Sunday, May 28, 2023


At the conclusion of one of the most criminally underappreciated very bad movies of all time, the 90210 kids-turned-space-marines of “Starship Troopers” capture a “brain bug.”

Neil Patrick Harris as Col. Carl Jenkins uses his mind-reading powers to intuit the thoughts of the hulking killer space roach monster. As luck would have it, this alien from the other side of the galaxy thinks in English.

“It’s afraid…” Jenkins says softly at first. “IT’S AFRAID!!!!” he then exclaims triumphantly to the cheers of the gathered troopers.

(You can watch this masterpiece of cinema here.)

This scene came to mind recently when someone within the National Education Association shared an internal study on pandemic pods. The document, titled “OPPOSITION REPORT: PANDEMIC PODS,” names multiple small-school organizations and frets about a $200,000 grant to facilitate such schools. This amount of money, while doubtlessly helpful to those involved, is a tiny fraction of the annual budget of either a medium-sized school district or, in fact, the NEA itself.

 Moving on, the report quotes Michael B. Horn, co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, as evidence we should be concerned:

Education Next’s executive editor previously posited that homeschooling would never increase beyond 10% of the school-age population. In “The Rapid Rise of Pandemic Pods,” he revises that estimate based on the ability of micro-schools to address some of the structural limitations of homeschooling and the ability of education savings accounts to alleviate some equity issues, and suggests that micro-schooling will be one of the innovations that continue post-pandemic.

So, what to take away from this?

If there is a nefarious plot out there to damage public education, one need look no further than the decisions of NEA affiliates like the Florida Education Association to find the most effective practioners. The FEA has been in court trying to prevent the reopening of schools that a large percentage of Florida families clearly desire.

Any ability of villains such as myself to promote micro-schools simply are dwarfed by the far grander efforts of the Florida Education Association to encourage their adoption. Those of my tribe should simply pull up a couch, eat some popcorn and wonder at the bizarre choices being made by the opponents of educational freedom.

Teachers, after all, have a great deal to gain from this trend. A small but growing number of teachers who didn’t find operating in huge impersonal bureaucracies their personal cup of tea have found joy in running their own small schools. There is a large pool of potential teachers out there unwilling to teach in big-box schools but who might return to the profession if they get to be in charge of their own school.

This trend seems popular among both families and teachers, which I find thrilling, and alas, the NEA finds fearful.

“The only good bug is a dead bug!” is a catchphrase from the dystopian, quasi-fascist world of “Starship Troopers.” It is a shame the National Education Association apparently views it as an inspiration for what seems to be its guiding philosophy:

“The only good school is a zoned, unionized school!”

This piece first ran here at RedefinED.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner is executive editor of redefinED. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.


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