Teachers around the country, often in red states, are organizing to fight the ongoing destruction of public education. For generations, politicians have targeted public schools, with major funding from the school privatization movement, to help create a two-tiered class-based system by crippling public schools and demonizing teachers.
Past advocacy by educators as part of their professionalism has contributed to the conservative criticism of public education in the US and its scapegoating of teachers’ unions for any problems conservatives want to lay on the public school system.
Back in 1970, for example, the AFL-CIO-affiliated American Federation of Teachers became the first major union to stand against discrimination against lesbians and gay men. In 1974, its larger national rival, the National Education Association, added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy.
Both unions have struggled with right-wing forces from within and without to maintain and expand the stands they took way over a quarter of a century ago. In 1999, both joined nine other educational and psychological organizations to condemn the aggressive right-wing promotion of the brainwashing mislabeled conversion “therapies,” as potentially harmful and ineffective, and to counter harassment of LGBTQ youth.
The final goal of economic conservatives is to privatize education so that children become lucrative moneymakers 24/7 for multinational corporations. For the religious and social conservatives, it’s to guarantee that our kids conform to their right-wing, sectarian Christian agenda, including marginalizing LGBTQ people.
The major enemies of this sectarian and corporate agenda, who are motivated by the stake they have in education as well as the fact that most become educators out of their love of teaching, are those teachers’ unions – the organizations that represent the actual trained professionals who are really in the classroom with America’s kids.
In contrast, how long has it taken their bosses – the motley crew on elected school boards, the managers who mimic CEOs, and the scared school systems – to stand against bullying and “safe schools?”
It’s not as if the teachers are in it for the money. With their educational backgrounds they could make more working in front of computer screens, in investment firms, or in real estate.
Instead, teachers take responsibility for a nation’s important resource, our children. But their value to us is reflected in how they’re treated compared to our bankers, armament dealers, informational techs, and corporate executives.
We talk a good line about education in this country, but the evidence belies what we really believe. When we talk about more funding for our schools you can hear people say: “You don’t think that throwing more money at schools works, do you?” When it’s about the Pentagon, who can’t account for one-quarter of its expenditures, we call it allocation.
And that child in the inner city school knows what education really means to us. As those students listen to our lines about how important education is, he knows what his teachers make, where they live, and how they’re treated in the media. But students also know how much those sports stars make, in what kinds of homes they live, and how people idolize them.
Those young students are too smart. They can see through all the American blather about the value of education to the truth good ole Jesus underlined: “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”
Going beyond appearances, we do everything to put our teachers down. We hold them suspect. We pile them with responsibilities way beyond their expertise and passion.
We place these professionals in a system run by people who have never run a classroom. Imagine the standards of the medical or legal profession set by boards of people with no qualifications other than the fact that they received the most votes in an electoral system where many qualify as “low information voters.”
We hire superintendents and downtown office bureaucrats who couldn’t run a classroom and think schools are businesses. Even our Secretaries of Education are managers, not educators.
In keeping with this business-model obsession, Obama’s Arne Duncan never taught in a classroom. He was a CEO appointed by a mayor to be chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. No wonder his programs perpetuated the philosophy of the Bush administration that’s dictated by corporate America.
And now we’re stuck with Betsy DeVos who bought her position, could care less about public schools, and wants to see all students brought to her sectarian Jesus.
I’m surprised that more teachers suffering through these people who think they know better how to manage education like a factory, aren’t bitter and disheartened. What must it be like to be blamed so that the fault is always: you’re not a good teacher; and the solution is some sort of “merit pay” based on criteria set up by non-professional corporatists and their hand-picked “consultants?”
Union busting remains on the agenda of numerous superintendents around the country. But if it weren’t for our teachers’ unions, teachers, those professional educators, would have no voice at all in the way we teach and nurture the students they, not the policy makers, interact with every school day.
Teachers know what works. Teachers know why education isn’t always working in the US.
We know that smaller classrooms work. We know that the happier teachers are, the better they teach.
We know that education is not an assembly line where products can be measured by endless standardized testing. We know that students come from different places (income levels, family backgrounds, emotional needs, talents, motivations, and abilities), and that the measure of a good educator is a student’s progress from that individual place along a path, not their conformity to arbitrary standards such as those behind initiatives like that No Child Left Behind law.
We know that, yes, throwing money at education will actually go a long way to solving our problems. How about just 1/10th of what we can’t account for of military spending?
But we’ll also have to start thinking about teachers as a national resource. We’ll have to think of our schools and colleges as more than training institutions for some corporate agenda.
In Taiwan where education is highly successful, September 28th is not only Confucius’ Birthday. It’s a national holiday to honor teachers.
People there actually stop working to honor teachers.
In the US we just tripped over Teacher Appreciation Week, but I bet most didn’t even know when.
That illustrates our real problem.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction;Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and writes a regular column on relationships for 50PlusPrime.com Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.
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