If you define ‘nigger’ as someone whose lifestyle is defined by others, whose opportunities are defined by others, whose role in society is defined by others, the good news is that you don’t have to be black to be a nigger in this society. Most of the people in America are niggers. — Ron Dellums, U.S. Congressman, former Mayor of Oakland, California
In my last post I said I was going to avoid these education social policy postings, but I had to get this off my chest before the end of the year.
After Chicago and Newtown, 2012 gave me renewed cause to reflect on the attitude toward teachers in American culture. Since I am not everywhere at once, nor carrying out a research project, I can only speak from my daily life experience as both a public school educator and an American at this time in history. That being said, my hope for the future is continually tempered by the hammer of reality. I watched (and posted here and here) the Chicago teachers’ strike with great interest. During those days in September, it seemed that a movement was finally coming about. And who is to say that it is not? The hiatus of the moment is hopefully just that, a hiatus. On the other hand, I’ve seen in my time Americans reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the trauma of the moment without developing any consistent follow-through. We make social change in agonizing jolts that quickly fizzle into oblivion (e.g., will we be worrying about gun control in six months?).
With Chicago, I saw two processes at work. First was the expected backlash from the corporatists, their supporters and large numbers of the duped public. Reading through comment threads on major news sites, I read attack after attack on school teachers who had the audacity to go on strike. It seems that we are perceived by far too many as over-paid, spoiled and lazy government employees. I was appalled not so much by the misinformed arguments against us, as by the intensity of the vitriol; as if it is utterly unconscionable that a teacher would complain about his/her lot. The second process that I say at play during the strike was growing respect for a nascent force to be reckoned with. After Rahm Emanuel was put on notice by common teachers, Chicago became a bit of a game-changer. I will admit I had fantasies of all the mini-Mubaraks behind corporate ed reform being put in check one after the other, like toppling dominoes.
In contrast, the Newtown shootings, and the selfless heroism displayed by the teachers who gave their lives for their students seems to have stuck a primal chord with many. But it is a primal chord, something very intrinsic to our make up as loving, protective and social animals. It is tempting to suggest that Newtown has earned teachers respect for their compassion in the same degree that Chicago has earned them respect for their power. Both of these events have undoubtedly helped toward this twofold end, but it is naive to think that there is a tipping point here. Teachers will remain as the kicking dog of money and politics, and as a dismissed class of semi-professionals by the public for some time to come. I am not implying that we need more Chicagos (although I think we do), and I am certainly not implying that we need more tragedies–the most fallacious argument in all historical thought is that things need to get worse before they’ll get better. Rather, I am suggesting that in order for a fundamental shift to occur in public opinion toward public education (and education in general), there needs to be a fundamental shift in our values as a people. The starting place of this fundamental shift is in changing our root orientation toward money and its role in educational purpose. Until this happens, I am afraid that, in one form or another, teachers will remain the N’s of the world, continually subject to the shifting winds of a spiritually bereft and paranoid society.
Hmm…looks like I’ll be posting again on this topic.