THE O`REILLY FACTOR
February 26, 2003, 04:00 AM
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BILL O'REILLY: In the "Unresolved Problems" segment tonight, we continue our reporting on whether political agendas are harming children in the nation's public schools.

With us now is Peter Brimelow, the author of the book The Worm in The Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education.

I want to get really specific here, because teachers are different than teacher unions, all right? And we applaud—I used to be a teacher and teachers are—work for less money than they should get and most of them are very dedicated people.

What's the primary way that teacher unions, in your opinion, undermine education?

PETER BRIMELOW, THE WORM IN THE APPLE AUTHOR: Well, basically, Bill, the inmates are running the asylum. They've seized control over—over managerial prerogatives that exist in other industries.

You can't reward a good teacher, you can't buy—pay more to get a math teacher. And you can't fire bad teachers.

So basically the management has no control.

O'REILLY: All right. So you say that the rules they've imposed on the school boards make it impossible to reward good teachers, because they all get paid the same, and get rid of bad teachers.

BRIMELOW: Exactly. The contract can run for 1,000 pages, you know, in a school district. So it's like—it's like shackles on the school board.

O'REILLY: Are all school districts—not all unions are the same, though, right? It varies from area to area.

BRIMELOW: No, it...

O'REILLY: It varies from area to area.

BRIMELOW: One of the points I made in "The Worm" is—"The Worm in the Apple" is it varies immensely depending on the legal arrangement in each state because teacher unions are quite new. They came on the scene in the 1960s. Until then, public employees couldn't unionize.

O'REILLY: Now are some of them more political than others?

I mean, Newark, New Jersey, you had this crazy poet, Baraka. You know, this is insane.

And then you have the Oakland school district—we're going to talk about this tomorrow with Bill Bennett—which basically has a day of study about the war with all left-wing anti-war people, not one person to support the war.

Now those are extremes, but most unions aren't like that, most school unions aren't like that, are they?

BRIMELOW: Yes. The union is infested, of course, with left-wing loonies but, fundamentally, it's an extortion racket that's designed to get money out of the taxpayer and into the hands of the—somewhat the teachers firstly, and, also, the union executives themselves do very well. It's a business being in the union. It's...

O'REILLY: All right. So you believe that it's economic driven rather than ideologically driven.

BRIMELOW: There is a strong ideological element, but it is—fundamentally, it's an extortion racket, and it's hard on the Democratic Party. In large part, the teacher union has become the Democratic Party. It's leading the Democrats around by their nose.

O'REILLY: Why is that? Why do the unions favor the Democrats? Why?

BRIMELOW: Because they—they want to see a government-owned system because it's easier for them to manipulate, and they desperately don't want to -

O'REILLY: Is that because the government doesn't pay attention to it? Is that why?

BRIMELOW: You know, it's because there's one—there's one point at which you can attack. If there were lots and lots of different private schools educating and parents making different decisions about them, the parents have choice, it would be much more difficult for unions to organize.

O'REILLY: Yes, sure, if the parent—if the voucher system came in, that would make it—now have the unions, in general, fought against standardized testing?

BRIMELOW: They hate standardized testing. They've conceded only very reluctantly, and the reason is that they—first of all, they don't like their own members being exposed as bad teachers, but, secondly, they—there's an ideological issue. They don't like anything that shows up individual differences. They really are, you know, a...

O'REILLY: But is—it's accountability, though.

BRIMELOW: Yes.

O'REILLY: You can see which schools are doing well, which classes are doing well, which aren't, and they don't want accountability.

BRIMELOW: They don't want that. They don't want that, no.

O'REILLY: All right. Now what can Americans do about the union system because it seems like the public school system in this country is in deep, deep trouble? The unions basically tell the school boards exactly how it's going to be. Can we do anything about it?

BRIMELOW: Yes. You know, the unions have come about because laws were changed. Teachers were allowed to unionize and collective bargaining was put through so that teachers could get—unions could get monopoly control over the bargaining process. That's got to be undone. We've got to undo the collective-bargaining statutes in the public area.

O'REILLY: Yes, but, you know, I worked at a school that didn't have a union, a Catholic school, and the principal was a brutal—you know, I—you fill in the adjective. He was awful.

BRIMELOW: It happens in journalism, too, doesn't it?

O'REILLY: Yes. Awful. I mean just a horrible human being...

BRIMELOW: Right, right.

O'REILLY: ... who exploited all the teachers, all right, and—you know, we had no protection. So I don't know if I'm on with this.

BRIMELOW: That's why I say, you know, the government school system itself is the mother of the teacher trust —of the teacher union. It's because it's a top-down centralized system, the government school system itself, that the union...

O'REILLY: Wouldn't the solution be...

BRIMELOW: ... responds—the union responds...

O'REILLY: Wouldn't the solution be that—I think it would be best if the teacher chose or not chose to be in the union. That would deintensify their power.

BRIMELOW: But with collective—if you have a collective-bargain statute, the union can more or less force you to join.

O'REILLY: Yes, but that's what a—that's what the government can attack, all right?

BRIMELOW: That's right. There's a whole slew of laws.

O'REILLY: It would be Right To Work. And I think that's the way to go.

Mr. Brimelow, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

BRIMELOW: Thank you.