Just a brief note this morning to comment on a relatively unknown court case that you should know about, and which some conservative writers are hailing as a victory for freedom. Really, it was just a minor slap for teachers’ unions which was interpreted by some as a victory for the Right. I would like to warn you against celebrating this decision, for it rests upon a legal usurpation which is far more sinister than the teachers’ unions it squeezed.
One report summarized the victory like this:
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark decision BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, which struck down racially segregated schools because, the court said, they unjustly harmed poor and minority children. Last month a California court cited BROWN as it struck down multiple state laws, passed at the behest of teachers’ unions, which the court said unjustly protected incompetent teachers and unconscionably harmed children, especially the least fortunate.
The report goes on to give admirable explanations of the dynamics of teachers’ unions and their terribly adverse effects on the education system. I agree with the points made, especially in the concluding paragraph:
The Vergara case offers hope, but supporters of better education cannot rely on judges to fix America’s schools. Parents and teachers must join together to eliminate teacher tenure systems that protect bad teachers and that divert our best teachers away from many of the students who could benefit most from their skills and experience.
Yet we must go much, much further, as my essays on Education in Restoring America make very clear. The only acceptable solution is total privatization of education. And this is where the Vergara decision works against us. Ironically, it is most unhelpful where it is in direct conjunction with that citation from Brown v. Board of Education. This California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court both establish that education is by definition a matter of State, trumping families, churches, and private organizations. For believers in privatization, the decision’s citation of Brown’s “significant” observation is chilling:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undert taken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. (My emphases.)
Vergara, resting on Brown, defines education as not only a function of state, but “perhaps the most important” one. It is a function of state that is “required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities,” is “the very foundation of good citizenship.”
Not only should this fundamental issue be a matter of state determination and compulsion, but this is the very avenue by which children will be conformed to cultural values—to be determined by the state, of course. Thus Vergara, following Brown, calls government education “a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values . . . and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.”
As long as any governmental agencies recognize such needs to be matters of state coercion and compulsion, let alone make them to be foundational to society, there will never be freedom. Vergara not only continues in this tradition, it further entrenches it—broadening it from protecting the “equality of education” into “the quality of the educational experience” all as matters of state compulsion.
While I am happy to see the teachers’ unions noses get tweaked, forgive me if I am less enthusiastic that the Court did so by upholding the mandate for government compulsion in the area of education—an area which ought to be left free and private.