Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Republican war on education

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Paul Ryan came out yesterday and expressed his support for Rahm Emanuel against Chicago teachers. Like his running mate, he's trying to score some political points by beating up unions and trying to tie President Obama to this particular one, even though the president has stayed out of it so far, refusing to take a stand one way or the other.

It's the Republican politics of vilification, this week directed at teachers, who are being made out to be overpaid, good-for-nothing layabouts wallowing in moral degradation.

Because, of course, Republicans don't give a shit about education.

Oh, maybe for the rich, who can afford to go to, or be sent to, elite private schools (like the one Mitt attended in Michigan), or otherwise for the select few who get to go to charter schools (as promoted not just by Republicans but by Emanuel and, yes, President Obama), but not for the vast majority of young people who must instead rely on mostly under-funded public schools of dubious infrastructure.

Personally, I have nothing but praise for those teachers who dedicate so much of themselves to public schools despite, or perhaps in some noble cases because of, the various problems they face. I'll leave it to others to determine just how much they ought to be paid, but within reason I'm not sure they'll ever be paid enough.

On this, our friend Libby makes some great points:

Anyone who doesn't stand with the teachers in the Chicago strike has never taught in a classroom setting. Public school teachers are woefully undervalued in our country. They're so overloaded with mandated testing and unrealistic productivity metrics, their ability to innovate has been completely stifled. The student populations they're left with after private and charter schools have poached the easiest to teach students are difficult to teach in small groups and nearly impossible to even control in too large classrooms.

Surely, our public education system presents a complicated problem, and is in need of some reform, but the solution is most assuredly not [fewer] teachers at lower pay. 

See also Freddie deBoer at Balloon Juice (linked by Libby):

The reality is that you can't be pro-education and anti-educator. Not just in the sense that you shouldn't be, ethically, although I certainly believe that. I mean the notion that you can say that you care about education while working relentlessly to attack our actual teachers is nonsensical. If you want to attack our teachers as "overpaid," OK. Go ahead. But you don't get to pretend that you give a shit about education. If you don't have a problem with celebrity dog trainers who make 7 figures or personal stylists who make $5,000 a consultation or people who sell artisanal moonshine for $400 a bottle, but you have a problem with teachers working in one of the most difficult teaching environments in the country making $75K a year, hey, alright. But save me the platitudes. Save me your chest-beating and your weeping for the children, the children. Quality health insurance, pensions, job security, a strong union to represent your self-interest: these are the only tools we have to attract people into this profession, when so many other educated professions make so much more. Advocate the end of those benefits and you declare yourself an enemy of education. You make it plain that you don't actually value it with the only currency we care about in this culture, hard cash. You are saying that you don’t really value what you say you value. Period.

In this capitalist system of ours, what people make is a statement about how much society values what they do. Honey Boo Boo Child will make more this year than most Chicago teachers, and our friends in the media think they make too much. That's all you need to know. If you think that people should be willing to teach for less, than shut your mouth and go apply to teach in Chicago yourself. 

No, much easier to vilify. It's the Republican way.

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