Fred Weinberg: The COVID/Education Disaster Has an Easy Solution, But Teachers Unions Won't Stand for It


So let me get this straight.

Members of teachers unions either don’t want to go back to school or they do not think online instruction works (or both). Whatever happens, though, they want to get paid — or they’ll strike.

Well, let me tell you the story of a man who was undoubtedly ahead of his time.

My late father, Professor Philip Weinberg, was an engineer by training, an educator by vocation and what they used to call a futurist by avocation.

After mustering out of the World War II Navy, he married my late mother, left his hometown of Brooklyn, got his degrees in electrical engineering, had me and my two sisters and ended up in Peoria, Illinois, where he founded the electrical engineering school at Bradley University.

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For most people, that would have been a great career, but in the mid-1960s, he became intrigued by the power of television and helped create a new way to distribute TV to schools called Instructional Television Fixed Service.

I got to be with him when he sold the idea of putting four channels of television in first the Catholic schools in Central Illinois and then the public schools.

His idea went like this: What if we could find the best sixth-grade math teachers, second-grade spelling teachers, etc. in the nation, pay them like TV stars and have them teach those classes on TV, received in the classroom?

Want to guess who opposed that idea?

Do you think the teachers unions are standing in the way of education for our nation's children?

Oh yeah. The teachers’ unions. So the idea was sold by suggesting that it was like classroom movies without the projectors and reels of film.

Pretty soon, just about every school in the middle section of Illinois had a little tower on its roof, a small microwave dish on that tower and a TV set in each classroom. And, sure enough, there were lessons being beamed out to those schools.

The problem was that the content was OK but not great. And there was never much enthusiasm for the other part of my dad’s idea, which was to find the best teachers and dramatically improve the teaching.

Can you guess who opposed that?

Then, “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” came along and “educational” television became “public” television which was much more fun because there wasn’t much of an anti-early education lobby.

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And my dad built Channel 47 in Central Illinois, which all of the intelligentsia loved because their jobs weren’t being threatened.

Fast-forward to today.

We know that most kids need a structured environment to learn, be that a teaching parent home schooling or a classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared: “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online. Schools also play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity. Our nation’s response to COVID-19 has laid bare inequities and consequences for children that must be addressed. This pandemic is especially hard on families who rely on school lunches, have children with disabilities, or lack access to Internet or health care.”

Ummmm … maybe it’s now time for my father’s idea.

We no longer need those big old TV sets in the classrooms, nor a special over-the-air network.

We can equip just about every student with a notebook computer or a cheap tablet for almost nothing and they can social distance all they want in our school buildings because you can put 50 kids or more in a classroom if they are getting their actual instruction online.

You know who is still going to be against that?

Yep. Our friends the unionized teachers — many of whom have been failing kids for years in concert with the horrible curriculum decisions made by administrators.

But no matter how hard they scream, they can’t have it both ways.

They need to make up their minds. Teach and get paid or get replaced.

If only my father could have lived to see this.

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Fred Weinberg is the publisher of the Penny Press, an online publication based in Reno, Nevada ( He also is the CEO of the USA Radio Networks and several companies which own or operate radio stations throughout the United States. He has spent 53 years in journalism at every level from small town weekly newspapers to television networks. He can be reached at You can subscribe, free, to the Penny Press weekly email on the website.