The Real Bullies

Monday, May 14, 2012

Brian Calle of The Orange County Register writes of some of the many abuses of power committed by the California Teachers Association. Most striking to me was how hard this union worked to prevent even a modicum of free market reform in education nearly twenty years ago.

In 1993 for example, the CTA spent $12.5 million to block a school-choice ballot initiative that would have given parents and students the ability choose their school - private or public - regardless of where they lived. The CTA, [City Journal's Troy] Senik wrote, even "bullied members of the business community who contributed" to the choice effort, including California's iconic In-N-Out burger chain, which donated to support the measure. In response, "the CTA threatened to use its market power - the teachers' retirement fund, CalSTRS, is the second-largest pension fund in the nation - to crush the value of the burger chain's stock." And the union threatened to push "schools to drop contracts with companies" which similarly supported the initiative.
This is despicable and might demoralize some advocates of freedom in education, but it shouldn't. The real power of the CTA lies, not in its war chest of stolen money, but in its ability to get good men to do nothing. And that hinges on people continuing to function within the same, narrow confines as the CTA. This is plainly not the way to win, as I will explain.

Despite its huge war chest and illegitimately granted, government-backed authority, the CTA is not all-powerful. The only reason it succeeds now is that attempts at political change like the above initiative have to rely on heavy political advertising. This is because most people see such questions as isolated "issues", to be decided based on a short-range list of pros and cons, where even the pros and cons are uninformed by principle. (Would, say, lower taxes necessarily be a "pro" in the eyes of someone who realized that confiscating money is not a proper function of government? Not if eliminating a tax were on the table.) I doubt that if more people understood freedom to be of a piece we would be fighting for such small scraps and losing even those.

What if, instead, most Americans, or at least a significant and vocal minority, raised the real questions and fought for real political change? The above ballot initiative -- assuming it actually represented a step in the right direction -- would be seen as part of a larger question, like, "Should a parent be free to decide who will educate his child?" There would be no need for a huge advertising campaign, thanks to the power of what was once known as moral suasion. There would be massive indignation about the fact that children are forcibly being coralled into holding pens, where they are not being taught what they need (or how) to function as independent adults. The CTA could spend itself silly and helplessly watch the measure pass, and then soon see itself stripped of the illegitimate government power it currently has.

Stories like this, far from being intimidating, should be used to fuel indignation in the fight for freedom.

-- CAV

P.S. The title came to me in retrospect, as I recalled after writing that the educational establishment is currently all atwitter about preventing bullying. What nerve!


: Corrected "Teacher's Union" to read "Teachers Association".


Vigilis said...

Gus, an excellent piece. In my opinion, it is quite worthy of wider publication such as in the WSJ!

Steve D said...

These are the same people who are teaching our children - and therein lies perhaps an even larger long term problem.

I guess this goes to the problem of how to teach a child to think properly and be honest in a world where so many don’t and aren’t. As the father of a ten year old, I struggle with this daily; especially considering the very narrow justification for honesty that most people have.

Gus Van Horn said...




That is both a huge problem and yet more grist for the anti-government school mill. Public education is so obviously broken that even many of the students know something is wrong.

But, yes. The struggle you mention is one aspect of fatherhood I am not especially looking forward to.