Dads Above The Lannister Line

At first I thought it was very poor judgment for HBO to show the last episode of this season of Game of Thrones on Father’s Day.  (WARNING:  Spoiler Alert!)

After all, what Dad wants to see another Dad shot through the gut by a crossbow quarrel?  Especially when the shooter is the Dad’s angry dwarf son?  And, even worse, when the Dad is taking a dump in a privy, and his son doesn’t even afford his father the courtesy of allowing him to pull up his breeches and assume a more dignified appearance before firing the fatal bolts, and then leaves his ol’ Dad to die there in stinking vapor?

Then I realized that HBO is savvier than I am.  It obviously realized that, initially, Dads might be troubled by seeing Tywin the Terrible impaled by his offspring while answering the call of nature . . . but they ultimately would compare themselves to the ex-Hand of the King and realize that they were doing a pretty good job in the fathering department by comparison.  After all, most of us aren’t ruthlessly murdered by our children.  We also don’t have children who engage in incestuous relations, we don’t have sex with our children’s paramours, we don’t decide that our children should be sentenced to death by beheading, and we haven’t ruined our children’s lives by having their wives held out as whores to our personal army.

So yes, maybe there is a method of HBO’s madness in broadcasting last night’s episode of Game of Thrones on Father’s Day.  Even the most fretful Dad, wondering about whether they are doing a good job of parenting, has got to feel pretty confident that they’ve easily surpassed the Lannister Line.

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The Constitutionality Of Teacher Tenure

Last week in California a state-court judge declared that the state statute establishing teacher tenure violated the state constitutional right to an education.  The court held that the tenure statutes disproportionately adversely affected poor and minority students, because the worst teachers protected by the statute are assigned to their schools.  The evidence of the negative impact, the court found, “shocks the conscience.”

Much of the news coverage of the decision has focused on the impact on teachers’ unions — a powerful voice in the powerful field of public employee unions.  The head of one of the unions affected by the California ruling said that the judge fell prey to anti-union sentiment and rhetoric and that teachers were being unfairly scapegoated for the problems that exist in public education.  Those arguments will be tested:  the court’s decision is just the first step in what will likely be a long litigation and appeal process.

As I read the reports on the California decision, I had two reactions.  First, we’ve become an increasingly judge-driven society, in which courts and litigants are using constitutional provisions to overturn statutes and popular referendums.  We applaud court rulings when we agree with their effect, but a heightened judicial role is a two-way street.  I’m sure California teachers never dreamed that a constitutional right to education could be used to overturn a hard-won legislative victory on teacher tenure.  And judicial involvement in policy-making can be complicated:  if the existing California system of hiring and firing teachers is struck down, what will replace it?  Legislative enactments are detailed and specific and supplemented by regulation; judicial rulings are much more high level.

Second, the concept of tenure — which was a means of ensuring academic freedom at the college and post-graduate level — does not fit well at the elementary and secondary school level.  The idea was that professors who had proven their merit after years of work should be free to explore research or prepare writings that addressed controversial topics without worrying about being fired by those who disagreed with their conclusions.  How does that translate to the public school setting, where curriculums are increasingly dictated by federal and state laws and regulations?  In California, the state law overturned by the court seemed motivated less by notions of academic freedom and more by simple job preservation:  teachers became tenured after only two years, strict seniority rules required that the newest teachers would be laid off first, and a welter of rules and procedures made it practically impossible to discharge incompetent tenured teachers.

We can expect to see more efforts to use broadly phrased state constitutional provisions to modify existing public policy, and more wrangling about teachers.  They are on the front lines of public education and inevitably will be targets as people grow increasingly concerned about the state of our public schools and what to do about them.