Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" is Worth a Look

A minister, found guilty of disreputable or squalid behavior, can lose his church and even be shunned from his congregation. A physician found to be incompetent can lose his medical license. Incompetent or unethical lawyers can be disbarred. Even in the military, top officers can be drummed out of the service if they are pathetically unable to perform their job as required, although it happens rarely. Only one job in America offers the prospect of total freedom from accountability with almost no chance of being fired for non-performance. That job is the job of public school teacher.

I’ve just seen the film, “Waiting for Superman,” and it’s evident to me that American public school children are being allowed to fail to protect teacher tenure. Once in a rare while, a teacher does get fired, but a doctor’s chance of being barred from practicing medicine is 50 times more likely than a teacher’s chance of getting fired. Does this mean that teachers are 50 times more competent than doctors? Not a chance.

We in America have always put public school teachers on a pedestal, and I’m always skeptical of hero groups that are put on pedestals. Growing up in the 1950s, Catholic priests were put on pedestals, and 50 years later we all know how that worked out. Public school teachers consider themselves “professionals,” but one definition of a professional is someone who can charge more for his services if he does a better job than his counterparts. Thanks to tenure and the teacher unions, wages for all teachers are pretty much standardized, and exceptional performance is not allowed to command a larger paycheck. Fact is, public school teachers, by this definition, are not professionals. They are public employees, and this puts them in the same class with garbage collectors.

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