I know that this is utterly unremarkable, but I paused for a moment when I learned that the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed President Obama for reelection — without even bothering to learn who his opponent will be in November. Of course the AFT and the public-school apparatus at large have long been subsidiaries of the Democratic party, but, still, you’d think they’d want to know who was running against the guy before making their endorsement. Remember that the next time your local government-monopoly teachers come around asking for a raise, this is where some of the money is going: “an aggressive grass-roots effort by AFT members to engage their fellow members and their families in broad-based efforts aimed at re-electing Obama.”
There was a little bit of interesting rhetoric in the announcement, which was heavy on mentions of the middle class — “President Obama is the only candidate who will fight to preserve and expand the middle class,” “he shares our deep commitment to rebuilding the middle class,” etc. — but nothing about the poor, who perhaps ought to be of some interest to us all. But this is unsurprising as well: The government schools exist to serve the interests of their employees, who are members of the middle class and the upper-middle class, not those of their most vulnerable students, who for the most part are not members of the middle class, but poor. I appreciate the truth in advertising, even if it was accidental.
Here are some facts: According to the Department of Education, in 2009 about half of the students aged 7 to 13 in the public schools were black or Hispanic. Most students attend highly segregated schools. Only 14 percent of black eighth graders score at or above the level of proficiency on tests of reading comprehension. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of black men graduate from high school on schedule with a regular diploma, compared to 78 percent for white men. About half of black students attend high schools “in which graduation is not the norm,” but only a tenth of white students do. Less than a quarter of black students finish high school prepared for college, while 40 percent of whites do. The National Assessment of Educational Progress finds that nearly 90 percent of black eighth graders read below their grade level.
AFT President Randi Weingarten says this election is about “the simple yet powerful notion that everyone deserves a fair chance to achieve the American dream.” If we assume that “everyone” includes black students (and poor students generally), and that “a fair chance to achieve the American dream” requires a decent education, then what is required of AFT is not an election endorsement but the mass resignation of its members, who labor in a racially segregated system the purpose of which is to siphon off resources intended for the benefit of the poor for the purpose of inflating their own incomes and political influence, with results that are too obvious (and too tragic) to require elaboration here.