Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bashing Teachers

Governor Chris Christie has recently said he isn’t against the teachers he’s just against the teachers union. This might make sense if the teachers were getting a reasonably good pay and schools were funded well enough to do their job but that isn’t the case. Nor does he, or many other politicians, seem to offer any other solution to the problems with the education system. There has been little or no effort by the majority of the political establishment to find out what the true problems with the schools are, or at least not the biggest problems with the schools. They have found some problems that are legitimate and they need to be fixed but they are usually not the biggest problems and they are being used as scapegoats to avoid the larger reform that is needed to fix the bigger problems. 

(Originally posted on Open Salon October 20 2010)

One of these problems is a problem with some bad teachers as they imply; of course there are always some bad workers in any industry including education. However they are also trying to demonize good teachers and they aren’t trying to figure out why it is so hard to keep good teachers. One of the biggest reasons it is so hard to keep good teachers is obvious; they aren’t funding them properly. There is little effort to increase the funding for the majority of middle and lower class schools so that they can attract teachers; instead the Capitalist system tries to lure away all the best teachers, assuming their top priority is making money or that it is close, for jobs that are designed to help the corporations make more money. In many cases the corporations make more money if the public is less educated about many subjects including ones that will help them hold the corporations accountable and participate in the democratic process. In fact there is a history of those in power intentionally trying to withhold educational opportunities from those without power to prevent them from standing up to property owners or slave holders. 

This was standard procedure before the Civil War when it was often illegal to teach African Americans to read since they thought rightfully that they might learn how to revolt and stand up for their rights. During the red Scares this also took place including the McCarthy red scare when Representative Harold Velde, former FBI man and chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, said on the House floor, “Educating Americans through means of the library service could bring about a change of their political attitude quicker than any other method. The basis of communism and socialistic influence is education of the people.” Now more often than not they are more subtle and they try to make it seem like they’re trying to educate the public to the best of their ability but they don’t do many of the things that would be the most effective and they do scapegoat for some of the wrong reasons. Chris Christie even went so far as to call the teachers unions’ bullies for strong arming the political establishment. This may be a very effective tactic if the target audience is naïve and unwilling or able to use much reasonable discretion; which unfortunately applies to many people that were brought up in intimidating environments and never learned to stand up for themselves. 

These people were often taught to believe what they’re told at a young age in a coercive way and in many cases they never changed this pattern of behavior. Fortunately there are also a lot of other people who were better educated from the beginning now and hopefully if this is dealt with properly there will be even more in the future. Most rational people won’t have too much trouble seeing who the real bully is when they see Christie spouting his ideologies in intimidating ways. Whether they act on it or not is another story; if they do then this could be a good learning opportunity and the education system could conceivably be improved for the better after it is reviewed properly but if they are complacent then Christie and his supporters could get their way. 

A quick search on Google seems to imply that on the internet at least Christie seems to be winning the debate for one reason or another. There seem to be a lot of right wing bloggers that are quite happy with his tirades and seem to want his agenda to be implemented. There surely must be more reasonable bloggers or other articles out there that provide much better arguments but I didn’t take the time to find them through Google. This may raise another question about how easy it is to find reliable information. Anyone relying solely on Google may not always get the best information or they may have to sort through an enormous amount of bad information before they find more credible information about any given subject including this one. This may not seem very important to many people but it has a growing impact on politics and education in the information age. This is important for at least two reasons. The first as indicated is that if one political view, that of Chris Christie in this case, gets much more coverage it could sway the view of many members of the public. The second is that providing information in the most organized way is an important tool for educational purposes. Instead of bashing teachers we should be trying to find more effective ways for them to do their job in a more effective way possible, even the “bad teachers.” One of the ways we could do this is by providing more effective and preferably inexpensive ways to access information in an efficient manner. This could involve providing different ways of organizing information in a more effective way on the internet and it could also involve revising the extreme copyright laws especially for material that is educational.

If we’re going to repair the education system then we need to consider more reasonable ways of financing it than property taxes which guarantees’ that those that live in poor areas will never have nearly as good an education as those that live in rich areas. This wouldn’t be such a big problem if we had a fair distribution of wealth but part of the reason that we don’t is that almost all political power is with the richest who control the multi-national corporations. They could also spend more on trying to train teachers if they have a problem with them assuming that they’re sincere. There are many things they could do to improve the education system if that is their goal; however instead they focus the majority of their attention on bashing the teachers union which is almost certainly trying to do much more to improve education than those bashing them. The teachers union is made up of teachers, many of whom are motivated by reasons other than money although they do need a certain amount to lead a reasonably good life. If their primary goal was money they probably wouldn’t go into teaching; which is part of the problem.

The capitalist overdrive system isn’t intended to do anything unless it helps the corporations make more money. Many of the things that help keep our society going aren’t based on the Capitalist overdrive system although a lot of propaganda attempts to give it credit for it. This includes environmental protection. Without the help from many nonprofit organizations the environment would be much worse and it would have had a negative effect on business by now. There are many other things that the Capitalist system doesn’t do especially when it comes to the needs of the majority of the public. In order to have a true democracy we should be able to consider many different ideas and come up with the best of each only keeping the capitalist ideas which work well; and there are some of those. The problem is the debate is controlled primarily by the most powerful people without much input from the majority.

Education is one of the most important issues that the public needs to reform in order to have a sincere democracy. In order to have a sincere democracy the public has to be well enough educated to understand the system and participate in it. Any system that only educates a small percentage of the public well enough to participate in democracy and provides propaganda to the rest is not a democracy. Teachers can provide one of the greatest threats to those that want to maintain power at the expense of the majority and it is clear that many of them realize it. Teachers have the potential to teach children some of the basics they need in order to participate in democracy including “The People History of the United States” By Howard Zinn which was written from the point of view of many of those often ignored by versions of history that are chosen by those with the most political power. In addition to Velde’s statement this has also been indicated when China was standing up to student protesters and the USA and Mass Media pointed out that they are doing this to suppress democracy but they treat similar incidents done by our own government differently. There is less focus on the fact that during the slave years and the civil right years there were efforts to suppress education and maintain power for the ruling class and when it is mentioned they act as if we have learned our lesson and it is all in the past although this is clearly not true.

This doesn’t mean that there are no legitimate problems with teachers; however the right wing that is simply bashing teachers can’t be trusted to address the issue legitimately. There are some within the teaching community that can and have done a better job addressing this issue. This includes James Garbarino and Ellen deLara who have attempted to draw attention to the problem of bullying in schools. They have indicated that in many cases there is denial of what is going on and in some cases they are overwhelmed by these problems and become complacent. When this happens they often come just to collect their paychecks; however if the school system were willing to provide proper back up this problem would decrease a lot or it wouldn’t have developed in the first place. They recommend trying to stop violence in the early stages and trying to address the social problems that lead up to these problems. They recommend trying to do this with non-punitive methods whenever possible whether the problem is the teachers or the parents or anything else. One example was when some school workers found there was a problem with a young child at school they consulted with the parent and found she was overwhelmed; so they offered her assistance and advice which settled the problem before it got worse. Without this the child could have grown in to a delinquent adolescent who got in much more trouble and caused much more damage to society. The effort to educate the parent and child was much easier cheaper and more productive than using punitive measures. If there is a problem with teachers that haven’t had enough training they could do something similar that involves more training; in fact regular updates and refresher probably should, and in many cases are part of their regular job description. This is a more reasonable way to address legitimate issues rather than to start bashing teachers or unions and making a lot of noise without offering any solutions.

There is a large segment of the political community that has an excessive amount of power trying to distract the public from the most important issues whenever it interferes with their control over the government. One of the biggest and most important examples of this is the intentional or accidental suppression of education. If this is accidental it may be because of ideological or prejudicial reasons. If this is intentional it is probably due to corruption and greed. Regardless of what the reason for this the results are the same; the education of the public and the quality of democracy is at risk. The most effective solution is probably also the same; the public needs to take more initiative to educate themselves and stand up to those that would suppress education. We need to run all these people out of office that are trying to restrict education to the poor and the middle classes and scapegoat teachers. It would also help to understand authoritarianism better and implement an educational revolution starting with the fundamentals. 

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The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

The worst defect in the Constitution is that it leaves education up to the states, curricula and funding. All the nations beating us all to hell in education have a national system. r.

Jonathan Wolfman October 20, 2010 01:14 PM

The constitution didn't address this well if at all; which is why we need a debate about it involving different ideas from all segments of society so that can be changed.

zacherydtaylor October 20, 2010 01:22 PM

Where is bothers me is that I'm a teacher, and I care about the students I teach. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a difference and then reading some politician who cares only for himself/herself who criticizes us for not doing enough with hardly enough resources to do the job.

Duane Gundrum October 20, 2010 01:23 PM

That's part of my point; many teachers including you are as concerned with the quality of education as well as their own pay but the politicians are not. In fact they often want to suppress it since it could interfere with their power if it doesn't fit their ideology.

zacherydtaylor October 20, 2010 01:41 PM

Teachers are too often beleagered and maligned. Christie scares me. He could be our next president~r.

Sarah Cavanaugh October 20, 2010 03:43 PM

Fortunately I don’t think Christie has a chance at the presidency but he does have too much influence and there are enough people like him to muck up the works and do a lot of damage which is why a better effort needs to be taken to address education more.

zacherydtaylor October 21, 2010 10:34 AM

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