This piece is not about school principals. Rather, it is about those political power centers that depend on the current socialized system and stand to lose big time when it is liberated. By understanding the enemy, citizens can shake off demagoguery and plan more effective strategy and tactics to end the tyranny.
There has been a clear historical progression of centralization in public education. What was 10,000 INdependent school districts serving small communities a century ago has coalesced into 1000 DEpendent districts mostly run by state governments today. The system is becoming more monolithic with each state law that trumps local school boards. What's worse, the progression is continuing with federalization of curriculum and administration, with statists in both major parties advocating national programs.
As discussed elsewhere, monopolization is bad no matter who is running the show. It is especially bad with government, because there's an inherent conflict of interest. Society's interest is to nurture independent thinkers who can rein in government. Any party in power always has a competing temptation to indoctrinate young, uncritical minds with whatever their ideology is. Less obvious, because it is less conscious, is the bureaucracy's interest in fostering faith in bureaucracy, the antithesis of independence. This conflict of interest is a cornerstone supporting the separation of church and state, and it alone should persuade us to similarly separate education and state.
However, bureaucracy is self-serving. A bureaucrat's salary, promotions and status depend on how many minions it has, so it will grow its empire whenever possible and do anything but cut bureaucrats when money is tight. Voters have been asked many times to pay more for teachers, but each time we approve higher taxes, the money is absorbed by bureaucracy and special interest vote-buying projects.
A self-serving bureaucracy will fight tooth and nail for survival. When money becomes tight during a recession, teachers are lost, class sizes swell, and school days & hours are reduced long before any bureaucrats are exorcised. Just look at the escalating tragedy in our neighbor Oregon.
Democratic Social Engineers
Isn't democracy the sine qua non of American society? No, democracy is only the least despicable way to make a decision when a consensus is required. Since remarkably few aspects of life require a consensus, democracy is not the best way to make most decisions. Wherever individual members of society would benefit from variety, enforced consensus actually causes more harm than good. After all, that's why we have a Bill of Rights that includes the 9th & 10th amendments, which together are one of the most profound statements in the history of human civilization.
The hidden power here is all of those people who want uniformity. These are social engineers each of whom hopes to impose his or her own brand of uniformity on everyone else, foolishly risking having someone else impose a competing brand on them. Cries for "democracy" contain the hidden implication of forced consensus; therefore, beware of applying democracy where consensus is not necessary. You may end up in the minority forced to conform to someone else's majority view.
Democracy, because it implies consensus, also drives compromise. This is a good thing when consensus is beneficial. However, when /variety/ is acceptable or even preferable, forced compromise often leaves all sides dissatisfied with a result that is neither fish nor fowl.
Democracy is also slow, rendering it a poor step cousin compared to free markets. In the current public school system, parents need to agitate continuously to have any hope of changing anything. They must also fight continuously to oppose others' changes. Election cycles run years, and it can take several before representatives can be replaced. It's an enormous amount of work over a long period of time to accomplish almost nothing.
On the other hand, if we privatize schools, then satisfying one's individual preference is as simple as enrolling elsewhere tomorrow or next week. That might not always be quite as simple as choosing a new grocery store, but it's much easier than moving to a new state or fighting through several election cycles. Best of all, one family's quest won't threaten other's preferences. In addition, competition for students may motivate schools to keep an eye each other for serious problems.
In a democracy, system weaknesses fester at tax payer expense until voters amass enough anger and energy to force reform. In a free market, people are free to walk away from systemic problems, and a problematic organization simply goes bankrupt at its investors' expense. In a public system, the burden rests on citizens to fight for what's good and right. In a competitive private system, the burden always rests on operators to attract patronage to survive.
From time to time, people will screw up in any system. A public system, no matter how bad, no matter how slow, no matter how scrambled by democratic compromises, it survives. Its competition can't drive it out of business and absorb its resources. When a company screws up in the private sector, free markets are quick and ruthless about replacing it; just ask Arthur Anderson.
(meaning the leaders, not the rank & file)
Union representatives claim to care about "the children". One should wonder then why the bosses are so violently opposed to pilot programs that might demonstrate a better way to structure our school system. The key is to understand what gives a union mogul its power. Power comes from having many union members who are very dependent. What is it that drives membership and dependency? I see two obvious drivers; feel free to alert me to others:
*Some states legislate unions. School privatization wouldn't necessarily affect such legislated fiefdoms.
*To the extent that any employer, public or private, monopolizes any career path, it spawns collective bargaining (countervailing monopolization). That's why unions formed a century ago when any town's employment could be monopolized by one industrialist, and that's why unionism today is expanding in the public sector even though it is shrinking everywhere else. The monopoly power inherent government's >90% control over K-12 education demands collective bargaining to offset it. Fragment the employment market, and the need for collective bargaining would shrinks and probably disappear.
It's the second unionizing force with which school privatization is colliding. By creating a free market for education in which many providers would compete for parents' patronage, privatization, incidentally, creates a fragmented employment market in which many employers would compete for labor. Once the big government bucks were released into the private sector, then schools would be driven to create attractive work environments and pay teachers like the highly educated professionals that they are. Not only that, but enterprising teachers could become free agents in the same way that some computer programmers and other professionals become independent consultants.
Therefore, the unions, rather than being smashed to the detriment of their members, would simply become superfluous. The problem that they were created to solve would no longer exist. Although this would mean prosperity for the members (at least those whose superior skills were in demand in a quality driven system), the union moguls would lose all of their political power.
No power broker wants those who depend on him to ever gain independence, so the bosses in the teachers unions promote all ideas that would further centralize the school system, and they ferociously oppose all ideas that would fragment it. Union bosses decry home schooling and charter schools, but they loathe privatization most of all. They know that if tried in earnest, it will prove itself vastly superior to the current socialist system, so they feel compelled to demonize or sabotage even pilot projects as if their lives depended on the outcome. Politically, they do. Tragically, they are sacrificing both children's futures and teachers' prosperity in a venal war solely to protect their personal political power.
I think that there must be a level of hell reserved just for union moguls who exploit their members to pursue political agendas that serve neither the membership nor society... if not because we know where they should go but to explain from where they came.
Some may criticize me for indulging in demagoguery in some of the above paragraphs, using charged terms like "minions" or even referring to a bureaucrat as "it" instead of s/he. They're right. However, when they do, I hope they'll also notice the logic in the surrounding analysis.
Copyright 2003 by Jeff Fisher