We all have private interests.
People pursuing their private interests – individually or as a group – is what drives progress and innovation. But our private interests should never trump the common good.
Private interests usurping the public good is privatization. Privatization is bad. It undermines democracy and progress.
Encouraging the pursuit of private interests while avoiding privatization is a core challenge for our economic and political democracy. In pursuing their private interests, individuals and organizations often claim their interests promote the common good, while the interests of those they disagree with don’t. Politics derives, in part, from conflicting claims of whose private interests better align with the common good.
We see this regularly in our debates over how best to improve public education.
As a long-time teacher union leader, I sold financial services, insurance and advocacy services to teachers working for school districts. Therefore, maximizing the number of teachers employed by school districts served my business interests. Our union continuously asserted that more teachers working for school districts served the common good, as did higher teacher salaries and benefits. Our favorite marketing slogan was, “Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”
Our union’s political and marketing strategy was to tie the private interests of district teachers to a greater common good (i.e., the welfare of children). Of course, the private interests of teachers are often – but not always – tied to children’s interest, so this was, and still is, an effective strategy.
Teacher unions use a similar political strategy when attacking school choice programs that empower students and teachers to attend schools not covered by union contracts. The unions accuse these schools of furthering privatization. As the National Education Association recently stated about charter schools not under union contracts: “We oppose the creation of charter schools for the purpose of privatization.”
Teacher unions are often criticized – unfairly in my opinion – for advocating for the private interests of district teachers. Continue Reading →