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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Unions!?! INDEED.

Look, I hate unions as much as any upper middle-class white male. Most unions out there are, if not evil, certainly tending towards evil. If unions were a person, they would be Michael Jackson, only instead of sleeping with boys, they would eat them by the thousands. Sort of a mecha-Michael Jackson, intent on ruling the world to eat child brains and possibly smash ducks and kittens against sharp, jagged rocks.

That having been said, this is jarringly stupid. Get this: unions tend to support liberal causes. I know, I know, it seems out there, but they even cite real sources!

I'm just curious, is this news to literally anyone? Hey, here's some shocking news that might blow your mind: in the 2000 election, George W. Bush got money from agribusiness, energy concerns and defense contractors! I know, crazy, right? And - you're not going to believe this - Republicans also tend to get more contributions from major corporations! Wow! I wonder if there's any way to explain this bizarre phenomenon?

Maybe the fact that the 'liberal causes' that the NEA is contributing to actually reflect the major ideologies of most teachers. Not sure if anyone remembers, but a while ago, there was a lot of talk about a report showing that college professors tended to be more liberal than the general population. There was a fear there that conservativism was being summarily quashed by our hyperliberal universities and colleges, despite the overwhelming evidence that college students are more self-reporting as conservative today than they have been at any point in the past thirty years. The solution proposed was a sort of ideological affirmative action, the supposition being that conservatives were being kept down by the man. The plan died down somewhat when it was found that, rather than being a problem with hiring discrimination, most well-educated conservatives would rather be out making money than teaching a bunch of bratty teens and twenty-somethings.

Give someone with strong conservative leanings the choice between, say, $125k a year as an engineer at Lockheed-Martin and $28k a year as a university lecturer, and they'll go with the former. It's deceptively obvious; ideology inheres in career choice and lifestyle choices. It shouldn't shock anyone to find out that people who pass up financial well-being for a more government/public sphere/service oriented career tend to be those who believe that rational self-interest (the ostensible cornerstone of most conservativism in America) is insufficient to make for the best possible American future, and that public works suppliment private action. Many conservatives see academia and its abstract, ethereal benefits to the overall aesthetic of the public mind to be a waste. It's not really a bombshell to find that they might tend to avoid actively participating in it.

When the Republicans sought to cut funding to the other NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), the argument they used to make their case was that the NEA funded art it deemed 'obscene' and that they weren't doing any good. Liberals came back that the very purpose of the NEA was that it would fund projects that the stuffy art establishment would think of as "obscene," just as the Venus de Milo might be thought of as virulently lascivious by a Victorian society. The converse would be that the NEA would spend $60m a year recreating landscapes and bowls of fruit, which I'm sure would also draw the ire of conservatives since it's not really the product they take offense to, it's the idea. Government sponsored art. (Government funded religion, of course... but finding and pointing out hypocrisies in either political wing is a little like finding intercourse on Whore Island.)

Back to the original NEA, it's possible that a person who chooses to take the thankless job of teaching America's youth actually believes in these causes. Even aside from that, the author of the piece is making some bizarre proclaimations.

We already knew that the NEA's top brass lives large. Reg Weaver, the union's president, makes $439,000 a year. The NEA has a $58 million payroll for just over 600 employees, more than half of whom draw six-figure salaries. Last year the average teacher made only $48,000, so it seems you're better off working as a union rep than in the classroom.

Looking at the executive bios, I'm not really sure where the problem is. In most cases, the people have postgraduate degrees or at least some postgraduate work. Why is the fact that they make six figures somehow damning? The president of an organization representing 2.7 million employees makes less than 5% of what an average CEO of a major corporation does in a given year. I can't really get worked up over that, especially since it seems that any given member of the board could almost certainly make more elsewhere. This isn't even a cogent argument. If the point of the article is that the NEA is unduly liberal, this is a non sequiter. If he's trying to make a larger point about the NEA's fiscal irresponsibility, that's a whole other issue, but one that he doesn't even attempt to back up by showing that the salaries are excessive, he just shows that they are large relative to an average teacher.

Many of the organization's disbursements--$30,000 to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, $122,000 to the Center for Teaching Quality--at least target groups that ostensibly have a direct educational mission.

"Ostensibly"? A quote from their website: "The Center for Teaching Quality ... improves student learning through developing teacher leadership, conducting practical research and engaging various communities." Their programs include seminars for teachers on improved classroom methods, studies on student demographics and scholarship, and so on. I'm not sure the author understands what "ostensibly" means.

But many others are a stretch, to say the least. The NEA gave $15,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights." The National Women's Law Center, whose Web site currently features a "pocket guide" to opposing Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito, received $5,000. And something called the Fund to Protect Social Security got $400,000, presumably to defeat personal investment accounts.

Again, no specific objection is raised. Is the author under the impression that there are no gay students? That there is no pressure on GLBT students in schools? That there are no gay teachers? That there is no overt violence against gays? Because unless all of those are true, I'm not exactly clear on why contributing to a group who deals with these topics is a misuse of funds. A group who also, by the way, specifically produces and runs homosexual sensitivity seminars for DC public schools. Moreover, he notes that of the $90.5 million in grants, political activity, lobbying, gifts and contributions made by the union, $20,000 total dollars went to LGBT causes (another $5,000 went to GLAAD.) which comes out to a staggering .02% of their grant/donation budget. Not exactly the major portion, is it?

The National Women's Law Center has a plethora of activities, one of which happens to be an opposition to a supreme court justice who they believe will attack abortion rights. This form of argumentation never gets old - the message is that the NEA is trying to defeat Alito, despite the fact that their $5,000 donation almost certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with that one, specific activity that the NWLC is engaged in. So again - is it possible that the NEA enjoys a relationship with a group that does pro bono work on women's rights for, among others, schools, teachers and female students?

The third is the best, however. The NEA used $400k to fund the fight against the privitization of Social Security. Guess what many teachers are relying upon to suppliment their pensions, in retirement? Guess what would be harmed terrifically by personal retirement accounts? If you guessed "social security programs," give yourself a pat on the back. Social Security is of obvious interest to a union, and I have absolutely no idea what the author is even attempting to argue here.

There's been a lot in the news recently about published opinion that parallels donor politics. Well, last year the NEA gave $45,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, which regularly issues reports that claim education is underfunded and teachers are underpaid.

I mean, not to be a dick, but teachers are underpaid and education is underfunded. I suppose the author's solution is to retaliate against the people who point it out. And hey, shock, this still serves the teachers and helps them get, as he argues the NEA should, "better wages, benefits and working conditions."

The partisans at People for the American Way got a $51,000 NEA contribution; PFAW happens to be vehemently anti-voucher.


Protect Our Public Schools, an anti-charter-school group backed by the NEA's Washington state affiliate, received $500,000 toward its efforts to block school choice for underprivileged children. (Never mind that charter schools are
public schools.)

Charter schools are "public" schools in the same sense that all-white high schools were "public" schools. They are funded by state and federal money, but they are allowed to discriminate when choosing students to go. In most districts where charter schools have been instituted, they become de-facto private schools with per-pupil expenditure higher than average. I, personally, went to a charter school back before it was the cool thing to do - I had classes of eight to twelve kids, in a graduating group of roughly 40. The student to pupil ratio was about 13:1, a third of the district-wide average. The student to computer ratio was about 3:1, a tenth. They also allow more affluent portions of a school district to protect their childs' right to a good education, while allowing underpriviledged and minority sectors to crumble. So yeah, I would imagine that someone concerned with the overall quality of education might not like them.

The other question the article sort of fails to answer is: what is the federal government doing attacking a major source of funding for the minority party in this way? Private businesses aren't forced to disclose, even those who are actively engaged in ostensibly (this, by the way, is the correct use) "public" interest. Firms like Boeing, who makes a significant portion of their income from public contracts, are not forced to disclose this sort of information, though it is widely known that they contribute primarily to Republicans. The very law that allowed this article to be written was clearly done so to prompt exactly this type of diatribe. If there is a percieved interest in transparency for the sake of the workers, that is taken care of: union members routinely get reports of what the unions are doing. They can go to their union rep and get exactly the types of information released here. The purpose behind the law is obviously political in nature, and the shallow pretense of "letting the rank and file know" is bullshit.

Moreover, the NEA is not a non-profit organization, as far as I understand. It's possible they use these sorts of donations in the same way every other major Republican donor does - as a tax break. Even if they serve no direct purpose, the ancillary benefit would justify them as an expense.

Even the writing is poor. The article begins with the most misleading paragraph possible: "If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups." Giving to "other such advocacy groups" read in context is about $100,000 of that $65m. The vast majority goes to districts that are underfunded (conveniently, in so-called "red" states), training for teachers, scholarships for aspiring teachers, and so on. On some level, it would be funny to see the response of conservatives if we really acted on their philosophy. If you stop giving federal funding to states, and let them take care of their own problems, the biggest losers would be the predominantly pro-Republican areas. If the NEA loses funding and stops giving in this manner, the biggest losers would be the uneducated hicks in places like Louisiana, who has an amazing dearth of qualified teachers. Then again, considering Kansas' preference to keep its children ignorant of basic science, they might not mind too much.

cranked out at 5:27 AM | |

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