When You Find You’re the Scapegoat

I read Charles Maldonado’s piece about unions in the City Paper this morning and I’ve been thinking all day about his wife waking up to the fact that, as a teacher, she’s The Evil that Must Be Dealt With of the moment.

Jenny’s very basic problem, as I took it, was that she stopped believing that people were grateful to teachers, and beyond that were mindful of their interests, or at the very least weren’t particularly interested in demoralizing and terrorizing them more than what’s normal. That isn’t saying that she didn’t know, intellectually, that there were a lot of anti-teacher politicians, even a lot of moral human beings who must have been the ones who voted for them.

But something shifted that night, and on a gut level she got that she was the momentary It, the thing that would be railroaded and marginalized for the sake of some ultimately low-rent gain, another bad deal made by our state government. In this case, it was easier school board negotiations — for the school boards — and another few years of guaranteed travel per diems and black-tie fundraising dinners for the most vitriolic members of the legislature. More importantly, though, she got that a lot of humans were buying into this, and so now there wasn’t much anyone could do.

The whole thing is good, but that’s the part that’s stuck with me–that it is true that, in the end, teachers will be villified and further disempowered and all that will come of it is that your kids’ teachers will be further demoralized and a lot of GOPers have a line to put on their campaign materials.

You’d think there’d be easier, less destructive ways not only of reforming education, but of getting those campaign words, than turning on teachers.

But I guess not.

When we’re struggling to fill teaching positions in the coming years, remember that people are happy to be low-paid and respected or well-paid and loathed, but they tend to shy away from careers in which they are low-paid and loathed.

8 thoughts on “When You Find You’re the Scapegoat

  1. And when they find the only teachers they can get for the wages/benefits they’re willing to pay are the teachers that don’t know the subjects they’re teaching and don’t care if the kids learn, and then find that their kids can’t read, write, do math, understand science or history, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. They elected the Congresspeople who are vilifying teachers and they’re the ones believing what they’re told without looking any deeper into it. Too bad it’s their kids who are the ones who will suffer.

  2. Actually, it’s all our kids/grandkids who will suffer, because those of us who know better don’t seem to be able to make much of a difference.

  3. When I can set aside the horror at what a disaster this is going to be, I wonder what this will mean for rural school districts. I mean, we have counties with enormous unemployment rates. A lot of food is being put on a lot of tables through teachers’ salaries alone.

    You can keep teachers for a while when spouses say “We need to move to the city so I can get a job” and the teacher says “But I have a job here, with benefits.” But when you make being a teacher suck so much?

    Those rural schools are going to empty out and there won’t be anyone to replace them.

  4. Very, very, very well said, B. This is what I’ve been trying to tell some folks and couldn’t really iterate as well as you have here.

  5. It’s been a while now that teachers are underpaid and loathed. I think it may have started with the children’s attitudes, and a generation of parents who did not correct it–and now it’s a pandemic. I’m in my mid twenties, was taught both at home and in a school, and I feel very much alone in my high regard for teachers. It’s worse when you have a high regard for teachers as a student, because the respect naturally slides you into the Teacher’s Pet title. This problem is deeper than the legislature–how do we fix it?

    I say we fix it the same way (I think) it started: in the home.

  6. Ah but that’s the GOP goals, keep the general population dumb while the lucky few who can afford it send their children to private ideological schools teaching that government and the workers are the illness while private business is the cure.

    When you’re trying to pay the bills keeping your head above water there’s no time to keep an eye on the government representatives who give tax breaks to their wealthy contributors while blame unions and government works for the problems.

    Rant done… ;-)

  7. Maldonado hit part of it exactly on the head:

    It’s hard not to think that there’s an element of, “Well, it’s mostly secondary incomes anyway. Their husbands will take care of ’em” to all of this.

    … but I don’t think he went quite far enough. An element? I think this is about women, how we as a society think about the money women earn, and the attitudes toward women who have careers.

    From Ohio:

    NEWARK — When Glenn McGregor started teaching at Newark High School in 1972, public employees didn’t have collective bargaining rights. McGregor’s salary was so low he had to apply for food stamps […].

    Of course wages were depressed while teaching was one of a handful of professions open to educated women. Where else were they going to go?

    And that attitude, that women’s income is secondary, is more prevalent among those of the generation in power than a lot of younger women even realize. I mean, after all, we generally have to work to sustain a middle-class lifestyle, if not just survive. Staying home and not working is something most women younger than 40 only do for a year or two—I don’t know many women who even consider that an option longterm. And yet I’ve had fifty-something men I am not related to and only barely know inform me that I’d want to stay home after I have a baby. (Like that’s a given too!)

    That’s the generation many, if not most, of our elected officials belong to.

    I also find it funny that teaching is being reframed as a “calling” in the comments on Maldonado’s piece—I have a feeling that the same folks who expect (mostly) women to teach all kinds of children in substandard conditions for insufficient pay don’t find anything wrong with millionaire pastors at megachurches.

  8. I’m really shocked at how well the right has managed to deflect responsibility for our economic situation away from corporate and financial leadership and onto public employees.

    Look! Look over there! That TEACHER has taken all your money! Git ‘er!

    And it’s working. Oh. my. god.

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