A popular bumper sticker proclaims, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” At some level, it’s a meaningless truism. Hardly anyone has ever discovered reading without receiving some training. In my case, it was my parents who were my teachers.

But it’s not that kind of teacher the bumper sticker means. Often, those who count as a “teacher” have nothing to do with whether they are, in fact, teaching. Instead, it has everything to do with job description and union membership.

Attending public schools, I was fully immersed in the education system’s cult of the teacher. This belief system’s founding myth tells of selfless professionals who care so much about the advancement of children that they masochistically take on low-paying, thankless jobs to help those youth.

The truth is actually quite different. Education majors are a different breed, and not in a good way. As economics professor Steven E. Landsburg notes in his book “Fair Play,” “college graduates are, on average, far brighter than college freshmen. … On the other hand, those college graduates who go into teaching are, on average, about exactly as bright as college freshmen; among students who become teachers, only half were in the top half of their freshman classes.”

Landsburg is saying that most college graduates come from the top of their freshman class, but education major graduates come from everywhere. “It’s as if the weeding-out process completely bypasses the education majors,” he concludes.

A recent New York Times article noted that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “has said that many, if not most, teacher-training programs are mediocre. ‘It is time to start holding teacher-preparation programs more accountable for the impact of their graduates on student learning,’ Mr. Duncan said in a speech in November.”

But an effort to create some of the accountability Duncan seeks is being fought by many education departments of colleges. U.S. News & World Report’s attempt to issue rankings is meeting with hostility.

The complaint is that the magazine’s criteria are wrong, yet no attempt to offer better criteria has been made. Education professors and deans are saying, “Your system of evaluation is wrong; let’s keep the system with no accountability.”

Most critics of teachers are seen as slightly less American than Benedict Arnold. Yet many teachers seek to undermine their own position through tyranny. The current poll question on the American Federation of Teachers’ website is, “Should schools send notes home for students at risk of obesity?” The proposal is currently losing, but not by much.

A shopping center marquee in my neighborhood recently lauded a group of public school kids for their “behavior, attitude, respectfulness, and kindness.” Not one of those attributes has anything to do with scholarship. The list could be summed up as “these students are being honored for being easily controlled.”

The fact that education in our nation is a shambles cannot really be argued. While the president attempts to stem the tide with platitudes such as “win the future,” Secretary Duncan and U.S. News are trying to do something about it. They are met with stonewalling and criticism, not with educated responses.

This is probably all we should expect from the nation’s current pedagogy system.