'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' Versus Teachers Unions

Kimmy Schmidt!
March 16, 2015

I've been streaming Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new sitcom from 30 Rock creator Tina Fey over the last few days, and have enjoyed it quite a bit. The show revolves around a woman, the titular Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) who escapes from a cult after 15 years underground and tries to make her way in New York City.

Kemper, perhaps best known as the orphaned front desk girl from the last few seasons of The Office, is a real delight: bubbly, effervescent, kind of silly. For those of you who watched 30 Rock, the show feels a bit like that, only told from the perspective of Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer), another backwoods yokel with a history of religious issues trying to make it in the big city. Anyway, I like it, but your mileage may vary.

I wanted to briefly highlight the sixth episode, "Kimmy Goes to School." In it, Kimmy decides she wants to get her GED (she was forced into the cult's bunker as an eighth grader). So she goes to class, full of energy and ready to learn—only to discover that the GED class is run by a teacher (played by the great Richard Kind) who isn't interested in helping young adults learn. He's not even burnt out: He's always been this way. He's trying to slouch his way into the "rubber room," a place where teachers who aren't trusted to teach but can't be fired thanks to union-won job protections are "forced" to languish.

It's fair to say that education reform has evolved into a bit of a more bipartisan issue over the year. But it's equally fair to say that it's still more of a priority on the right. And that's in large part because the fate of the Democratic Party is so linked to unions. Teachers unions, lip service to the contrary notwithstanding, hate education reform campaigns. They hate focus being placed on teacher quality over seniority. They hate it when people point out that $29 million was spent on un-fireable teachers who didn't teach in 2013 in New York City.

An episode of TV like "Kimmy Goes to School" does more to drive home the need for education reform than an op-ed in the New York Times or a segment on CNN. It demonstrates the evils of allowing bad teachers to keep their jobs thanks to absurd protections carved out by politically untouchable unions with a bit of wit. And it highlights one of those rare areas of bipartisan agreement that right and left alike can work together within: I don't think anyone's going to confuse Tina Fey and her writing staff for Republican hacks any time soon.