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Two perspectives on what awaits workers on future Labor Days

1940 Labor Day Parade in International Falls.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
1940 Labor Day Parade in International Falls.

Unemployment is high. Wages are falling. Benefits workers once enjoyed, such as pensions, are endangered or disappearing.

Does this sound like the makings for a happy Labor Day?

Peter Rachleff, longtime labor historian and activist at Macalester College, and Duane Benson, former Republican legislator, former head of the Minnesota Business Partnership who currently is a farmer and executive director of the Early Learning Foundation, were asked what they would say to workers in these times.

What lies ahead? Is the American dream, each generation enjoying more prosperity than its predecessor, over?

Rachleff’s view
Start with Rachleff, who says that the state of American workers is in decline, similar to what happened in the Great Depression, when workers began to lose benefits that they slowly had begun to receive in the Roaring ’20s. It was union organizing that reversed that slide, Rachleff said.

But until workers get beyond such things as racism, organizing will be difficult, he believes.

Peter Rachleff
Peter Rachleff

“When people who think of themselves as middle class start to slide back,” he said, “their resentment is aimed at the people below them. Those are often people of color.”

Rachleff said he saw a prime example of that misdirected anger at a recent event in Austin, where older union members were commemorating the 25th anniversary of their lonely strike against Hormel. Old strike leaders from around the country were invited to attend the event, Rachleff said.

“But the people who organized the event chose to exclude the Latino workers who currently work in the plant,” he said. “There’s a serious anger at the Latinos. In real dollars, they’re [today’s workers] being paid less than workers [(25 years ago]. They’re working harder, and the company is making huge amounts of money. But the perspective is that this is somehow the fault of the Latino workers. That they’re allowing themselves to be used.”

Race is an element of that anger, Rachleff said.

The professor believes that the Tea Party movement is another classic example: It’s sponsored by the wealthy and is a movement filled with white people who have directed their anger at the poorest (usually people of color), not the wealthy.

But race isn’t always a factor in workers being pitted against each other.

“Look what’s happening to the old Northwest flight attendants and baggage handlers,” he said. “They’re seniority rights have been taken away.”

Delta Airlines has stripped Northwest’s unionized workers of benefits, in an effort to be as benevolent as possible to its longtime, non-union employees. Delta, Rachleff said, is clearly attempting to entice its old workforce to reject organizing efforts.

But Rachleff also sees rays of hope for U.S. workers.

He recently attended a meeting in South Minneapolis of custodians. All were immigrants, Rachleff said. All were contract workers for a company that sent them to some of the region’s largest corporations and retail outlets.

“In the last 10 years, their wages have fallen from $11 an hour to $7.25, and their benefits have disappeared,” Rachleff said.

Leonard Olson wearing a sign advertising for a sales position, circa 1935.
Minneapolis Journal/MN Historical Society
Leonard Olson wearing a sign advertising for a sales position, circa 1935.

They’ve been pushed as far as they can be pushed, he said, and now they’re attempting to organize in an effort to push back, and that’s the story of the American labor movement.

But it’s not just the immigrant blue-collar workers who are starting to push back, Rachleff said.

Minnesota nurses, in their recent negotiations, “have shown a path” for professional people, have said.

“They want some control of their working conditions, the safety of their patients,” Rachleff said. “No individual nurse — no matter how talented, no matter how well educated — would not have the ability to make the changes. Teachers are going to be next. They need more control over the curriculum. They need more control over class sizes. They can’t do that as individuals.”

One other point Rachleff would make on this Labor Day weekend:

“Coming out of the Great Depression and World War II, we had an economy based on the idea that workers needed to be able to afford to purchase the products they produce.” In slashing the benefits paid to workers, Rachleff said, corporations ultimately are destroying their own consumers.

Benson’s take
Benson’s talk at a Labor Day gathering would be more esoteric. He says he can’t possibly predict the future, except to say that for working people, it will be vastly different from what we’ve known.

On the downside, Benson believes that such concepts as the defined pension benefit and the lifelong job aren’t likely coming back. He also believes that people will be working to an older age.

“A girl born today can expect to live to 100,” he said. That means that classic mid-60s retirement makes no meaningful sense for either the culture or the individual.

Duane Benson
Duane Benson

But these changes in the way we work and retire aren’t necessarily negatives, Benson is quick to add. He believes that the U.S. workforce will find more job satisfaction in the future than it has in the past.

“I can’t say what it [work] will be,” Benson said. “I’m sure it won’t be what it has been, but I believe it will be better. … I think people will be more engaged in the work they do. It’s going to be more of an internal thing. Individual effort will mean more. Coming up with ideas will mean more. Individuals will be more empowered. … I can’t put my finger on it. But I’m not afraid. This country and its people always have prospered under every circumstance, and I believe that will continue to be true.”

More home offices. More small shops and businesses. More small farms. All of those things are on the near horizon, Benson said.

The era of consolidation, with massive corporations swallowing each other, is going to end.

He sees the unraveling of massive companies in small ways.

When he’s driving down the highways near his farm in southern Minnesota, Benson said the perimeters of the cornfields once were peppered with signs showing that the seeds were a product of monster companies such as Pioneer.

“Now there are all kinds of different companies that I’ve never heard of,” he said. “Small companies selling seed and the product is just as good.”

Another down-on-the-farm observation:

Benson said until recently, it was assumed that a Minnesota farm had to be at least 580 acres to provide for a family. What he’s seeing now, are small, 80-acre farms that “produce enough to feed 10 square blocks in a city.”

Consumers demanding organic food products — or at least personal relationships with food producers — are making that change possible.

As a member of the board of regents of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, he sees small things that affirms his belief that future workers are seeking different things from their predecessors.

“I talk to a 20-year-old, and they want to know about things like job satisfaction,” Benson said.

But his MNSCU perspective is also showing him something else: Young men better get their heads in the game.

Benson spoke of how 30 years ago, a Labor Day picnic would have been filled with working men, accompanied by their wives and kids. That’s not going to be the case in the future.

“Women are taking over the world,” he said.

He noted that 60 percent of the enrollees in MNSCU schools are women. At predominately black colleges, such as Grambling, he said, the ratio of women to men is every more startling.

Rest Break at Acme Foundry, Minneapolis, 1998.
David L. Parker/MN Historical Society
Rest Break at Acme Foundry, Minneapolis, 1998.

At one point in his life, Benson said he’d considered studying veterinary medicine at Iowa State. He noted that the most recent group of vet grads at that school was 36 women and three men.

“This is an ongoing trend,” he said. “Where are the men? Are they sitting in the basement of their parents’ homes playing their GameBoys?”

(A digression from Benson’s thoughts: AAUW, a national organization once known as the American Association of University Women, is using this Labor Day to push hard for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, like most things, is stalled in the Congress. The organization notes that women still are paid less — 77 cents on the dollar — than their male counterparts. The organization claims the bill, bogged down in the Senate, would provide greater safeguards against such things as pay discrimination.)

Education never has been more important for U.S. workers. Places such as China will be able to produce some factory products more efficiently than the United States. “Brain jobs” are the future, he said, which is why he’s involved as director of the Minnesota’s Early Learning Foundation.

The Foundation works to get the attention of children — and, of course, their parents — before kindergarten. It’s a position that again has led to Benson being optimistic about a future he can’t predict because what he’s seen is “teamwork” he believes is unique to this country.

“Three groups call more than any other,” Benson said. “We hear from kindergarten teachers who say kids aren’t ready for school. They want our help. We hear from police officers, who are concerned about kids who aren’t making it in school. And the biggest group we hear from are recently retired people who always ask, ‘Where can we help?’ “

The days of wanting to retire early and spending the “golden years” at the golf course are headed the way of the high-paying assembly-line job. Benson said he believes the future will have many more people who semi-retire and then spend their free hours doing volunteer work.

“People want to remain engaged,” he said. “I really do believe that. I know things won’t be like they used to be; I believe they’ll be better.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by donald maxwell on 09/04/2010 - 11:19 am.

    I wonder why so many people, Benson included, say that “brain jobs” are the future of the U.S. Do they believe that the U.S. will out-compete China and India on “brain jobs” any more than on production jobs?

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/04/2010 - 03:41 pm.

    We know that Duane Benson speaks from personal experience and walks the walk. I wonder if Pete Rachleff belongs to a union over there at Macalester.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/04/2010 - 05:23 pm.

    Since we’re (hopefully) not going to compete for cheap labor, what else is there?

  4. Submitted by Eric Larson on 09/04/2010 - 05:58 pm.

    I want to thank Mr. Grow & Mr. Rachleff for revealing what I’ve been preaching for sooo long. That the teachers don’t give a hoot about the parents-employers-taxpayers perspective if it clashes with the teachers or their union.

    “Rachleff said. Teachers are going to be next. They need more control over the curriculum. They need more control over class sizes. They can’t do that as individuals.”

    “THEY NEED MORE CONTROL OVER CURRICULUM”. I as a parent, taxpayer and employer think we should consult with the teachers, then send them out of the room. Make our decision what the curriculum shall be then demand that the teachers salute the preverbial flag like a PFC and charge up the hill no matter what. Anything less assures that I will continue to agitate for an end to MEA etc.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/04/2010 - 07:01 pm.

    Two very thoughtful perspectives on the future of labor. Both of these gentlemen observed things I wouldn’t have thought.

    But I tend to agree with Mr. Maxwell’s comment that “brain jobs” may not afford any better future for us than production jobs. I appreciate Mr. Rachleff’s comments on racism and on the ongoing manipulation by big business to bust unions.

    I cannot understand the hostility of certain people toward unions. I especially don’t get the hostility toward teachers and teachers’ unions. Teachers are probably our most important workers and they are woefully underpaid for what they do. In my experience, they are best advocates for the needs of children and education. There are schools where the parents and employers make the decisions about the curriculum and then order the teachers to “salute the flag” and carry it out. We call that “brainwashing.”

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/04/2010 - 09:15 pm.

    Well, it’s like this Mr. Kingstad: prior to 1970, before the NEA was a labor union it was indeed a national education association. As a professional association, its purpose was to research to continually search for the best ways to educate the nation’s children and to share best practices with the nation’s teachers.

    Then it became a labor union and its role was to negotiate the best pay and benefits for its membership and to ensure their job status was based on seniority and not job performance.

    Most people don’t believe that “professionals” would consider joining a labor union. Labor unions are required by unskilled or semi-skilled “workers” who benefit from collective bargaining that enables them to maintain job security regardless of their competency. Not the kind of ideal you’d expect from “professionals.”

    And the history bears it out. The decline of quality in public education and the ever increasing costs without corresponding benefit can be tracked to post-1970 when teachers stopped being professionals and started being “workers” at a job site.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/05/2010 - 10:04 am.

    I’d like to see someone (Professor Rachleff?) write a history of the development of the nationwide anti-union movement that seems to hve started with Reagan’s firing of the nation’s entire cadre of air traffic controllers.

    Northwest Airlines used one of the many “labor relations consultants” who specialize in anti-worker advice to split its negotiations to one union at a time. The company was then able to both prevent the three unions from uniting into one force with the power to fight back and making them see one another as the “enemy” when it came to their own negotiations.

    Now Delta’s management (including Richard Anderson, former head of Northwest at MSP) has ended some benefits to its ex-Northwest employees in order to “please” its Delta employees? What kind of propaganda did they use on the Delta people to make them think this was good either for them OR the former Northwest employees?

    Unions are getting better at fighting those who would destroy them all. An informed citizenry who no longer believed that unions were “greedy” or “lazy” because of propagandistic lies would at least be on the right side on such issues as the card-check bill that would have made organizing easier.

    Google “anti-union movement” for more information.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 09/05/2010 - 02:50 pm.

    Some questions for Mr. Tester.

    You blame the decline in public education on unions (a facile, cookie-cutter argument).

    Might the struggles of public schools have more to do with your neoliberal pals Reagan and Nixon, who drove up national deficits and then informed us that we’d have to live with sub-par government services (education, healthcare, transportation)? Might that have something to do with the state of education?

    And then didn’t your friends Reagan and Nixon cut taxes on businesses and the ultra-rich, telling us that that extra wealth would trickle down from the benevolent hands of CEOs and CFOs to the common folk like you and me? But income disparity is at its highest level since 1929, when, if you recall, the great depression commenced. Seems that the benevolence of the business world is failing us. Oops!

    And starting with the air-traffic controllers, didn’t Reagan and Nixon and the Neolibs assure us that we’d all end up more prosperous without the unions? Now, as your friend Duane tells us, retirement looks to be out of reach for all but the wealthiest, and real wages have remained stagnant for a decade. But look! CEOs and CFOs have collected massive piles of money– now we just have to wait for them to trickle it down to us!

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/05/2010 - 04:11 pm.

    Businesses are trying to get more work out of the same number of employees for less or at most a little more money. An endeavor which is, on the average, working so far. Businesses are making substantially increased profits while payroll is declining more than output (meaning productivity is up).

    A few commenters here are perfectly content to assert that union workers have high wages and benefits and to argue that this is bad for the economy. But if this is true (from an economic efficiency standpoint) how can record profits, cash reserves and executive compensation not be just as bad? If companies are making more profits (and have more cash on hand) largely by getting more work out of fewer or lower paid employees, wouldn’t a more reasonable conclusion be that they aren’t hiring because they are able to increase profits without hiring? Furthermore, at larger companies, the decision makers are being very handsomely compensated (again at or near record levels) precisely because they have been able to reduce payroll, squeeze out more productivity and increase profits. Why would they decide to do something else?

    The central problem is that the system is unsustainable. Large scale, long term unemployment creates a lot of drag in any economy. In one based largely on personal consumption, like ours, the effect is even worse. Decreased wages also drag down the economy.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/05/2010 - 07:31 pm.

    “Most people don’t believe that “professionals” would consider joining a labor union. Labor unions are required by unskilled or semi-skilled “workers” who benefit from collective bargaining that enables them to maintain job security regardless of their competency. Not the kind of ideal you’d expect from “professionals.””

    It may come as a shock to you, Dennis, that there are many professional people who belong to labor unions. I’m a lawyer. When I worked in the public sector, I was a member of a lawyers union first in Milwaukee County, where the District Attorney’s office was and I believe still is, unionized, and later as a lawyer for a Wisconsin state agency.

    I’d like to know where you get the idea that the MEA, by becoming a “labor union”, somehow sacrificed its commitment to education of children because it was trying to negotiate better wages and conditions of employment for its members?
    And the “decline in public education”? You repeat something you have heard as as if this was self-evident, and, as if it would follow by necessity that the blame for such alleged decline was attributable solely to the teachers.

  11. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/06/2010 - 07:28 am.

    My story: I worked for 26 years in the newspaper industry, a very profitable moneymaker for Gannett, Lee papers, and the Startribune. In 2006 the Strib was sold to Chris Harte and co. and due to many factors things went downhill fast. A whole 60 person department of fifty somethings (with over 20 years of service) was eliminated). Our work was absorbed by the Fleet/Teamsters. Basically had to start over from scratch.
    I’m working at far less pay, greatly reduced benefits. Because of the nature of my work I have some security (health care related)but there is high turnover in new workers. In the book “Animal Spirits” the nobel winning economists do write about justice. Basically how some highly profitable companies (formerly newspapers) paid good wages. The earnings for a news driver was double that of a laundry van driver. With the breakup of the auto industry the trade unions are basically nonexistent. Most of the unions that still exist serve the college educated.

  12. Submitted by Richard Molby on 09/06/2010 - 08:00 am.

    The first thing that struck me about this piece was how concrete the examples were that were given by the liberal and how fuzzy the examples were that were given by the conservative. This is completely the opposite of how we are (constantly) being told these two groups think.

    Second, anyone who wants to subscribe to the idea that “brain jobs” are going to be the savior(s) of this nation needs to read “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew B. Crawford. His dive into higher education (including grad school) and the mind-numbing, bureaucratic corporate work that awaited should make anyone cringe. His savior? Creating his own niche with a hands-on, grease stained motorcycle repair business. Does he need a union? No. Does he need a degree in veterinary medicine? Also no.

    To say that teachers need a more effective union in order to be better teachers leaves out the fact that there are way too many teachers who should consider either retirement or a whole different career path because they are a drag on the system and their fellow teachers. To say that men need to “step up” and join the brain force ignores the fact that a huge percentage of us (and women as well) are much better at working when our hands and brains are mutually engaged as opposed to droning on as a corporate paperweight.

    If you want to see what the future of Labor Day is really going to look like, ask the 20-year-old what he thinks rather than making wild assumptions and telling him to put down his Gameboy.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2010 - 10:01 am.

    There are many reasons the public school system is failing today, but as Dennis says, the start of the decline can be traced to the takeover of the teachers professional associations by blue collar trade labor unions.

    It’s ironic that the people that claim to be so supportive of the public schools are the same ones fighting tooth and nail to fight against any and all reforms that threaten the status quo….or maybe not.

    There is much work to do, and little time to do it if the public system is to be salvaged, but we cannot even begin the work until teaching professionals take their profession back from the brotherhood of widget drillers.

    Mr. Kinstad, if you’re so proud of your trade labor union connections, I wonder if you’ve got your membership card framed next to your JD for prospective clients to see…

  14. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/06/2010 - 10:49 am.

    It’s funny how the conservatives love to accuse Obama of the “hopey, changey” thing, yet that’s all Duane Benson has to offer in regard to labor issues. If he’s running the rest of his life the same way he organizes his thinking, his bankers must be making a lot of money off the way he manages his checking account.

    It is the singular disability of conservatives of every stripe to let the, already visible concrete results of their ideologically-driven policies become part of their perspective. All Mr. Benson has to offer is, “Trust me! Things are just about to get better!” (and “there’ll be pie in the sky when we die by and by” – which was originally an anti-big business, big money song deriding the similar attitudes of those conservative folks as the labor unions were being born).

    This game has played out this way repeatedly throughout human history. The rich gradually destroy the society in which they live until the poor revolt (the 1930’s and FDR’s new deal brought a peaceful form of that revolt, but revolt it was, avoiding, as they did, the developing move toward open revolt of the poor against the rich and the strong organizing happening in the Midwest by the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Grange, the Far Bureau, etc.).

    Although the rich had been making war on the poor ever since the 30’s, this all came to a head with Ronald Reagan’s ability to convince the general public that their labor unions were a great evil that should and must be destroyed. Since that time, the rich have absorbed a greater and greater proportion of the proceeds of the labor of all the citizens of the US while the poor and middle class have receive smaller and smaller portions. The Conservative media has sold it’s soul for six and seven figure salaries and is now completely in the laps of the rich.

    The question remains whether the nation will survive the continuous somnambulence created by the fuzzy dreams of Mr. Benson, the MSM, et al, or whether we will wake up in time to preserve the well being of those citizens of our nation who are not fabulously wealthy. If we do not, we will tear ourselves apart.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2010 - 11:16 am.

    “If he’s running the rest of his life the same way he organizes his thinking, his bankers must be making a lot of money off the way he manages his checking account.”

    Did I mention irony?

  16. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/06/2010 - 12:45 pm.

    Mr. Swift, I am proud of my membership in a union, which was not a “trade union” as you call it. I don’t recall having a membership card but what’s your point anyway? I don’t get your sneering scorn toward laboring people “brotherhood of widget drillers”?

    What’s your proof that the “public education system” is failing? What’s your solution? (I know, vouchers).

    This hostility toward unions and organized labor is irrational. To me, it’s no mere coincidence that the years of greatest prosperity for the most Americans occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which was also during the years of highest union membership. One solution that seems rational to me is for more organization of labor and more negotiated contacts for more paid free time.
    http://www.alternet.org/story/148061/less_work,_more_life?page=entire

  17. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/06/2010 - 12:53 pm.

    Thom, sing it from the mountaintops to the valley below “I have a grudge”

  18. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/06/2010 - 02:46 pm.

    Mr. Tester (#4) — I believe that when Mr. Rachleff talks about teachers having more control of curriculum, et cetera, he is talking about them being able to throw off the top-down control from the federal Department of Education as expressed in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Parents are as powerless against this force as are teachers and even school boards.

    The “reforms” sought by No Child (higher test scores on standardized math and reading tests) have led to thousands of good schools being punished by Washington. Diane Ravitch, former Bush Dept. of Education Assistant Secretary for Research, fears that Race to the Top will result in the wholesale firing of teaching staffs, the closure of schools and their replacement by charter schools — often private ones managed by who-knows-what-kind-of foundations with who-knows-what goals.

    Arne Duncan’s “improvements” to Chicago’s public schools? Not as beneficial as claimed, according to a study carried out by a group of civic-minded Chicago businesspeople. For one thing, some schools reporting higher test scores achieved that distinction by lowering their standards.

    When teachers talk curriculum versus Washington stress on “basics,” I believe they are going beyond the basics to music and all the visual and performing arts, phys. ed., geography and civics, and other contributors to a child’s well-developed mind and body that are being shortchanged by the stress on math and reading.

  19. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2010 - 04:28 pm.

    dan, anyone that claims to give a whit about educating our kids, and does not admit to a grudge against the NEA is not being honest about one or the other.

    Mr. Kingstad, it is my opinion, and that of many other people, that membership in a labor union reduces any vocation to “trade” status. You may feel otherwise, and are certainly free to do so.

    However,I wonder how many people would hire a lawyer that advertises his reliance on collective bargaining to set his work rules and fees.

  20. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/06/2010 - 07:38 pm.

    I do think defending unions, who are the easy target in this matter, but frankly have done a lot more for students than most “reformists” is an important stand to take once the debate gets brought into an ideological realm. I’m not opposed to a plan to implement some level of performance pay, but I am opposed to any plan that goes in treating unions as the enemy and doesn’t work with them as equal partners. That’s not to say that unions ought to get everything they demand, just that they ought to be seen as a constructive voice in the process and not as a group standing in the way of any real changes.

    Debates about education, when you look through the policy fog, are purely ideological.

  21. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 09/07/2010 - 02:23 am.

    “…it is my opinion, and that of many other people, that membership in a labor union reduces any vocation to “trade” status. You may feel otherwise, and are certainly free to do so.”

    First of all, Swiftmeister, what is wrong with trades? Do you hate working-class people? Second, the lack of logic here is stunning. You seem to state outright that all people who organize for their own benefit in the workplace are people who perform insignificant tasks. Huh? You can have your opinion, I suppose, even if it makes absolutely no sense.

  22. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/07/2010 - 09:12 am.

    There is a distinction in the English language for people who are not trying to be hostile and insulting between “professions” and “trades”. People often do refer to the practice of law as a “trade” but I can see how for many people, who consider themselves superior, have contempt for others because they only work in a “trade” and have a “trade union.” Such people consider “tradespeople” only worthy to be seen at the back door of the manse making deliveries. Must be nice to have trust fund where you can afford to have such superior attitudes.

  23. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 09/07/2010 - 09:23 am.

    Part of what is wrong with both education and the economy is that this nation long ago decided that science and research are a crock, so why even bother to pay attention to it.

    First example, Art Rolnick has for years advocated for early childhood education as a part of our state’s education system. Is Mr. Rolnick’s advocacy based on some whim?? NO! It is based on YEARS of research done by him and others. What has it shown? That kids who are prepared for school do better in school. They don’t end up in 6th grade reading at a 2nd grade level. They don’t drop out. They go on to succeed at whatever level of higher education they choose, be it college or tech school. They also don’t go onto prison at the rate of those who as children never had early childhood education. Instead they get jobs, pay taxes and raise families. What an idea!

    How many problems would this small investment in early childhood education solve? The education gap, the number of people in prison, the number of unemployed, the amount of taxpayer $$ we shell out for education. But do we listen and do something that is well researched and proven? NO!!

    Second example, much research has been done which shows that if schools treated students as individuals rather than as a classroom herd most students – even the top ones – would do better. What does this mean? It means testing each student at the beginning of their educational sojourn and maybe even at the beginning of each year.

    What would this testing help us discover? How does EACH student learn? Are they an aural learner? Or a learner who learns by reading? Or by being hands on? Where are they in relation to the other kids in their class? Are they reading two or three grade levels ahead or behind the grade level they are in?

    When they get to high school, testing in each subject level using the final exam for each unit or the final exam for the year would help teachers separate those who already could pass the final from those who are miles from it. That way a teacher could assign advanced reading and research to those who would spend the year bored (and probably causing trouble) by having to learn each and every thing that other students don’t know and the teacher would have time to work with more students on a one to one basis.

    But do we listen to research? Do we do something that makes sense? NO! Instead we test students in a herd. We don’t learn a thing about individual learners so that each student could learn and progress in their own way.

    And what does herd testing tell us? NOT A THING! Are we comparing the same kids to the same kids year after year?? OF COURSE NOT!! We compare last year’s class of third graders to this year’s class of third grader – like comparing apples to oranges. So what if last year the teacher only had 15 third graders and this year she has 23. So what if last year she had a teacher’s aide and this year she has none. So what if last year most of the kids had a mom and dad at home and this year less than half the kids are so fortunate. So what if last year most of the kid’s had someone in their family working and only a couple of the kids were in a homeless shelter or foster care and this year several of the students have parents who lost jobs, and their home, etc.

    Does any of that matter to the educational process? NO!! If the kids fail this year, it’s ALL the TEACHER’s fault. Fire her!! Bring in someone new!! And while we’re at it, fire the principal, reduce the number of social workers and counselors. (Oh, I forgot. Minnesota is already at the bottom of the list of states for the number of counselers per capita!)

    We don’t even do what’s rational anymore.

    Final comment, given that most of the people who read Minnpost, I believe, also read some kind of newspaper like the Strib, Press or NY Times either online or by holding it. How many articles did you read over this last weekend in particular, or the recent past where employers have job openings and can’t find the employees skilled enough to fill them? I know I’ve read at least three or four. And what are they talking about when they say “skilled”? To a certain extent they are talking about “brain jobs”. Not always in the sense of a worker with a college education or a professional. Many of these articles have talked about jobs that require computer skills or other technical skills to do a line job, a manufacturing job, a customer service job. These are the kinds of jobs that America’s workers need to retrain for.

    How many times have we read since the economy went south that many of those jobs are gone forever. It’s time we listened to the businesses that have job openings for skilled labor and directed a huge portion of any stimulus to retraining our workforce to do the jobs that exist and that are only going to grow in number over the next decade.

    Thanks all for listening to my rant. Any comments would be appreciated.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/07/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    Actually Benson’s take reflects a neo-liberal optimism that assumes future job creation replacing loss. This optimism was behind the neo-liberal drive for NAFTA and outsourcing. It was and is faith-based economics that eschews public policy in lieu of free market magic.

    The problem is that economies do crash, and the US economy is not a magic economy impervious to collapse. The idea that Unions are quaint hold overs from a less prosperous time assumes a certain level of affluence. The fact is that American affluence is fading along with union membership. As wealth disparity increases so do the power disparities between labor and owners. Those who think they have the same advantages as union members will soon find out what the term “at-will employee” means, and their going to be surprised I fear.

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