Opinion: Standing up for teachers: Responding to blame and deceit in the midst of our public education crisis

Posted by Daniel Pforte

As state and federal government attempts to save money and target social spending such as public education, teachers have increasingly found themselves under scrutiny.

Corporate powers are continuing their war on the underclass, working class and, most recently, the middle class. With the private sector almost completely disorganized and powerless, the elimination of public sector workers is next on the agenda to maximize profits. Teachers are some of the first on the chopping block.

Vulnerable children of color stuck in failing schools are told it is their teachers, rather than racism and poverty, causing their plight. Many emphasize corporate charter schools and merit-based teaching as a solution, methods which result in huge numbers of laid-off teachers and closed public schools—the same schools in which most children, especially poor children of color, attend. How can we break this circle?

The first thing is to assign blame where it belongs. Teachers have been blamed, wrongly, for the plight of public schools and the dismal state of our national public education. This irresponsible and vicious claim not only masks larger inequalities within the system of education, and in society at large, but also attacks the wrong people.

 

Elites across the spectrum, from Fox News personalities to political pundits and "liberal" documentary artists (see "Waiting for Superman"), have placed the problem of education on the shoulders of bad teachers. In their eyes, teachers have been lazy, failed the children and turned schools into dropout factories. While these teachers may exist in some districts and schools, there is no mention of the larger issues that plague children, especially children of color.

Such pundits have decided to ignore the most lopsided distribution of wealth in our country's history, a rising poverty rate, racially segregated districts and tracking systems that disproportionately target poor black and brown youth to the advantage of the white upper classes. Of course, a focus on these problems would mean that the interests of the ruling class would be threatened, so the responsibility must fall on the individual teachers.

Teachers may be good or bad, but the lack of success that poor and working class children experience in schools has more to do with the debilitating effects of poverty and racism than the possibility that a teacher is intentionally wasting their time. Broader social ills also make it more likely teachers will have neither the resources nor the adequate class size to actively engage with all student needs. To look at this situation and say only that teaching must improve is turning a blind eye to the real problems we face in this country.

 

Ignoring these problems is, of course, what a system of power must do to maintain itself. Partnerships between the ruling class and the government are keeping power under the ideological auspice of neo-liberalism that stresses the need to cut social services — in this case the teachers of our public schools.

And the solutions that the ruling class suggests are not as effective as they advertise. Cutting teacher salaries and benefits does not provide incentive to teach better in under-funded schools, and privatizing the school system through charters increases race and class segregation while having the same poor test results across the board as traditional public schools, with a few exceptions. However, a few exceptions also exist in the public school system, making it clear that there can be a solution beyond simply privatizing the system at the expense of children.

 

These problems are daunting, and the solutions must take the form of large-scale changes. First, however, we must stand in solidarity with the teachers that have shaped our characters and our lives. We must challenge the deeper issues of poverty, class inequality and racism that lie at the roots of educational inequality. We must stand up for teachers, if we are to stand up for future generations.  

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