Book: Class Warfare: Inside the fight to fix America’s schools

Class Warfare: several heroic Americans busted a trade union to make education better and cheaper for all.

Written from the front lines of politics, not from in front of a blackboard.
478 pages, ★★★ 

Reading this book feels like skimming the travel journal of a candidate on a presidential campaign. Class Warfare is dry, piecemeal, littered with bureaucratic bullshit and lacks clear direction. This is a book about politics, not about education. In total, students are granted less than one page of attention. Teaching techniques are mentioned even less often and can be condensed down to, “put your kids in a U-shape—bad ones go in the middle”.

This is a book about politics, not about education

This book was irrelevant for me. I expected to learn how to reform broken schools, how to train teachers, or at least how to teach a class. Instead, reading Class Warfare just tells us there are two problems with America’s education system: (1) incompetent teachers (some of them sleep during class); and (2) unions. Since the former are locked in overpaid employment by the latter, the unions can be blamed for America’s declining public schools (and basically everything else—this is clearly a Republican book). Busting those unions (and laying off incompetent teachers) is described repeatedly as the best remedy.

A few heroic characters join the fight against unions: Bill Gates, Jon Schnur, and Jessica Reid. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded school reform in New York, in which, the right to bypass unions was central to the program’s success. Bypassing the teachers’ union gave schools the right to pay less, fire people, reward good performance, and, most importantly, allowed education managers to do their jobs without fear of excessive, crippling derailment from co-ordinated (angry) teachers and parents. Teachers unions had schools in a straightjacket.

Yes, unions have been partly responsible for the decline of America’s public schools because they turned teaching from a respected (but low-paid) profession into a comfortable safety net for the otherwise unemployable (for every great teacher, there are several idiots who just get by on the same salary). But after reading this book, I still think that busting those unions is not the best way to reform public schools. Ideally, the unions could lead the reform. Unions could set up classes where “good” teachers teach “bad” teachers; or provide teacher training rather than saying “more money for teachers” repeatedly. Unions caused problems in America’s public schools, but, as groups of interested professionals, they also have the potential to fix them.

Anyone interested in political bickering should read this. Republicans, especially, will get a buzz from this book even if they don’t learn much from it. Democrats should read this as a fictional drama, which is at worst, just slightly offensive. The political divide gives Class Warfare very mixed reviews on Amazon.

What did I learn? I’m done with education, and I’m done with politics. And I’m extremely happy to be independent and self-employed in an industry with zero regulation. That’s all the relevant knowledge I need from this book. ★★★

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