import the right's concepts without fully integrating them into their worldview. Yglesias wouldn't support Paul Ryan's fiscal policy, but he's happy to use a word that's deeply implicated in its underlying concepts.

Also ruled out in this usage of "taxpayers" is any sense of the state as a contested realm for class struggle. We're all taxpayers—even though the upper classes, who are overflowing with money, have long been evading their share of paying for public goods like education.

In Chicago, Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker (who hates being called an "heiress," so: heiress Penny Pritzker, heiress heiress heiress), the 719th richest person in the world according to Forbes, has been showered with tax breaks by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's government while she sits on the board of the public school system. In fact, she got a $5.2 million tax break for a hotel development while the schools in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development are seeing a proposed budget cut for next year of $3.4 million ( Penny Pritzker's TIF).

As the sociologist Rudolf Goldscheid put it, "the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideology." In this case, using the word "taxpayers" is the misleading ideology. People who can pay more to support public schools aren't being made to pay—the very same elites (including Rahm himself) who send their kids to private schools. Which leads us nicely on to the next item.

But before we get there, Yglesias praises my critique of some public sector unions that I aired after Walker's victory in the Wisconsin recall. But that was a critique of the unions for not making any alliance with the broad public over the quality of services, or articulating any general interest in defending mass living standards. The Chicago Teachers Union is not that kind of union at all. It has been a model of how public sector unions should act, making it clear that it's fighting for better public schools on behalf of just about everyone. They've been rewarded with strong public support, especially from parents ( A new poll proves majority of parents and taxpayers approve of fair contract fight).

Ok, now on to the next item.
radical simplicity

Finally, this ( There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis):

Billionaire wise hobbit Warren Buffet once told school reformer Michelle Rhee that the easiest way to fix schools was to "make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by random lottery."

I suppose this is rather, um, impractical, but it does have a marvelous clarifying simplicity about it. And watching people who are comfortable with vast disparities in schooling come up with arguments against Buffett’s proposal is very amusing.

— Doug Henwood
LBO News from Doug Henwood





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.