Ezra Klein follows up on last week’s discussion of the lamentable tendency of left-leaning pundits to burnish their independent credentials by mindlessly bashing teachers unions and/or adopting other conservative eduction tropes.
As regular Quick & ED readers know, that doesn’t mean teachers unions should be immune from criticism–far from it. I myself have engaged in a fair amount of what I’d like to think was mindful bashing of objectionable union policies (this post about teacher pay is an example, with the union response here and my counter here). The difference being that the debate was about an actual issue, involving research findings, real-world contract issues, etc.
By contrast, the generalized teachers union bashing from the left is, as Ezra notes, much more in the vein of then-candidate Bill Clinton’s famous Sister Souljah denunciation. That’s remembered as a canny political move that signaled Clinton’s independence from traditional Democratic interest groups to moderate voters, so at first the parallel to pundits who aren’t running for office might seem inexact. But of course they are running for an office of a kind–Grand Champion of Brave Intellectual Integrity.
The thing to remember is that it wasn’t entirely obvious at the time that Clinton could get away with saying what he said in a speech to the Rainbow Coalition. The risk is what made it effective. Being the 735th person to point out that teachers unions are sometimes an obstacle to sensible school reform, by contrast, isn’t going to get anyone into the Liberal Apostasy Hall of Fame. If you’re going to criticize teachers unions, get your facts straight and have something meaningful to say. Otherwise, you’re not impressing anyone but yourself.