It seems that while I was on vacation, Steve Jobs stirred up a little trouble when he voiced his opinion of teachers unions (see Jobs: Teacher unions prevents schools from excellence). I tend to agree that unions have lost sight of their original purpose -- to protect workers from unfair labor practices. Today unions spend far too much time protecting their own power and far too little time seeing to it that their members are rewarded for their efforts, not for their number of years they've been paying dues. The end result is that unions do tend to breed mediocrity.
In my opinion, unions do not belong in any professional setting -- whether in the public or private sector. People live up-to (or down-to) whatever expectations are set for them and professionals should be expected to earn their salary. If they do not earn their salary, they should be replaced by those that will. Similarly, if they do exemplary work, they should be rewarded for that work.
Unfortunately, Steve Jobs -- as well as the bulk of this nation's state and federal legislators, and those that run America's teachers unions -- have all missed the point. Excellent educators are not (nor have they ever been) attracted to teaching because it pays well -- or even because they get summers off. (The best educators do not take summers off, they use the summer to improve themselves as educators.) The problems with our educational system are many -- but the least of those problems is the local teachers' union.
Today, schools are expected to do a great deal more than educate our children. In fact, educating kids seems to be last on the list of expectations set for our schools. Politics plays far too great a role in public education. There's an old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions and sometimes it seems like our educators are being led down that road by well-intentioned politicians wishing to solve all of society's woes with unfunded mandates and standardized testing.
Not all that long ago, standardized testing was condemned as an ineffective way to measure student performance. Now standardized testing is used, not to help the student, but to condemn schools which are expected to fix societal woes left in the wake of poverty.
Education IT can offer our educators the tools to expand the horizons of their students (rich and poor alike) but all too often, politicians and parents are asking our schools to use the technology to wall-off their children -- keeping them from exploring the power of the technology for fear that they will misuse the tools. The very same tools, I might add, that many students learn to use (and misuse) at home -- in front of those same inattentive parents.
To make matters worse, politicians look to information technology as some kind of a magic bullet which can replace well-trained educators. Nothing can take place of a dedicated and well-trained educator. Unfortunately, many of our institutions of higher-learning even give short shrift to those who would be educators -- neglecting to train them in the use of the tools that information technology can provide.
It's time for parents and schoolboards across America to stop listening to policiticans and teachers' unions and start listening to their kids' teachers and principals. Find out what tools they need to educate their children and demand that their state and federal legislatures give our educators the tools and the training they need.