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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unions are American. And so are diverse markets. Now let's talk about schools.

I believe unions are a right of Americans. While one can argue the various successes and failures institutionally of unions over the years, forcing a work environment where unions are not just unused but actually illegal is problematic and draconian. In some cases, the threat of unions keep organizations sane even if they are never formed. (I similarly believe in class-action lawsuits and the right to assemble.)

On the other hand, I believe in rich ecosystems, marketplaces, and a diversity of approaches. These are the counter-balance to strikes. (Diversity is also the counter-balance to price gouging, by the way. And perhaps most importantly, diversity is the anecdote to unproductive practices including the pursuit of useless rituals, abuse of employees, and failures of innovation).

So the underlying problem highlighted by Wisconsin (which will play out all over the country in various forms) is not that of union-busting. The real problem is: in our current system, schools represent a required (and even protected) monopoly both of education providers and economically-necessary day care providers.

The sustainable answer, therefore, is to create the ability for any region to successfully (if inconveniently) weather a teacher strike. This includes:
  • The availability of programs at libraries, museums, traditional summer camps, youth groups, church groups, clubs and community centers, 4H, even sports teams, which have to be politically and culturally independent of schools.
  • The ability for more parents to work at home.
  • A rich network of home and unschoolers that can pick up some extra students.
The value of this ecosystem goes well beyond absorbing a temporary school shut down, of course. That is just the canary in the coal mine. Where there is a mono-culture, there is vulnerability. It is only through a richness of options that we can not only treat each other fairly, but unleash the imagination that is an enduring strength and engine of success of the United States.

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