Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Madison Standoff: A Lose-Lose

I've read several articles on the Madison standoff. The general idea is that Republican Governor Scott Walker is demanding wage and benefit cuts and an end to the union's collective bargaining rights. As of this writing, the union bosses have given in to the cuts, but are holding out on the right to bargain collectively. Pro-union legislators have fled Madison in order to block a quorum of votes in the Senate. Schools have been closed, and there are physicians on the streets writing sick notes to excuse the absences of any teachers who might otherwise face disciplinary action. It is absolute lunacy.

Admittedly, my instinct is to side with Governor Walker, only because his propositions would supposedly translate to lower taxes for people who have no dealings with the public schools. But if I'm to be honest, the only groups I can sympathize with are the kids who are missing school and their parents. Everyone else is looking out for himself, and is using some sort of political mechanism to get what he wants. When government is embedded into the fabric of people's jobs and lives like this, clashes like those in Madison become inevitable. But take away the fiery rhetoric of both sides, and the only thing left is an embarrassing public political battle like any other.

The solution is not to curtail benefits or preserve collective bargaining, or anything else that either side in Madison (or Columbus or Trenton any other state capital) is fighting for. The solution is the privatization of education. By that, I do not mean setting up a voucher system or instituting charter schools with permission of the state or any other solution typically offered by politicians and pundits. I mean the total separation of school and state, where the government has no control over anything from salaries to certifications to curricula. This should done from preschool through the highest levels of post-graduate education.

Why? Because teaching is basically a government job, and everything about a public school is, at some level, regulated by government- including what is taught, who's allowed to teach, and how the workers are compensated. It's all funded by taxpayers, and the people calling the shots need only cater to enough voters to win the next election to stay in power. The only way to combat this type of political machinery is either to have it legally dismantled or to unionize against it. Unfortunately, we've taken the latter path, and so have transformed American education into a struggle between governments and organized labor. It is now a game of force against force, of strikes and budget crises, demands and concessions, protests, propaganda, and all other manner of poison fruit that hangs from the tree of politics.

Taking sides in a Wrong Versus Wrong battle is a waste of time. If we're to make any progress as a nation, we need markets in education. We need things like pay, faculty, staff, and curricula determined not by politicians, but by what people want. We do not need government dictates or corporate sponsorship to unions or taxpayer funds to create good schools. What we do need is a radical departure from the status quo; the liberty to experiment with education how we please in an environment unfettered to the greatest extent possible by government red tape. To talk of anything else is to ignore the root of the problem and as such will guarantee repeats of the Madison spectacle in the future.

The ideal transition from government control to private control would likely take decades, but it would be worth it to the generations of children that can be free of today's educational paradigms. Even though it's far beyond today's horizon, it's worthy of public debate- much more so than who should blink first in the contest between state governments and teacher unions. Our children deserve better.