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Why I Support Public School Teachers

[ 250 ] September 13, 2012 |

Corey Robin has a great post about why so many liberals hate public school teachers and don’t support their labor actions. Corey grew up in a wealthy New York suburb where he had great teachers. Nonetheless,

In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and fuck-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.

No one, we were sure, became a teacher because she loved history or literature and wanted to pass that on to the next generation. All of them simply had no other choice. How did we know that? Because they weren’t lawyers or doctors or “businessmen”—one of those words, even in the post-Madmen era, still spoken with veneration and awe. It was a circular argument, to be sure, but its circularity merely reflected the closed universe of assumption in which we operated.

I did not grow up in a rich suburb. As many of you already know, I grew up in a timber-supported family in a timber town when the timber economy was collapsing. My high school, Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon, was not good. People have asked me how I became an academic out of that town. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my high school class who went down this road. Most of us didn’t even go to college. The school had about 1200 students when I was there. But the classes were highly skewed toward freshmen and sophomores because the drop-out rate was so high. I don’t know how many graduated with me, maybe 180. Of those, maybe 15-18 went on to 4-year schools. Some of us went to the University of Oregon or Oregon State. A few went to the directional Oregon schools, the Mormons to BYU. One girl went to the University of Wyoming because she liked to ride horses. Another, perhaps the star of our class, to Rochester. She was smart. I have no idea what happened to her. Some went to the local community college, most just went into the workforce, whatever was left of that in the declining logging economy.

So how did I become an academic? I guess I’m not sure. My parents of course, who were not going to let my brother or I go into the mills. But a lot of it had to do with the awesome teachers I had. Sure we had some terrible teachers. My AP Lit course was a freaking joke. We had spelling tests in it. To my knowledge, no one actually took the AP Lit test. The building itself was more of a prison than a school. There were like 4 tiny windows in the entire school.

On the other hand, I am amazed at the commitment the majority of my teachers had. Think of what they had to deal with every day. I knew girls who got pregnant at 14. Who knows what happened to them. I knew people who had done every drug known to humankind by 15. God knows if they are still alive. There were stabbings outside my school. 2 or 3 years after I left they finally put in metal detectors and upped the police presence. There were growing racial tensions too as a burgeoning immigrant population from Mexico began attending the school.

How did anyone get a good education?

Because for at least part of our day, we had great teachers. In history, which was always my favorite subject, we had an AP teacher who probably wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but who knew his stuff and imparted it to me and really played an important role in my becoming a professional historian. But for more average kids, there was this amazing teacher who could really reach these people where they lived. I don’t know how much people really learned from him. But I learned a lot and average kids loved this guy. His name was Conrad Roemer and he was a special man. In English, despite the disaster of the AP course, there were good teachers. I remember reading The Sun Also Rises in one course, taught by a someone who also coached and it blowing my mind and him being a reason for it.

Then there was science, which I was not particularly good at. There was one guy, a Vietnam War medic who was a heck of a good high school chemistry teacher and would drop hints about what he had experienced. There was the biology teacher, who was best friends with John Olerud’s dad and had his classroom full of animals. Once we spent the class watching a boa constrictor eat a rabbit. That’s some learning.

And then there was a man named Stuart Perlmeter. I first ran into him in the 7th grade when he taught some classes at my middle school. This was around 1987. He was a weird guy, or so it seemed. He had big curly hair. His classroom was festooned with lyrics by some band none of us had ever heard of before called Talking Heads. And he was very into science. I have no idea why this man ended up in the Springfield public school system. Because he was kind of a famous guy in the science world.

Mr. Perlmeter used to tell us stories. He actually worked with Dian Fossey on gorillas. Don’t believe me? He took the last of these pictures in this 1981 National Geographic article.

Once I started high school, he started teaching there. But he didn’t bother with the AP classes. He focused on the kids who weren’t much engaged in school, those at risk of dropping out. He started a program where they could go observe bats. He wrote about his experiences in popular and academic journals. This came out the year after I graduated. I remember some of the kids in these pictures. For all this work, Mr. Perlmeter won Oregon’s School Teacher of the Year Award in 1990.

Certainly not every school had a guy like this. But we also had all of these teachers who taught kids who were underprepared, dealing with unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence at home; who had no family expectations that they would amount to anything. And these teachers, underpaid no doubt, persevered and tried to teach these kids. Sure, 20% of them may have been terrible. Are 20% of administrators not terrible? 20% of political pundits? Mediocrity is part of the world. But the majority of teachers ranged from good-hearted people to superheroes.

It’s these experiences that make me absolutely furious when Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias and Jacob Weisberg and other so-called liberals attack Chicago teachers by openly rooting from Rahm Emanuel to crush them or undermine them by warning readers about the effect of paying teachers on taxpayers. I don’t really know any of them personally. But I doubt any of them went to a public school, nor has much of the liberal punditry. And if they have, it’s almost certainly not one serving working-class communities like areas of Chicago or even Springfield. They can sit in their nice New York or Washington offices and attend retreats in baronial mansions like Slate held earlier this week and fret about the taxpayers and shame the teachers into thinking about the children all they want. They would never send their own children to the schools about which they pontificate. They have no idea what they are talking about.

The Chicago Teachers Union deserves everything they are asking for because many of them are heroes. For some, for kids like me, they are role models who give young people social mobility and who teach them that learning is a great thing. They know that standardized testing is worthless, that it bores everyone (as its early iterations bored me in high school), that they need to be allowed to teach and inspire. They deserve what they are asking for because they care more about young people’s future than anyone else in society, often more than the students’ own parents and certainly more than the education capitalists and liberal pundits who concern troll about these kids without having interacted with them. These teachers deserve what they are asking for because each and every day, many of them face confused, angry kids who have seen terrible things at home and can’t deal, who bring hateful words and knives and even guns into to the schools, because they face cursing and violence and horrible things on a daily basis, things Rahm Emanuel can’t even dream of.

The Chicago Teachers Union deserves the world because they take kids like me out of working-class families and help them fulfill their dreams. Those who attack them place themselves on the other side of the class divide, on the side that promotes social inequality and the side that provides no incentives for good teachers to stay in working-class schools since poor test scores, largely a result of poverty, will cost them their job. They claim to help children but don’t understand poor public schools; they claim to support policies that will improve education but promote ideas that will enrich capitalists at the expense of students.

And these pundits, these people who have never worried about money a single day in their lives, who were born with a silver foot in their mouth to quote Ann Richards, claim to support unions but never actually provide that support when working or middle-class people decide that enough is enough and walk off their jobs for the betterment of themselves, their families, and their community. And that makes me very, very angry. To quote Campos from yesterday’s post on Yglesias’ commentary, “Look, either you support this strike or you don’t. If you don’t support it on the merits then come out and say so, and why. If you do support it, then say so, and why.”

Indeed. You are either on the side of teachers or on the side of those who will crush their union. In the middle of the strike, there is no gray area. Which side are you on? I side with the people who changed my life.

Comments (250)

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  1. Gary says:

    This post is absolutely wonderful. I had a similar experience, attending a terrible urban high school where more students ended up in jail than with a college degree. But that wasn’t because of the teachers. We had a lot of wonderful teachers who worked very hard to teach those of us who wanted to learn something, and I was fortunate to have those people in my life. Without them, I might have ended up in a bad place myself.

  2. Usually just lurk says:

    It’s funny how schoolteachers are often praised as “the real heros” in the context of complaining about overpaid / overpraised rock stars or sports starts. But the same people will turn around and say the worst things about them in the context of the schools and collective bargaining.

    But then, when the collective bargaining ends and schools starts again, the same people will send their kids to be taught by the same teachers. Go figure.

    • Barry says:

      “It’s funny how schoolteachers are often praised as “the real heros” in the context of complaining about overpaid / overpraised rock stars or sports starts. But the same people will turn around and say the worst things about them in the context of the schools and collective bargaining.”

      It’s actually the same ‘crabs in a bucket’ rhetoric – ‘why is [insert target name here] getting paid so much? After all [you, or other comparison] doesn’t get so much’.

    • Janastas359 says:

      I wonder if perhaps it’s a way of making it seem like teacher’s should be working for less; by puffing up the job this way, it sort of pays in ego what it doesn’t pay in tangible benefits.

      • Linnaeus says:

        I’ve seen this rhetorical device called the “psychic wage” and it gets deployed from time to time as argument against raising teachers’ wages. The idea is that 1) teachers don’t do their job expecting to get rich and 2) the satisfaction they get from their jobs is a kind of “compensation” that people doing other jobs don’t get. I think the “psychic wage” is a very specious argument, to say the least.

  3. uncle rameau says:

    Don’t sugar-coat it, now.

  4. Richard says:

    I support the teachers (my wife and brother are both teachers) but the argument is not so one sided as you would have us believe. I only went to public schools my entire life (grammar school, high school, college and law school) and initially enrolled my oldest child in public school twenty five years ago. Unfortunately, the state of the public schools had declined from my youth to his youth. The school he was in couldn’t control its students and when my son fought back (a single kick) from an attack by a fellow student (in the second grade), it suspended my son because of an inflexible no-violence policy. The school couldn’t be bothered to determine who was the attacker and who was the victim. When he continued to be bullied, I took him out of public school and enrolled him in a private school where no problems ever resurfaced. I also sent my daughter to a private school.

    There are real problems with public schools and the teacher union hasn’t always been on the right side of fixing the problems.

    • malraux says:

      That doesn’t strike me as a problem with the teachers, the teachers’ union, or even necessarily the school, but with the student body composition.

      Its also hard to see how paying teachers less, increasing class sizes, making teachers easier to fire at an administrator’s discretion, lessening the number of arts classes, or increasing standardized tests frequency will address that.

      • Richard says:

        In my case, it was the teacher who refused to make any assessment of the situation other than that my son tried to defend himself and was therefore suspended. My choice was then to do what was best for my son and put him in private school, a decision I’ve never regretted. My problem in that case wasnt with the teacher’s union (although I see a real problem in the unions position, at least here in Los Angeles, in opposing almost any type of teacher discipline) but in the public school system. As I said, I support the teachers but I dont, for many kids, support the public school system.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          Right, because the teacher has the ability to buck the district’s zero-tolerance policy — that will go over very well with the administration. And the bully’s parents won’t raise holy hell with the administration if their kid is suspended and yours isn’t.

          And your blaming the teacher has exactly what to do with the actual problem, per malraux?

          • Barry says:

            And breaking the union would not have helped with the problem, which was with the administrators.

            • Richard says:

              Jeexz. never said I was in favor of breaking the union. where the hell do you get that? Simply said that, IMHO, all is not right with the public school system. (In my case, it wasn’t only the administration, it was also the teacher who handled the situation)

              But if you think everything is great in the public school system and all we need is more money for public school teachers (I certainly agree with more money for my wife and my brother), I’m not going to waste time arguing with you.

              • malraux says:

                But again, the teacher you have a grievance toward had no choice, based on your description. If the administration establishes a zero-tolerance policy toward violence, drugs, etc then teachers cannot use discretion in enforcing the rule. By the rules, if the teacher sees a student engage in violence, then he must follow through with discipline. Blaming the teacher for the rule is bizarre.

                • Richard says:

                  No. The policy just said that there was a no tolerance policy which meant that some discipline would have to be imposed – a trip to the principal’s office would have sufficed. The decision to suspend was made by the teacher, then upheld by the principal. The incident convinced me that the public school system was not the right one for my son who, at that time, was shy and not confident. I made the right decision for my child in moving him to a private school.

                  Despite the problem I had with the system, I wish the Chicago teachers the best and believe that most of their demands are deserved. And as of right now, it looks like an agreement is going to be reached by tonight. Despite Erik’s hysteria, no one was trying to bust the union.

              • Barry says:

                “Jeexz. never said I was in favor of breaking the union. where the hell do you get that? ”

                Let me rephrase. You had a problem with the administration. Empowered teachers might help, but disempowered teachers would not.

        • malraux says:

          If its a zero-tolerance policy, then the teacher cannot make such assessments. The teacher didn’t refuse to do so, and it is bizarre that you’d frame it in that way.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Allow me to somehow connect a district-wide no-violence policy in the schools to teacher unions….

    • David Kaib says:

      Yes, there are problem with administration, which is what you are referencing (that’s who makes those policies, not teachers). It’s worth noting that less punitive discipline policies are one of the thing the union is fighting for. Neoliberalism loves to punish.

      • sparks says:

        Don’t stop Richard when he’s on a roll, he may find a way to blame the teacher’s unions for what happened in Libya!

        • Richard says:

          Incorrect. The zero tolerance policy didn’t mandate suspension for any second grader who tried to defend himself from an attack. The teacher and the principal made the decision to suspend convincing me that the public school system was not right for my son. As I said, a decision I never regretted

        • Richard says:

          This is only the second time I’ve ever made a comment in any discussion involving public school teachers (or the public school system). Seeing as my wife and brother (who was also a union steward) are public school teachers, I’m pretty supportive (except for the objection to discipline for obvious incompetents or worse). I have never blamed the teachers or the unions for the current state of education.

          • A CPS teacher says:

            What about the fact that most Chicago Public school students don’t have parents who are affluent to afford private school. Teachers are fighting for equality within the schools, if you go to a south side Chicago school versus a north side Chicago school, the difference can be as severe as day and night, or black and white…why do some of our students get a different education than others, in the same district?

    • djw says:

      Unfortunately, the state of the public schools had declined from my youth to his youth.

      This assertion requires evidence. And it’s not in the test scores, which have consistently improved. There are good reasons to believe the specific issue you cite has improved considerably as well; the anti-bullying movement has made some real inroads in public schools recently. You’re extrapolating from one incident (in which you’re hardly an impartial judge) to a conclusion your ‘evidence’ can’t possibly sustain.

      • DrDick says:

        When I was in school in the late 50s and 60s, corporal punishment was the norm. Teachers told you to suck it up if you were bullied and if you fought back, you were punished, not the bully. I do think that there has been a decline in education since I graduated in 1970, but mostly I blame the rigid standardized testing regime (beloved of Ed deformers), which tests nothing really useful and forces teachers to focus obsessively on materials in the tests to the exclusion of critical and analytical thinking, creativity, logic, and other actually useful academic skills.

      • Richard says:

        I’m basing it on my own experience as a kid to the experience I had with my own son. Obviously I’m generalizing from my own experience. And things may be better now – my kids are grown and I don’t have grandkids in the public school system yet. I do know that my son was in a public school where things were not good and where the decision I made to transfer him to a private school was a good one for him.

        • djw says:

          If you believe that things may be better now it doesn’t make much sense to say things like the state of the public schools had declined from my youth to his youth. Say what you mean.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        In my day the public schools were better, but you had to walk uphill to them both ways in the snow.

  5. Don says:

    Evidence of WHEN you graduated: “…let my brother or I go into the mills…” This would not have been tolerated in my large HS back in the early ’60′s. Academic or not, our language has allowed this laziness to permeate the language to the extent that my Academic daughter uses the same construction. But the road to the Academe is very rough, and I comment you, and her, for taking it. Even with the changing language, my generation’s grandchildren deserve to be with people that “give a damn.” Thank you.

  6. Flurry says:

    Nicely done. I was thinking that, with your school experience, you were lucky. But this is exactly what free public education is for, which is why we have it and must support it.

    • DrDick says:

      Most heartily seconded. This is a marvelous testimonial to the value of teachers. I do not have a similar story, having been raised in a professional class household and attending first class public schools, but I do have family stories. My mother’s family were Ozark hillbillies and often attended one room schools. Her father dropped out of the sixth grade. Because of dedicated teachers, my mother and her sister both earned bachelor’s degrees and my mother was a teacher until she married. Both of her brothers went on to earn graduate degrees. One got an MA in chemistry and the other a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Cal Tech. The latter retired several years ago as senior vice president of the satellite telecommunications branch of Hughes Aircraft Company and had earlier led the team that designed the instrumentation on the Surveyor Soft Lander. That is the power of teachers to make a difference.

  7. Adam Roberts says:

    Really interesting post.

    My experience was not a million miles away from yours, given the differences of a UK instead of a US education. I went to a state school in a provincial town; run down and underfunded, fairly rough, 600 pupils in all. Out of my year five, I think, went on to tertiary education; one to Cambridge (he dropped out, became a van driver), the others to provincial UK universities. This is the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, and those numbers didn’t seem unusual: it would be a catastrophically low proportion now, even for the roughest school. But at a sixth-form parents evening the headmaster told my parents ‘not every kid is destined for a university place, you know.’ I did not do well in my O-levels or A-levels. How did I end up as an academic, out of such a school environment? Like you, a lot of my experience has to do with one teacher, a crusty old sort called Derek Meteyard, who managed to capitalise my nascent interest in English Literature. I wonder where my life would have gone if I hadn’t encountered him.

    One factor you don’t mention in your post, perhaps because it doesn’t figure so largely, or maybe at all, in the US. Through the 1950s to the 1980s (when they finally retired) a good proportion of school teachers were people who had fought in World War II — Meteyard was, and so were, I think, pretty much all the older teachers on staff at my school. I’m not sure why this was, but it was something of a cliche in British culture for a while.

    • ajay says:

      Through the 1950s to the 1980s (when they finally retired) a good proportion of school teachers were people who had fought in World War II — Meteyard was, and so were, I think, pretty much all the older teachers on staff at my school. I’m not sure why this was, but it was something of a cliche in British culture for a while.

      Not sure why this is such a mystery – that was just the case for that generation, surely?

      • Barry says:

        Yes, it’d be a cliche in US culture, as well. Any man born from 1910-25 probably fought in WWII. Which means that (e.g.) in 1960, any man who was from 35-50 was probably a WWII vet.

      • Adam Roberts says:

        Yes, but not just in neutral, demographic terms. Several of my male teachers were, I now see looking back (though it didn’t really strike me at the time), pretty emotionally damaged human beings. Levels of violence were much higher, for instance: hitting pupils, throwing things at them — a physics teacher threw a board rubber at me for talking in class; the wooden handle hit me on the bridge of the nose. I’ve still got the scar. I don’t offer this as a sob story: these sorts of things happened all the time, and went unremarked by adults and kids.

        My point, I think, was to register a difference with the notion that ‘public teachers’ are seen as people who have opted out of capitalism, left-wing etc.

  8. M F Cooper says:

    Preach it, Brother Erik!

    My experience in RI public schools was a positive one overall, but most of my friends outside Classical were attending private schools, and their parents really just didn’t give a damn what happened to the kids who went to Classical, let alone less-fortunate public schools like Hope. And I certainly would rather have trusted the teachers at Classical to have put the best interests of their kids at heart, policy-wise, than any of the parents who have opted-out of the public school system.

  9. somethingblue says:

    Well said.

  10. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    I grew up in a much smaller Oregon town than Loomis, and had pretty much the same experience (though perhaps not as dire as he describes it). I thought that my high school teachers were for the most part mediocre. Maybe 2 who stood out as being good teachers and competent in their subject matter.

    I’m extremely supportive of teacher’s unions, but I’m never going to rely on my own experience in support of that. I think my biggest beefs were teachers who didn’t have degrees in their subject matter, were clearly not competent in it, and/or were basically sports coaches who moonlighted as teachers.

    • Barry says:

      “…and/or were basically sports coaches who moonlighted as teachers.”

      Good point, but I’d expect that proportion to increase in any system which reduced teacher power – after all, who’s to complain when academic subjects are shorted for ‘more important’ things?

      • rea says:

        And note the following from the post:

        I remember reading The Sun Also Rises in one course, taught by a someone who also coached and it blowing my mind and him being a reason for it

        Being a coach and a good teacher aren’t necearily mutually exclusive.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Absolutely. Many coaches may not be good teachers but some absolutely are.

          • Amanda in the South Bay says:

            Meh, probably doesn’t help I’m not nearly as much of a sports fan as you guys are in general (that seems to influence a lot of your thinking and writing).

          • gmack says:

            This is absolutely true. The best teacher I had in my public high school was a former football coach (like Amanda in the South Bay, I wasn’t much of a sports fan either). I had him for history, and he gave astonishingly interesting lectures on U.S. history (I believe I mentioned before that I still go back to my notes from his lectures on the use of Protestantism to justify inequality in the 19th century). He made us write essays; he made us talk about stuff. But perhaps most impressive was the fact that he also took a personal interest in every student in the class. After class discussions he would go around to each student who participated, particularly ones who struggled in class, and quietly and personally thanked them for their contributions. Interestingly, this was a required course, so many of the students there were not so great (I went to a poor public school in rural paper mill town in south central Ohio). But by the end of the year, every one of them that I knew not only improved but really wanted to improve: I remember one who was failing the first session, and then got a B- later in the year; he was upset, he told me, because he knew he could do better. I’ve seen a lot of good teachers since then, but in my opinion, none have been better.

            • Jeremy says:

              My high school American history teacher took around 30 minutes of our class to work on his basketball plays while students caught up on sleep.

              I definitely think experiences like that ruined me on the coach/teacher idea, though I definitely knew some teachers for whom coaching was definitely the secondary part of the job.

        • vacuumslayer says:

          I had a Social Studies teacher who went by “Coach” in the classroom. He was as anal a teacher as they came, and I mean that in a good way. I mean, he was a douche, but I LEARNED STUFF in his class.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          My first Latin teacher (in a first-rate, public high school) was a coach.

          On the one hand, Latin was known among athletes as an easy language…and about half the class was there to breeze through the foreign language requirement. Coach Carmen, as we called him, would tend to have us spend the last ten minutes or so of class playing the home version of the Family Feud …. in English without even the hint of Latin content. So starting about halfway through the class, the jocks in the room would start saying “Coach C…let’s play the Feud!”

          On the other hand, despite this, he was a pretty effective Latin teacher. Other than the athletes, Latin attracted the kind of serious students you’d expect in a Latin class. And we were pretty well served.

          And, though I didn’t entirely appreciate this at the time, Coach Carmen was, in his own odd way, truly skilled at managing a potentially tricky classroom situation, given the highly divergent attitudes and desires of his students.

  11. nonunique says:

    Thank you. Sincerely. As a former high school teacher (and product of exactly the kind of heroes you describe) who had to start practicing law to make a living, I am delighted to know there’s at least one person out there who gets it.

  12. Brandon C. says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Erik. I would be a much worse person today if it were not for the amazing teachers I was lucky enough to have in public school. I couldn’t believe how many of them had turned down better paying opprotunities elsewhere to teach in public school.

  13. vacuumslayer says:

    I grew up in northwest Arkansas and small beach town in Florida, two areas I doubt are known for their superb schools. But as I recently ranted, I found nearly all my teachers to be competent and caring and even inspiring. Teacher-bashing is something I just, fundamentally, don’t get.

  14. wjts says:

    Very well said. Dedicated, unionized public school teachers provided most of my own primary and secondary education. An English teacher I had in my freshman, sophomore, and senior years played a huge part in my intellectual development, and I’m still more grateful to her than I can say some 20 years later. In addition, the Cleveland-area teachers’ union to which my maternal grandmother belonged secured for her fair wages during her working years and guaranteed her a pension to allow her a comfortable life after she finally decided to retire. I’m a penniless adjunct these days, but I’m still going to make as a large a donation to the solidarity fund as I can afford.

  15. Corey says:

    It’s these experiences that make me absolutely furious when Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias and Jacob Weisberg and other so-called liberals attack Chicago teachers by openly rooting from Rahm Emanuel to crush them or undermine them by warning readers about the effect of paying teachers on taxpayers.

    When did Matthews and Yglesias attack the teachers?

  16. Fake Irishman says:

    Amen.

    As a fellow public school grad (albeit one from less economically strained circumstances), thanks for saying what needed to be said.

  17. I really didn’t like my public school experiences at all–elementary, junior high, or high school. They weren’t terrible schools–your average big block 70s-80s schools–and I wasn’t some terrible problem child or some brilliant nonconformist either. I was just a mixed-up, moderately talented, socially marginalized smart-ass, like so many millions of other rural/exurban/suburban kids. And the teachers had to put up with us. They put up with the bad ones and the smart ones, the ambitious ones and the lazy ones, the genuinely good kids and the criminals, and everyone in between. In a very real sense, if there is anything admirable at all about my views regarding equality, community, and democracy, a very large part of it is due to my public school teachers, and what their example of just being there, in the midst of all of us, and trying to do something for us, however effective or pointless or beneficial or damaging their efforts may have been gave me. I didn’t realize that immediately…but by the time my wife and I had our daughters, I knew I wanted them to be part of the public school experience, and that I wanted us to be a part of contributing (with our time, effort, and yes, tax money) to their, and everyone’s, public school experience. Just about all my siblings have gone the private or home schooling route, and I generally respect the individual circumstances which led to their decisions…but they’re missing out of something important, an important civic experiment which deserves our support and our votes. Count me down as one more in support of Chicago public school teachers and their union.

  18. Corey says:

    You are either on the side of teachers or on the side of those who will crush their union. In the middle of the strike, there is no gray area.

    With us or against us!

      • Corey says:

        Well, don’t be surprised if a lot of intelligent people reject that argument, I guess.

        • Barry says:

          And if they come up with something which is not really ‘I’m against, but don’t have the courage to say so’, I’ll be surprised.

          And if they aren’t almost always against, when push comes to shove in the real world, I’ll be even more surprised.

          • Corey says:

            I don’t understand how you can infer this based on the pieces and writers (Klein, Dylan Matthews, Yglesias, and the other dreaded neoliberals) I’m assuming are at the heart of Loomis’ strawman.

            You’re criticizing their attitude, not their opinions, and I don’t understand why the leftosphere has insisted on conflating the two in this whole thing.

            • mark f says:

              Umm, Yglesias’s post — the one that generated so much discussion yesterday; I don’t know if he’s elaborated since — explicitly called out “friends of labor” (so-called, of course, being his implication) for supporting teachers on grounds other than the particular issues under dispute in Chicago. It’s an insinuation that is both false and insulting, and if he doesn’t know either of those things then maybe he should’ve looked into it a bit more.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                “Alleged friends of labor”!!!!

              • Corey says:

                Here’s the bit of Yglesias’ piece you’re talking about:

                Indeed, what baffles me about these discussions is the tendency of labor’s alleged friends to simply refuse to look this reality in the face and instead insist that any hostility to specific union asks must secretly reflect the skeptic’s hostility to the existence of the union or its members.

                It’s a banal point. If the teachers’ union asked for seven-figure starting salaries, it wouldn’t be “anti-labor” to oppose that (and obviously that’s not what’s going on here). Similarly, the CTU has a range of demands, substantively about education policy rather than pay or benefits, that one can agree or disagree with without being pro or anti-labor.

                Having read lots of Yglesias in the past I think his essential contention is that the labels “pro-labor” and “anti-labor” are meaningless because individual unions make individual demands that may or may not be good policy. So, as I believe he’s said, let’s talk about the merits of policy, not “armchair psychologizing” about why people “hate teachers” or are “anti-labor”. This is an attitude – yes, a bloodless, technocratic attitude – that is appropriate to criticize but it says nothing about specific beliefs about the value of organized labor.

                Personally, I don’t think the CTU’s demands are absurd at all (although I don’t think the evidence is fully in on class sizes), but that’s because I think the demands are good policy, not because I’m “pro-labor”.

                • mark f says:

                  Uh huh. And like I said yesterday, one side wants to talk about why what the city is proposing is bad for the classroom. The other side wants to talk about what lazy, overpaid whiners teachers are, and how the union’s main goal is to protect incompetence.

                  Which side did Yglesias criticize again?

                • Corey says:

                  When has anyone – save Weisberg, who is an idiot – called teachers lazy, overpaid whiners? Or suggested the union’s main goal is to protect incompetence?

                  Here’s Yglesias making a normative judgment on Chicago teacher salaries. (Hint: he thinks they’re appropriate!)

                • mark f says:

                  (Hint: Yglesias’s opinion on the teachers’ salaries is neither here nor there. Yglesias’s opinion of other liberals’ response to anti-teacher rhetoric coming from the right is what we’re talking about. (Hint: This isn’t hard to follow.))

                • Corey says:

                  And I asked you for specific examples of people saying the things you put in their mouth, which you haven’t yet come up with.

                • mark f says:

                  Terry Moran and Charles Lane were highlighted saying such things on this very blog.

                • Corey says:

                  Right, so, not the people we’re talking about.

                • Tybalt says:

                  “It’s a banal point.”

                  Sorry, the fact that I, as a supporter of unions, “refuse to look reality in the face” is a banal point? Well! No cheers for banality, eh? That is some serious insulting shit, son.

                • Hogan says:

                  When will you teacher union supporters realize that money spent on one thing can’t be spent on other things?

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Lucky for me, you don’t qualify.

          • Corey says:

            Ooh, good one! Are you going to win an award for that?

            • Martin Repton says:

              Dear Dr. Loomis,

              My name is Martin Repton, and I am the Chief Operating Officer for the American Belittlement Society. It is my distinct pleasure to inform you that your comment made on September 13, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. has won the ABS’ Emily C. Brewster Medal for Insulting Commentary. Established in 1874 by a special bequest to the Society made in Mrs. Brewster’s name by her three children, the Medal for Insulting Commentary is the oldest continuously awarded recognition of achievement in written derision in the English-speaking world. This year’s awards ceremony will be held in Philadelphia at the ABS’ meeting lodge on November 9. Honorees are invited to deliver a brief address to the Society. Please inform me via written letter if you intend to attend the ceremony.

              Yours sincerely,

              Martin Repton

        • mark f says:

          Don’t forget Corey! He’s against it, too!

        • MPAVictoria says:

          “Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
          Oh, workers can you stand it? Oh, tell me how you can.
          Will you be a lousy scab Or will you be a man?”
          Guess you answered that question Corey.

          • Corey says:

            Corey’s law: in any online liberal discussion of organized labor, the probability that someone invokes faux-proletarian bombast to shout down critics approaches 1.

            (and this one’s sexist, too! a two-fer!)

            • MPAVictoria says:

              “Don’t scab for the bosses
              Don’t listen to their lies
              Poor folks ain’t got a chance Unless they organize”

              You need to read your history Corey if you think that song is sexist or “faux-proletarian bombast”.

            • L2P says:

              “They say in Harlan County,
              There are no neutrals there.
              You’ll either be a union man,
              Or a thug for J.H. Blair.”

              Works in Chicago, too. Believe what you want, but if you’re reflex is to start bringing up fat-cat union workers asking for “seven figure salaries” . . . well, enjoy the bubbly. Guthrie ain’t singing to you, buddy.

              • Corey says:

                Apparently public education didn’t do you any favors.

                • MPAVictoria says:

                  And proof that you are an asshole!
                  Well done!

                • L2P says:

                  My grandparents couldn’t read and never lived in a house that wasn’t less than 10 feet from a chicken coop.

                  My dad was drafted into Vietnam and never made enough money to buy a car built in the same decade we lived in. But public schools left him better off than his parents.

                  I make more money in a year than my grandparents made in their. Entire. Lives. I never went to a private school.

                  Perhaps public school didn’t help me. But at least I’m not turning my back on other people who could be helped.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  We’ll can’t all be as generally perfect as Corey. This is the cross many of us bear.

      • UserGoogol says:

        For fuck’s sake, we’re liberals. Liberals are all about gray areas. We’re about judiciously studying reality and then cautiously coming to tentative solutions as to what is best for all. Intellectualism, pluralism, equality: all these things lead to going deep into shades of gray.

        I cautiously think that it would probably be for the best if the teachers union gets a significant amount of what they want. But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to take the side of the union per se. Taking sides is what conservatives do.

    • witless chum says:

      You know what? That’s where we are in this country. After 30 years of class warfare and the working and middle classes getting clobbered, I’m ready for some with us or against us.

    • DrDick says:

      Shorter Corey in this whole thread, “I really support unions, I just hate everything that they do, especially if they ask for something to benefit their member. I hate it even more of they work in the public sector BECAUSE!”

  19. UserGoogol says:

    It seems fairly understandable why people wouldn’t have much respect for teachers. Even though objectively teachers have a shitty job, the mode in which most human beings have interacted with teachers is as students, and from the perspective of students they are authority figures, and authority figures who regularly enforce stupid rules, even if they don’t have much control over those rules.

    Plus, I personally was a smartass little know-it-all, and therefore I was painfully aware of the simplifications and mistakes that teachers inevitably make and it led me to not really respect teachers. I assume quite a lot of “public liberals” were similar.

    Basically, familiarity breeds contempt and we are all familiar with teachers.

    • Corey says:

      Begone, neoliberal!

    • Linnaeus says:

      The difference, though, is that as adults, we should be aware that our perceptions were colored, in part, by the fact that we were different people when we were students. We should have the perspective that comes with age that leads us to conclude that maybe we weren’t right when we were little know-it-alls.

      • UserGoogol says:

        Well yes, ideally. But human beings are stupid creatures, and it’s hard for 12+ years of experiences with teachers to be cancelled out by the limited experience people have with teachers as an adult.

      • Manta says:

        Beautiful post.

        I have a question: does on average teaching help improving one’s position in life?
        What I mean: if everybody, thanks to some improvement, got better education, would salaries go up or stay the same (and conversely, if everybody got worse education, would salaries go down?).
        I think the answer in both cases is “stay the same”, but if someone has a good argument/data, please let me know.

        (Of course, there are some benefits of education that are not reflected in more money…)

  20. N__B says:

    I’m a graduate of the NYC public schools and every year my Queens elementary school is in the middle of the pack academically despite the fact that something like 80% of its kids speak English as a second language. The fact that it performs so well is due to the teachers who actually tried to make certain that every kid gets something out of the lessons. My best friend three was a Czech refugee after 1968 who had not a word of English coming into first grade and who ate breakfast and lunch on the assistance program. By third trade he was academically ahead of me.

    Shorter me: even average teachers are doing important work.

  21. mark f says:

    It sounds like Erik needs a Facebook account.

    Good post, though. My dad is 62 and lays floors for a living. Other relatives who were teachers always seemed to be more tired than him at the end of the day.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Send a bit of cash their way, if you can afford it. The Ed Deform Movement must be stopped.

  23. Lee says:

    Like Corey Robin, I grew up and went to public schools in affluent Long Island suburb with great public schools. Going to some college was the norm. However, I do not remember any adult really looking down on teachers. This might have been cultural, most of the students were either Jewish or Asian.

    • Sherm says:

      I’m guessing Jericho.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I went to a fancy private school in LA (for which I am more than duly grateful), and I saw a lot of disrespect for the teachers from the students. Not uniform by any means, but the difference when I spent a year in the Swiss public schools was startling.

    • DrDick says:

      I actually had a similar experience in my affluent small town Oklahoma schools (home to Philips Petroleum at the time and the CEO sent his kids to the public schools).

      • wengler says:

        My mom worked for said school system and I went there from kindergarten to seventh grade.

        That district has wildly different elementary schools and is underfunded at every level.

        • DrDick says:

          I am not sure when you were there, but the real decline started in the late 70s and 1980s as I recall (I left after graduation in 1970). Mostly reflected new management at Philips and a shift in their relationship with the town (they formerly heavily subsidized the public schools).

          • wengler says:

            Early to mid 90s. That’s kind of surprising to hear that oilmen once gave a damn about the school system. I went to the elementary school where most of the Phillips’ employees kids went and it was heavily subsidized by parents but that became less evident at the middle school level.

            • DrDick says:

              Up through the 60s, it was pretty much a company town and the CEO sent his children to the public schools. Phillips subsidized Adams Park and the Public golf course, the new (for me) civic center, the Mozart series, and many other civic improvements in town. During that period, calculus was offered in the high schools (there were two back then) and the chemistry classes used college textbooks. It was one of the highest ranked school systems in the country then.

              All of the CEOs up to the late 70s were from the engineering or exploration and development side. After that they all came out of finance, with predictable results. Among them the schools started declining. My son attended high school there in the early 90s (he had gone to live with my folks) and I could see the dramatic difference.

              • wengler says:

                Interesting stuff that I didn’t know. Both my elementary school and the middle school were renovated when I was there, and the we got a new library near the community center, but the funding didn’t really show in other areas.

                There was also the embarrassing incident where administrative incompetence led to a million dollar shortfall and the teachers’ union had to sue to get paid. Those not covered by the union(summer workers, college students mostly) weren’t covered and didn’t get a dime for 3 months work.

                • DrDick says:

                  It has been rather sad to watch the decline of my hometown, though as I mentioned earlier I have no particular fondness. I would never go there again if my son did not live there (he graduated HS in ’91).

  24. MPAVictoria says:

    Fantastic Erik. It is great to have someone writing from your perspective here.

  25. Aaron B. says:

    Loomis has a remarkable ability to write long posts with which I agree with almost every word, while simultaneously infuriating me more than many conservative pundits because of the shoddy and specious reasoning.

    • sparks says:

      Ooh! Fight in the boys bathroom!

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Well, given your track record from the prior post, I’d like to see a bit of evidence of the “shoddy and specious reasoning” in question.

      (This isn’t exactly an argumentative post anyway, so I’m confused as to which parts you are complaining about. And it must be in relatively few words as you agree with all the others.)

      • Aaron B. says:

        Key points in this post are the “with us or against us” rhetoric and this gem: “The Chicago Teachers Union deserves everything they are asking for because many of them are heroes.”

          • Aaron B. says:

            I’m on the side of “I don’t know jack about education policy.”

            • Erik Loomis says:

              There are 2 sides. You stand with the union or you stand with Rahm Emanuel. In the middle of a strike, there is no middle ground.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                And it’s possible to take a side even without knowing jack about education policy. It would, presumably, be a defeasible taking, but there are lots of ways to justify support or opposition.

                And you entered yourself into the debate! You could avoided this by, you know, not posting.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Just because I don’t have a dog in this hunt doesn’t mean I can’t recognize arguments that are unpersuasive or fallacious. Just because I could take an unformed position doesn’t mean I must take an uninformed position. Just because I criticize Erik for what I perceive as a recurring fault – and I’ve done so in the past – doesn’t mean I’m engaging in the larger debate.

                  The only advocacy I’m standing on is finding his case for unquestioning support of teacher’s unions unpersuasive.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  And thus you are on the side of Rahm Emanuel, of the education capitalists, of those who are attacking the unions.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Just because I don’t have a dog in this hunt doesn’t mean I can’t recognize arguments that are unpersuasive or fallacious.

                  It’s true that just because one knows nothing about a topic that one can’t recognize arguments that are unpersuasive or fallacious. But, in point of fact, you failed to identify any unpersuasive or fallacious arguments or, indeed, any arguments at all.

                  That’s a problem, eh?

                • Just because I criticize Erik for what I perceive as a recurring fault – and I’ve done so in the past – doesn’t mean I’m engaging in the larger debate.

                  Why on earth would you want to have the courage to join the larger debate? That way lies commitment.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  I try not to commit myself to debates I feel uninformed on. I fail, usually, but I try. At least if I can call out people making bad arguments I have the possibility of improving the quality of the debate to the point where it’s more informative.

                • Aaron, at some point you have to wake up and smell the fucking coffee. Dithering is not quite as useful to the destroy-all-public-services side as outright opposition, but it’s useful nonetheless.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Okay, one, you’re arguing on the internet, so none of this shit is useful anyway, including (but not limited to) my dithering. Two, I don’t live in Chicago, so I can’t do shit about this anyway. Three, I live in Oregon, and we recently passed a tax hike referendum on high income earners so we could avoid cutting teacher salaries, a referendum that I voted for, so substantively I’m on your side already. Four, if you think my wanting quality debate on a topic so I feel like I know enough about it to make an informed decision puts me on the side of the plutocrats, fine. The only thing I’m actually losing is the approval of people like you and Loomis, and that matters to me not at all.

                • Aaron, all four of those are obvious bullshit which you would recognize if you knew what a quality argument was in the first place. You might ask Bijan.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Sorry, I’ll try to make quality arguments like “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and “anyone who disagrees with me is a plutocrat fluffer” next time.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Your argument is “Refusing to take sides lends support (either argumentative or substantive) to Rahm and the reformers arrayed against the union. My responses were as follows:
                  1. I see no reason to believe arguments on the internet impact the dispute (an “influence the national conversation” type narrative)
                  2. I don’t live in Chicago so there is no way I could impact the substance of the dispute, i.e. by voting or joining the strikers
                  3. When I have faced a substantive issue that asks me to choose between more and less public support for teachers, I chose more, and
                  4. Go fuck yourself.

                • Read all four of those very very carefully.

                • DrDick says:

                  I try not to commit myself to debates I feel uninformed on.

                  But feel fully empowered to critique those who are informed about them. I think perhaps we can see the fundamental problem here.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  I critique them when they make shitty arguments. Let’s take Loomis’ formula and try something else with it:

                  Troops are inspiring. I knew these troops one time, they inspired the shit out of me! Here’s some stories about them.

                  But Obama wants to cut military spending. That means troops will get fired. Do you want to be on the side of the troops, or on the side of the anti-troop American haters? Troops are so inspiring, and so heroic! Also, if you don’t take sides in this dispute, you might as well go join Al Qaida.

                • It’s like I waved the magic “prove you’re stupid” wand, a wand I should really get rid of one day.

                  Scroll up, reread the post.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  The troops face IEDs and insurgents and bad MREs! They know what’s best for their guns, not some anti-troop liberalocrat or concern trolling “deficit hawk” Republican!

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Also, the fact that Erik’s only response is to chant “With us or with them! With us or with them!” in comments over and over again is really not helping your argument.

                • My argument at this point is that you don’t know what an argument is and my evidence is you. I think I’m winning.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  I’m totally inclined to take that from someone who has posted zero things in this thread that weren’t ad hominems.

                • If what you’re going to do is make another stupid argument that proves you don’t know what you’re talking about I’d say you’re not only taking it but fuelling it. Your call!

                • Aaron B. says:

                  Cool story, bro.

                • DrDick says:

                  I’m totally inclined to take that from someone who has posted zero things in this thread that weren’t ad hominems.

                  And now you know why we ignore or ridicule you.

              • Barry says:

                I’d add that I can’t remember too many of these alleged liberals supporting other strikes.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Niether of these are arguments, per se. Take the first, Erik claims that in a strike, roughly, one ought to take sides. What’s the argument? It’s just a straight up claim. Defensible too, of course.

          As for the thing you quote, it’s also just a claim. It’s put in rhetorically soaring terms…but so?

          (This, after your amazing “Matt is trained in philosophy so what he wrote is clear and explicit” line yesterday is…interesting.)

          • gmack says:

            To my mind, Erik’s claim about the Chicago teachers being heroic is something close to a performative; it’s not so much an actual description of who they really are in reality, but an effort to open up a way of viewing the world in which we see teachers differently: not as incompetent, lazy, know-nothings who must be constantly monitored and evaluated to ensure that they actually work effectively, but as professionals who can and should have something important to say about how to educate students and who are defending the transformative potentials of education that Erik references. If I may say so, this is part of the reason why taking sides here is close to a requirement. There are lots of folks who want to depict teachers as lazy, etc., and the teachers are challenging this depiction; this means that the dispute at stake in the strike is not just the dry policy questions about how much teachers should be paid, how to evaluate student performance, etc., but also the political question about place that teachers have and should have in our society. Once we start to see this political question, which the “technocratic” analysis Yglesias calls for effectively erases, the ability to remain neutral starts to disappear, for what’s at stake is something like a polemic confrontation between two views education and two views of the role of the educator.

      • Aaron B. says:

        Most of his individual claims are perfectly agreeable, but when he tries to string it together into a coherent argument it all kind of crumbles and fall apart.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          You say this but don’t show this. Are you sure you like philosophy?

          • Aaron B. says:

            How do I show the absence of an argument? He doesn’t get how I get from point A (inspiring stories of heroic teachers from his childhood) to point B (must agree with everything the CTU demands). Take the last five paragraphs of the post – the paragraphs that pivot from A to B – and show me where there is a justification of the move from one to the other. You give an absolutely paper-thin defense by claiming that he’s not advancing an “argument,” just a “claim” that in a strike one ought to take sides. But Loomis is also claiming that we ought to side with the more personally inspiring or heroic side. (“The Chicago Teachers Union deserves the world because they take kids like me out of working-class families and help them fulfill their dreams.”) Since teachers are obviously the more inspiring bunch, we should side with them. That’s an argument, not “just a claim” (I’m not even sure what kind of defense you think this is – it’s an argument in both the colloquial and technical sense)

            It’s also a very unpersuasive argument because both premises are still way out there in terms of defensibility, and no attempt is made to provide them any solid footing. You can’t just assert something as vague and rhetorically divisive as “with us or against us” and “put yourself on the side of the angels” and have that count as doing all the legwork in your argument. I call bullshit.

            • Aaron B. says:

              strike the first few sentences of my post, as I was writing it I revised the argument and did what I think is a pretty fair reconstruction. Revised summary: his argument is formally valid but extremely weak because of the shoddiness of the premises.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                strike the first few sentences of my post, as I was writing it I revised the argument and did what I think is a pretty fair reconstruction.

                It really isn’t. It’s not the least bit charitable.

                Revised summary: his argument is formally valid but extremely weak because of the shoddiness of the premises.

                This destroys your original comment, at least in a sense. The reasoning isn’t shoddy or specious, but you believe the premises are false or unsubstantiated.

                Now this is a bit glib because I think one can make a case for you that Erik is trying to make the argument look more sophisticated than it is by employing a lot of rhetoric that distracts the eye. That would get you to some aspect of speciousness.

                But this is all based on an extremely poor reading of the post.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Well, kudos for at least making an effort. Let’s see how you did.

              How do I show the absence of an argument?

              Typically by pointing out the lack of support. But this isn’t responsive because you originaly claimed that Erik engaged in “shoddy and specious reasoning”, which implies that there was reasoning. (It can’t be shoddy and specious unless it exists.) If there’s no reasoning, one typically says that the proponent is making unsubstantiated claims. Philosophy training typically makes you very alive to these distinctions.

              He doesn’t get how I get from point A (inspiring stories of heroic teachers from his childhood) to point B (must agree with everything the CTU demands).

              Aren’t the missing pieces obvious? He thinks that a sufficient number of Chicago teachers are similarly inspiring and that the demands they’re making are reasonable. You can determine whether you agree with that by looking at their demands, for example, and making some estimates about whether Erik is right to project his experience. This isn’t hard.

              You may not agree with these or you may with hold judgment, but the claims are straightforward.

              Take the last five paragraphs of the post – the paragraphs that pivot from A to B – and show me where there is a justification of the move from one to the other.

              There is none and there is no such argumentative move. The “It’s these experiences” paragraph isn’t a pivot from childhood stories to why one should support CTU demands, it’s a statement of why he has the psychological state he does (being absolutely furious). And…that’s ok, right?

              The next two paragraphs give his rationales for suppottng the CTU and while some of them echo his personal story, some of them don’t. You can dispute the factuality of his claims. You can dispute the value judgement that says that those things are worth what CTU is asking for. But you can’t claim that he’s making an argumentative structure of personal stories therefore support CTU. The stories are illustrative, designed simultaneously to explain why Erik is so passionate about the situation and to provide some empathetic grounding for the value judgements he makes.

              This isn’t hard to understand!

              You give an absolutely paper-thin defense by claiming that he’s not advancing an “argument,” just a “claim” that in a strike one ought to take sides.

              I’m not defending any of Erik’s claims at the moment. I’ve pointed out that your criticism is incorrect. It remains incorrect for precisely the reason I’ve stated twice now and that you acknowledge her.

              But Loomis is also claiming that we ought to side with the more personally inspiring or heroic side. (“The Chicago Teachers Union deserves the world because they take kids like me out of working-class families and help them fulfill their dreams.”)

              No, he’s claiming that taking kids like him out of working class families etc. is a valuable thing, worth what the teachers are asking for. You might not share that valuation, but he’s not making the argument you impute to him.

              Since teachers are obviously the more inspiring bunch, we should side with them.

              This is a fairly weird way of looking at it. I thought you read lots of Loomis. Wouldn’t the more obvious imputation be that lifting kids out of poverty is a valuable thing? Etc.?

              That’s an argument, not “just a claim”

              Well, I guess. It’s not a reasonable, imho, reading of Erik.

              And, well, you’ve changed your problem with Erik’s post back to there being a problem with the argument instead of their being no argument. This has the virtue of cohering better with your original comment, but the vice of not cohering with the next or, indeed, the beginning of this one. A little more care would be welcome.

              (I’m not even sure what kind of defense you think this is – it’s an argument in both the colloquial and technical sense)

              What you originally cited were not arguments either in the colloquial or the technical sense. They needed to be arguments because your complain wasn’t that he made unjustified (in the sense of providing no attempt of justification) claims, but that the reasoning that he provided was wrong, and that he does this habitually. Indeed, your original post strongly suggested that you thought that Erik was largely right (e.g., on the premises and perhaps the conclusions, hence your agreement with almost every word) but wrong in how he put things together.

              Now I would understand well how that would grate, having been trained in philosophy. But that’s not what happened.

              It’s also a very unpersuasive argument because both premises are still way out there in terms of defensibility, and no attempt is made to provide them any solid footing.

              If you disagree with his claims, just say so. That’s fine. But that doesn’t make him an specious reasoner.

              You can’t just assert something as vague and rhetorically divisive as “with us or against us” and “put yourself on the side of the angels” and have that count as doing all the legwork in your argument.

              Part of philosophy is understanding the different functions of stretches of text and critiquing them according to their fulfilment of that function. (I strongly suggest studying some Plato and perhaps taking a quick run at Descartes Meditations and perhaps a bit of Nietzche, though that’s perhaps dangerous for you.) The most natural reading of Erik’s posts is that he thinks that the things teachers do are extremely valuable and that what they are asking for is reasonable. That’s the core propositional content of the post.

              The rest of the post serves a lot of different functions. You can disagree with the core propositional content of the post, but given your self-professed ignorance on the topic, that’d be a bit foolish. You can find the rest of Erik’s language in appropriate, dull, soaring, divisive, distracting, heartfelt, etc. You can find his forced choice offensive (though it really does serve an interesting function). But these are all different sorts of criticism.

              I’d disagree with them, for the most part, as well, but on different grounds.

              I call bullshit.

              Technically, you’ve written bullshit.

              You seem to have some fairly extreme forms of confirmation bias, at least.

          • DrDick says:

            He clearly has a sado-masochistic relationship with logic.

    • Sherm says:

      The only thing I found shoddy and specious was his claim to have never heard of the Talking Heads prior to 1987.

  26. Fighting Words says:

    As the son, brother, grandson, and nephew of public school teachers who teach in less privileged areas, I wholeheartedly agree with this post.

  27. Bijan Parsia says:

    Lovely post, Erik. Very moving.

  28. MikeJake says:

    Mr. Baillie. He was my math teacher my sophomore and senior years. He was a tall, stern old Scottish man, built like Nolan Ryan. He was pushing 70, but he was still the go-to guy for breaking up fights in the hallway. He was old-school, and his was the one class I didn’t dare goof off in (and my classmates voted me class clown). He was the smartest man I’ve ever known. You knew if you were wrong in his class because he’d say “you wanna bet on that?” I ended up ‘owing’ well over $1000.

    He retired after my senior year, and told my advanced math class that he stuck around just to see us through, because he could no longer tolerate the increasingly unruly, disinterested students in the lower courses. We had a plaque made for him with all our names on it as a thank you gift, and the room actually got a little dusty for him. He left us more than prepared for college.

  29. [...] your foreclosed house, the Columbia River, wind farms, Cuba…the Lakota, Puget Sound life, education, health care, VHS, Dan Rather, Steven Hatfill, school lunches, Kurt Cobain, trees, wolves, Arsenio [...]

  30. PSP says:

    I have a simple test to determine whether politicians and pundits are serious about education reform. If they say teachers are underpaid, they may be serious.

    For generations, fifty percent of the population was limited to just a few professions. So, schools were able to select from the best of that half, while paying them peanuts. I benefitted from the tail end of that.

    Women aren’t restricted to a few jobs nowadays. So, if we want the best as teachers, we are going to have to pay for it. Any education “reform” that doesn’t call for large increases in teacher starting pay is just window dressing.

    In our current climate, I don’t know if public schools stand a chance.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      In our current climate, I don’t know if public schools stand a chance.

      They don’t. They’re public. There’s no consensus on whether that word has any actual meaning. Certainly there are enough people who don’t think it does to provide an electoral coalition big enough to win elections and govern the country.

  31. Pinko Punko says:

    Here is Yglesias in a nutshell- “alleged friends of labor” is the Platonic Ideal of his faux-intellectual technocratic Even More Freakonomics Matt knows best bullshit.

    This is what his phrase says:

    “It is impossible to take unions at their word as we all know they are so riddled with corruption that it is not until I give them my personal stamp of approval that their complaints may even be considered valid. Because they are interested parties, it would be better that an impartial arbiter- namely myself- should make decisions. That this view is reactionary and does not consider that the history of the world suggests that management should be automatically under much greater scrutiny should in no way diminish my concern trolling on the validity of their concerns. Clearly, we all know that everyone agrees that teachers should be accountable for their being lazy morons and subject to capricious policies relating to job security, because we all know that the most attractive aspect of possible employment is diminished job security. Take my position, if I am ever wrong about anything, I would instantly suffer immeasurable consequences. [cue the Poor Man Keyboard Kommandos …(beat)…AHAHHAHAHAHHAAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!”

    Maybe he didn’t those things, but that’s pretty much the esseekayness of their rhetorical meaning (to me).

    • Corey says:

      Maybe he didn’t those things, but that’s pretty much the esseekayness of their rhetorical meaning (to me).

      Yes. What people actually said isn’t important, how they make you feel is.

  32. [...] “I will side with the people who changed my life.” The importance of teachers–and supporting them. [...]

    • Corey says:

      Yet more criticism of things Matt Yglesias has not actually said.

      The guy has an amazing talent to get people to put words in his mouth, I’ll give him that much.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Truly, it is tragic how many people wrongly attribute exactly the same argument to Yglesias. I can only praise The LORD God Jehovah that you are here to correct everybody. On days you are not here, we all pine away wishing for the viewpoint of yet another pseudo-libertarian contrarian type. Because that viewpoint is never heard from.

        • Aaron B. says:

          Matt Y is absolutely not a libertarian; he’s a neoliberal through and through. Contrarian is also suspect. He has clearly articulated views, they just disagree with yours.

          • Malaclypse says:

            I was referring to Corey. You may have noticed that it was a reply, wherein I used the second person singular.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Your problem, Mal, is that you aren’t training in Philosophy so you don’t have the wiring to go meta with the clarity and explicitness of a Young Matt Yglesias!

              • Aaron B. says:

                Did your program never teach you the “principle of charity,” or are you just a shithead?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Interesting.

                  Thus far you’ve applied an inappropriately high level of charity to Matt and an inappropriately low level of charity to Erik.

                  And here, you invoke the principle of charity where it doesn’t apply. The principle charity doesn’t say, “Don’t make fun of people”, after all.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  You spent a lot of time critiquing and mocking my arguments to turn around and insist that the principle of charity doesn’t apply. Either you want to engage with my argument, in which case you’re doing it wrong, or you just want to mock me, in which case you’re being disingenuous.

                  As to why I’m being charitable to Yglesias and not Loomis, I’d say it’s because my reading of Yglesias’ post seemed to be that he was trying to move some pieces in an argument, while Erik was primarily engaged in “with us or against us” polemics and posturing. This reading is supported, I might add, by Loomis continuously chanting “WITH US OR WITH THEM, WITH US OR WITH THEM!” in comments.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Oh, cf some of my charity.

                  Again I find it interesting that you feel the need to lash out against me when I’ve pretty consistently treated your comments with far more care than they intrinsically warrant.

                  I will keep up the gentle mocking of you for your appeal to Matt’s training argument until you either apply it consistency (in which case I await with eager anticipation the fulsome panegyrics that shall flow forth like rain from your pen) or you repudiate it.

                  Just out of curiosity, are you in fact a philosophy major? Is this why you’re so touchy about it?

                • Aaron B. says:

                  For reference, from the OP:

                  You are either on the side of teachers or on the side of those who will crush their union. In the middle of the strike, there is no gray area.

                  Later, in comments, where he has a chance to clarify his position:

                  Which side are you on?

                  There are 2 sides. You stand with the union or you stand with Rahm Emanuel. In the middle of a strike, there is no middle ground.

                  And thus you are on the side of Rahm Emanuel, of the education capitalists, of those who are attacking the unions.

                • Hogan says:

                  Bijan is not a shithead. I am a shithead. I hope this helps you tell the difference.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  You know, I’m tired of being mad at you on the internet. It’s making me feel physically sick and it’s also making me express myself poorly. I am a philosophy major – just got my undergraduate – and you pulled rank on me initially which is always infuriating. A further thing that’s upsetting to me is that I find Yglesias to be exceedingly clear and usually interesting, even if you disagree with him, and he’s pretty consistently bashed ’round these parts, particularly by Loomis. I had a gut-level reaction against Loomis’ “with us or against us” rhetoric, got mad, and went off all half-cocked before thinking about what my argument was.

                  I’m sorry for the confusing discussion, and my part in the general rancor. I still think I have something to say, but it wasn’t what it was in my OP, and I don’t think anybody really cares, anymore.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You spent a lot of time critiquing and mocking my arguments to turn

                  Far more time critiquing than mocking. You generally avoid responding to my critiques, I notice.

                  to turn around and insist that the principle of charity doesn’t apply

                  What? I’ve given perfectly fair and even somewhat generous reading of your arguments. Here I’m just making fun of your weird praise with it’s odd turns of phrase. Thus, charity is not in play. At other points charity is in play.

                  This is like your not understanding the difference between critiquing a claim and an argument? Or how reasoning must be present to be specious?

                  Either you want to engage with my argument,

                  Which I have, extensively. See above.

                  in which case you’re doing it wrong,

                  You mean reading it carefully, taking it seriously, and responding point by point is wrong? But…that’s how I was trained!

                  Perhaps I should misread you instead? But that doesn’t seem very effective, at least, as I’ve observed you deploying the method.

                  or you just want to mock me,

                  It’s a non-exclusive or, right? Sometimes I want to mock you, like when you make a small mistake in reading here. It was funny, though I think characteristic.

                  in which case you’re being disingenuous.

                  I generally am not disingenuous, for whatever it’s worth. You aren’t the first person to hurl such a charge in desperation, but you might want to think it through a bit. It’s also a bit ungracious of you.

                  As to why I’m being charitable to Yglesias and not Loomis,

                  The problem isn’t being charitable, it’s being wrongly charitable. Charity is supposed to support correctness (well, many versions of it). You do better when you try to maximize the truth and coherence of a person’s words, subject to reasonable constraints. With Matt, you ignored most of what he said and how he said it and made claims about how clear he was that are trivially refuted by reading what he wrote. With Erik you did more or less the opposite because…

                  I’d say it’s because my reading of Yglesias’ post seemed to be that he was trying to move some pieces in an argument, while Erik was primarily engaged in “with us or against us” polemics and posturing.

                  …you like Matt and don’t like Erik. Essentially.

                  This reading is supported, I might add, by Loomis continuously chanting “WITH US OR WITH THEM, WITH US OR WITH THEM!” in comments.

                  The text stands alone, or should.

                  You don’t understand why Erik is making that dialectical move. It’s probably not what I’d do here, but it’s perfectly understandable if you take the time to think about it. I’m not sure that your shitheads and fuck yous have any useful function. It’s not like they draw blood. I mean, was I supposed to go “oooo, some random person on the internets called me a shithead”? Do you think the other commentators are going, “Well, we were sort of agreeing with Bijan’s arguments, but now that Aaron B. called him a shithead, Bijan must have been too too unkind”?

                  Do you understand why taking a side might be important? You could always try to engage Erik by saying, “Hi Erik, I don’t feel like I know enough to say which way I stand…could you give me some key pointers?” It might not work because this is a fairly emotional context, but it surely has a better shot than what you’ve done thus far.

                • Aaron B. says:

                  See above.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You know, I’m tired of being mad at you on the internet. It’s making me feel physically sick and it’s also making me express myself poorly.

                  I’m sorry to hear that! I hope you feel better soon. I certainly didn’t mean to cause you distress and if modifying my style in some way would help, please let me know.

                  I am a philosophy major – just got my undergraduate – and you pulled rank on me initially which is always infuriating.

                  I think you need to go back and reread the thread more carefully. I didn’t pull rank — I didn’t even know you were a philosophy undergrad! I pointed out my training because you were, frankly, using your own to try to claim a special understanding and I wanted to make clear that I had the right perspective to understand what philosophical training can do. (Seriously, reread the bits about going meta and rewiring your thinking…they were not substantive and not grounded in what Matt had written.)

                  A further thing that’s upsetting to me is that I find Yglesias to be exceedingly clear and usually interesting, even if you disagree with him, and he’s pretty consistently bashed ’round these parts, particularly by Loomis.

                  Well, I didn’t find him exceeding clear in that post, and I don’t read him much anymore so I can’t say anything about the general tenor of his posts. He’s well known for being quite poor on education stuff and I have witnessed that myself. It might be worth looking at some of those.

                  I had a gut-level reaction against Loomis’ “with us or against us” rhetoric, got mad, and went off all half-cocked before thinking about what my argument was.

                  Good for you for recognizing that and owning up to it. It happens to us all. No worries.

                  I’m sorry for the confusing discussion, and my part in the general rancor.

                  Apology accepted!

                  I still think I have something to say, but it wasn’t what it was in my OP, and I don’t think anybody really cares, anymore.

                  I remain mildly interested, having invested this much, but perhaps another time.

                  In the future, if you find something I’ve written to you gets in your way of thinking clearly, feel free to drop me a note off line. I’m usually happy to retract or explain or work through it.

            • Aaron B. says:

              I’m sorry, I assumed “yet another” referred to Corey and Yglesias both. My mistake.

            • Corey says:

              I am also not a libertarian, which I have told you before.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Isn’t Malaclypse saying that Corey is a pseudo-libertarian contrarian type? I mean, the sentence is:

            On days you are not here, we all pine away wishing for the viewpoint of yet another pseudo-libertarian contrarian type.

            Since Corey isn’t here, we must pine for his replacement. The replacement should resemble Corey.

        • Corey says:

          Lots of bullshit, no actual quotations from Matt Yglesias where he says anything resembling what Pierce has accused him of saying.

          • Corey says:

            Come on Malaclypse, this should be simple. Here is what Pierce said about Yglesias:

            If I have to read one more smug, Ivy League writer from Slate talking, as the big strike goes on, about public-school teachers as though they were unruly hired help, I may hit someone with a fish. Let Matt Yglesias do 20 percent more work for four percent less pay and see how he likes it.

            Please link me to the place where he talked about teachers as if they were unruly hired help, or where he has suggested that they should do “20 percent more work for four percent less pay”.

  33. [...] of public school alumnae, that drove the debate in a positive direction. IN a superlative post, Erik Loomis describes why he supports the teachers: My high school, Springfield High School in Springfield, [...]

  34. Visitor says:

    Gack.

    Was impressed by a heartfelt post, was going to offer my own observations (which vary, maybe perhaps because teachers’ unions vary, as do schools?), but all I hear is shouting.

    Peace y’all.

  35. [...] Think Teachers Have It So Easy, Why Did They Become Bankers? (Eskow is on fire; must-read) Why I Support Public School Teachers Shocker: Jen Rubin says something so idiotic, it only takes 60 characters + 2 links to destroy it [...]

  36. [...] Why I Support Public School Teachers – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money. Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in my writing. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  37. [...] Why I Support Public School Teachers – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money [...]

  38. Linda Barrow says:

    Teachers who throw chairs in angry freak out rages?

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