Tag Archives: Netherlands

Let’s Talk About Public Education

The GOP has found a new wedge issue–attacking public education. It is apparently irrelevant that their attacks are based on imaginary issues (critical race theory) or the party’s longstanding anti-intellectualism (attacks on a book by critically-acclaimed author Toni Morrison). Both are, at their core, appeals to racism.

As I have previously posted–and as most readers of this blog know–critical race theory is not and never has been part of any elementary or high school curricula. For that matter, it hasn’t been part of college curricula, either–it is a relatively arcane area of legal research, pursued almost entirely by law professors. But like the attack on literature that portrays a side of American history that offends certain White parents, it isn’t intended to be accurate. It’s intended to activate racial grievance and distract from the actual problems facing America–problems for which the GOP offers no solutions.

Public school teachers must be feeling whiplashed. This latest assault comes on the heels of persistent efforts to kneecap or destroy public education–most prominently, the voucher programs that encourage parents to use tax dollars to send their children to schools that promise the “proper” sort of indoctrination.  (It’s tempting to suggest that the outraged parents attacking school board members over these ginned-up accusations take advantage of those vouchers and send their little darlings to schools imparting their preferred versions of reality.)

I’ve written extensively about those voucher programs, and their role in segregating Americans on the basis of race and religion, and I don’t intend to repeat those arguments here. I can only hope that this latest attack on education and the dedicated teachers who provide it encourages a widespread backlash. In the past, when enough teachers have gotten sufficiently pissed off, they’ve made a difference.

That said, if America is going to be stuck with these programs that use tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, I think we should follow the lead of the Netherlands, which does fund both private and public schools–and that closely regulates all schools it funds. My son who lives in Amsterdam recently shared with me a government description of that regulatory framework.

According to the government document, the Dutch education system is “unique in the world.” Under article 23 of its Constitution, the state provides equal funding for both public-authority and private schools. To be eligible for government funding, schools must meet the statutory requirements on minimum pupil numbers and classroom hours, among other things.

Public-authority schools are open to all pupils and teachers. Their teaching is not based on a particular religion or belief. Publicly run schools are set up by the local authorities, and pursuant to article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, local authorities must ensure there are sufficient publicly run schools in their municipality. If there are not enough schools locally, they are obliged to provide access to public schools elsewhere.

Some of the more interesting provisions of the Dutch framework include:

Government authorities (usually the municipality) are responsible for the budget and educational quality of public-authority schools. Municipalities are also tasked with supervision.

Private schools are established and run by private individuals, usually parents. The usual procedure is to set up a foundation with the intention of establishing a school based on religious or ideological principles, such as a Protestant or Muslim school. Private schools of this kind may use teaching materials that underpin their foundational principles.

A private school based on religious or ideological principles may require its teaching staff and pupils to subscribe to the beliefs of that denomination or ideology. For instance, a Protestant school may insist that its staff are committed Protestants. And a Roman Catholic school may forbid pupils to wear Islamic headscarves.

However, a school in this category may only impose these rules if they are necessary to fulfil its principles. The requirements may not be discriminatory and the school must apply its policy consistently.

Private schools do not have the right to dismiss teachers because they are gay, nor may they refuse to take on pupils or staff on these grounds.

Basically, every school bears primary responsibility for the quality of its teaching. The Education Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring the quality of education at publicly run and private schools. Every year it presents an Education Report to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The minister then sends the report to parliament.

In the Netherlands, in other words, receipt of tax dollars requires accountability. Public or private, schools may not discriminate, even on religious grounds, and the quality of their secular instruction is subject to oversight.

Somehow, I doubt that the uninformed and angry parents who want their schools to impart a Whitewashed history would embrace a similar regulatory framework.

 

Different Roads To Worker Wellbeing

As my children have grown and traveled and lived in other countries, I’ve come to realize how truly unfortunate American hubris is–how our belief in “American exceptionalism” and assumed superiority prevents us from learning from the experiences and experiments of other nations.

In several previous posts, I have mentioned that my “techie” son currently lives and works in Amsterdam. Thanks to contemporary technologies like FaceTime, which have replaced those expensive “long distance” phone calls, we talk often. And because we’re a pretty political (okay, nerdy) family, those talks often turn to matters of political philosophy or public policy. I don’t recall what triggered our recent particular discussion of workers’ rights, but my son shared with me information about Netherlands’ work councils.

Any company that employs at least 50 workers is required to establish a Worker Council.
Companies employing between ten and fifty individuals must do so if a majority of  employees request it. (If those employees don’t request establishment of such a council, there are requirements for holding staff meetings at which employees are entitled to “prior consultation” about proposed changes.) Companies with fewer than ten employees aren’t subject to these requirements.

Work Councils aren’t unions. They are a legal requirement for businesses in the country,  charged with promoting and protecting employee interests. Such councils must be consulted before the owners or managers of a company can implement major decisions affecting workers. Councils are empowered to consent–or withhold consent–to changes that affect workers’ “terms of employment.”

Company managers must meet with their Works Council at least twice a year, and there are requirements for worker representation on those councils.

Evidently, work councils aren’t simply a feature of Netherlands’ governance– multinational enterprises operating in at least 2 countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) come under the jurisdiction of something called “the European Works Council Directive (EWC).”

Companies required to establish these councils are further required to give members of those councils time off to do work required by that membership, and are legally required to provide those individuals with leave for the necessary training. Employers are also required to pay all the costs of such training.

The law requires that works councils be informed and consulted about economic issues, but gives the councils the right to approve or disapprove changes on social issues. I’m not clear on how “social issues” are defined. And I’m definitely not clear on the relationship of the councils to labor unions: in the regulations my son shared with me, it says:

Works councils are not directly trade union bodies although most have a majority of trade union members. It is, however, very common to find that some of the works council members are not in a union and in some cases trade unionists are in a minority, or even not present at all.

I asked for links to the information because–during our conversation–my son had explained that his company had proposed some fairly significant changes to vacation time and other elements of employment, but the Worker Council had required changes to the changes. Evidently, after some back and forth, agreement was reached–and presumably, all parties were satisfied.

I was fascinated.

Here in the U.S., diminished union membership has translated into much diminished worker power. Rather than labor and management bargaining from roughly equivalent positions, economic change and loss of worker power has given management a highly disproportionate ability to “call the shots.” The existence of these Worker Councils suggests that, in the Netherlands and in the European Union, there is genuine concern for the well-being of employees, and for the maintenance of a reasonable balance of power between labor and management.

I certainly don’t know enough about Europe’s experience with these councils to have an informed opinion about their performance, but I wouldn’t even have known of their existence but for a conversation with someone–in this case, my son–who benefited from their operation.

I wonder how many other potentially good ideas we Americans miss because we are so convinced that “we’re number one,” and others have nothing to teach us….