Specifically, the African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, wants to declare teaching an essential service with the goal of ending teacher strikes. As with all such moves, there's some additional blah-dee-blah-blah around it, but union-busting is what it comes down to.
And you thought South Africa was on the other side of the globe! Not so far away after all, is it?
Our plutocrats are, of course, more firmly entrenched within the system, given that apartheid only ended in South Africa a little under 20 years ago, thanks in large part to the ANC doing pretty much what they object to teachers' unions doing.
South Africa seems to be going through the traditional "Four legs good, two legs bad better" post-revolutionary process, which is really none of my business. They need to work out their nation's ongoing birth pains without a lot of outsiders putting in an oar.
But you don't need to have a lot of insider knowledge to know that demonizing and gelding unions is generally less a matter of seeking equity for all as it is removing barriers to management getting its own way.
In the case of South Africa, it's easy to point to a genuine lack of adequate funding and support for schools as proof of how non-essential the government actually considers education to be. It's hard to claim that teacher strikes are the problem when, halfway through the school year, you still have not provided their classrooms with textbooks.
In this country, it's not quite as blatant, but, still, we talk about how essential education is from a platform that combines equal, and lethal, measures of ignorance and hypocrisy.
It's based on some pretty shaky principles, starting with the universal, dogmatic assumption that anyone who has eaten in a restaurant is qualified to instruct the chef.
We're also kind of stuck on "good behavior" as, first of all, a matter of lining up and doing what you are told and, second, being a sign of achievement.
Believing this requires a sort of amnesia about childhood, so that we can listen to Michelle Rhee talk about education without remembering that she's exactly the kind of friendless, uptight little prig we hated in school, not because she got high marks (lots of our friends got high marks) but because she would raise her hand in class to remind the teacher to collect the homework or to rat us out for passing notes.
Our thoughts about educational reform also depend on having very little sense of how other countries educate their children and no interest in making the changes it would actually take to do the same here.
Some of that ignorance is simple: We see that kids in a high-scoring country spend more time in school and decide that extending our school day would achieve the same results.
What we don't bother to find out is that their day is longer because it's more relaxed. They take 15 minutes between classes, they have long enough lunches that kids can have a club meeting or even go home to eat if they live close by.
Their schools are more like college than a 19th century shirt factory and, naturally, kids are less stressed and feel better about being there.
But that's hardly the only thing we fail to consider.
I heard an executive from Motorola give a speech to Newspapers-in-Education people years ago about the need for providing our kids with greater technical skills, and he spoke of an opening for which they would have loved to have hired an American kid, but were forced to hire a German because the American applicants weren't qualified.
What he didn't say was that, first of all, that German kid had, from about junior high, not simply taken some electronics courses, but had been in a system where all his math and science courses were geared towards building technical skills and, in fact, the entire curriculum was set up for students whose minds were more attuned to an engineer's thinking process and learning style.
The kids who wanted to analyze Goethe and Bach were in a different school, or, at least, a different wing of that school, and, yes, you could easily transfer between programs if you changed your mind.
He also skimmed over the fact that Motorola had hired the kid away from a German firm that had, over the last two years of his schooling, invested about $30,000 in him in the form of education and internship programs. Sorry, Fritz! But, by the way, we'd sure appreciate it if you'd train us another one!
It would take a massive amount of spending in teacher education and in infrastructure for America to adopt that style of education, which is common around the globe.
It doesn't cost nearly as much to offer a course in soldering and another course in how to install music players in cars and declare it "technical training."
And it costs even less to get up and make speeches about how our schools need to do a better job because the Germans are so far ahead of us.
The bottom line, in this country or in South Africa, is, well, the bottom line: The only thing more essential that education is saving money.
Whatever it may cost us.