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Let’s Quit Scapegoating Teachers

December 23, 2010

For several decades now there has been a propaganda campaign underway to convince Americans that the solution to our educational deficiencies is to fire lots of teachers. For some, this has now become embedded in their minds as conventional wisdom. We need to remember this drumbeat of publicity has been a carefully orchestrated and systematic propaganda campaign based more on a political ideology than on any reality, much less on a careful analysis of reality.

In western Colorado where I am, teachers tell me they are constantly reminded that they are “at will” employees who can be fired on a moment’s notice with no reason and no recourse of any kind. Often they are told, “Stick around until August 25 or so.  That’s when we’ll let you know if you have a job for the fall term or not. We can’t tell you before then.” (Teachers Union? What’s that?).  You can imagine the effects on morale.

Michelle Rhee, Newsweek, and many pundits constantly tell us how teachers unions are the source of so much evil. They are the problem! If we could just bust the power of those damn  unions, we could really make our schools work!  We can’t fire bad teachers and if we could, we  would be so happy! Where have we heard this before? Much of it comes from professional union-busters, whose work has resulted in the stagnation or decline of income, benefits,  and rights for the US working class as a whole for the past thirty  (30) years-which, not coincidentally, is also  the time since the US working class has had any real political voice.

Underlying this mentality is the popular belief that “getting tough” with subordinates, demanding their more complete and total subordination, is always the solution to any dysfunctional system.  Bosses and those who identify with them love to fantasize that,  “Taking names and kicking ass” is always the real solution. They love to pass the buck  (as well as increased costs), down the line for  for obvous & self-serving reasons.  Of course it’s a popular fantasy because it passes the blame on down to those who can’t fight back or defend themselves.  The Beheadings Will Continue Until Morale Improves, as the sardonic office wisdom has it.   In the real world it rarely works, but it is a popular belief in spite of its demonstated  failure.

How do other nations’ seemingly better school systems  do it? Can we learn something from them?  Sabrina  Stevens Shupe has an excellent article on just that subject: “How Do Successful School Systems Treat Teachers?” which appeared 12/21/10 on the Huffington Post .  I encourage you to read it. Key components include extensive mentoring,w with high-quality education and professional development; teachers having a big role in  developing curriculum and updating professional education, administrators & evaluators being well-educated and successful teachers themselves; and professional pay and status for teachers.  In short, a social commitment to maximizing quality teacher education, training,  development, and mentoring, enlisting the best teachers themselves, inviting their input, and providing real support to the teaching profession so people stay in it.

That is an approach miles away from the punitive, scapegoating attitude that has been carefully planted in the minds of so many Americans today.  Unfortunately, when people are scared, they often listen to those who advocate an absolutist,  punitive, kick-ass, slash-and-burn approach to complex problems.  Lies  heard over and over again take on the aura of truth.  Enlless repetition becomes perceived as  confirmation. Teachers are not going to get better through being blamed, humiliated, punished, or scapegoated. If we want  a better educational system we need to use our intelligence and compassion to create it





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