Critic Takes On Teachers` Unions As Enemies Of Good Schools

The Richmond

Robert Holland is a senior
fellow at the

Lexington Institute
in Arlington.,

How the Teacher Unions Are
Destroying American Education, by Peter Brimelow;
HarperCollins, $24.95.

In his 1995 bestseller,

Alien Nation
Peter Brimelow warned in the
bluntest terms of the danger that open borders pose to
the survival of American society. He took a

from cultural elitists and multicultural
zealots, but the 9/11 sneak attack on America made his
arguments all the more compelling. Now, with The Worm
in the Apple
, he writes just as provocatively of
what he sees as a corrosive internal threat to American
education, the linchpin of a free society.

As a financial reporter,
Brimelow long has cast a critical eye on the National
Education Association, the larger of the two national
teachers` unions. His 1993 Forbes expose, "The
National Extortion Association"
(co-authored with
Leslie Spencer), brought to light so much damning
information about the NEA`s ruthless pursuit of power
that the article surely became one of the most
photocopied education pieces ever.

IN HIS new book, Brimelow
feels no obligation to pull punches or abjure
name-calling. Indeed, he opens the book with a
rollicking punch to the midsection. "They`re
extraordinarily fat, for a start." That was his
assessment of an "alarming proportion" of 9,000
delegates to an NEA convention who wobbled and waddled
"with thighs like tree trunks, bellies billowing, jowls

From that, readers know
the author won`t be saying much nice about his prey;
however, in ways more substantive than issuing personal
insults, Brimelow does sustain a theme throughout the
book of hoggishness of impact by the NEA and to a lesser
extent the smaller union, the American Federation of
Teachers. Porcine greed comes to mind with regard to the
$500 in unified dues the NEA and its affiliates extract
from the average teacher`s paycheck each year.

THE $1.25 billion of loot
goes to pay for mostly left-wing political activities
that many teachers do not favor, and also keeps union
bigwigs living in Fat City. Some state affiliates have
dozens of officers who draw more than $100,000 a year
(Michigan alone has 75). Even more jarring are the kinds
of perks they award themselves, such as 100 percent
prescription drug, dental, and medical coverage. That
sort of security lies beyond the reach of everyday
workers, teachers included.

Brimelow finds most
contemptible the teacher unions` piggish consumption of
educational resources that could be used to overcome
lamentable deficiencies in public education. For
instance, the Teacher Trust (as he dubs this labor
monopoly) adamantly resists merit pay for effective
teachers, or bonuses to attract bright newcomers to
teaching, or extra pay for those who bring hard-to-find
talent to the classroom, as in math and science. Instead
the Trust insists on seniority-based raises for the
faculty as a whole, in part because the Trust`s own
compensation depends on lockstep wage increases.

THE NEA/AFT idea of reform
is to hire great numbers of new teachers in order to
reduce class sizes, even though much research shows this
does not bring about greater student achievement.
Rather, it only produces membership gains and more
revenues for the teacher unions.

School choice is the
reform that the Teacher Trust most fears, Brimelow
finds. And for good reason: The danger to the unions is
not just parents and students leaving failing public
schools, but teachers becoming non-unionized free
agents. But he does offer a cautionary note to advocates
of choice: If the teachers` unions ever decide vouchers
are inevitable, expect them to make a major effort to
organize private-school teachers.

In a separate chapter, Brimelow offers a 24-point
"wish list," mostly composed of actions to cut back the
legal privileges the unions enjoy that secure their
power base. This impressive work should energize the
education debate, much as Alien Nation did the
immigration debate.