Teachers Under Siege

Photo of the Chicago Teacher’s Union

Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was so radically right, even House Republicans balked at her proposed department budget cuts and most of her initiatives. Her only accomplishment was being the first secretary of education to become a household name. But she did add fuel to the fires that is being lit around the country — teachers and school boards under siege.

Then there is Tucker Carlson on Fox News, “I don’t understand where the men are. Like where are the dads? You know, some teacher’s pushing sex values on your third grader, why don’t you go in and thrash the teacher?” Translation: assault the teachers.

I fondly remember my sister-in-law, since passed, ebullient in life, world traveler, consummate optimist, and the family elder who remembered all of our birthdays and anniversaries the old-fashioned way; with cards via snail mail. She always found a way to put a positive outlook on everything.

She taught junior high for twenty-five years. Over the last five she became more frustrated and negative, and retired sooner than she had intended. Not because of her students, but because of the parents. Their darlings were perfect, because no doubt the parents were perfect.

As a student, I did not fear my teachers but I sure tread softly around them. I think respect is the appropriate word. Plus they had this extraordinary influence over my GPA.

Today the pendulum has swung so far out of whack it is off its fulcrum. And it is the parents.

(This blog will not attempt to chronicle what teachers went through, and are still going through since the spring of 2020 and the outbreak of COVID. There are not enough words. This is about other trends and threats to our education system, though COVID intensified it).

Here is a sampling of the siege.

· According to Yahoo News, an Oklahoma bill would fine teachers $10,000 if they offer an opposing view to the religious beliefs held by students. The fine would have to be paid by the teacher and not the school district. If the teacher were unable to pay, they would be fired.

· This from the Arizona Republic: In Arizona, a Republican state senator called teachers, “educational terrorists.” Arizona gubernatorial candidate, Matt Salmon, called the teacher’s union “a scourge on our society.”

· Who remembers the video of teachers in South Dakota on their hands and knees stuffing $1 bills into their shirts and pockets trying to collect funds for class projects as part of the entertainment during a break in a hockey game?

· Iowa lawmakers introduced a bill that would require cameras in nearly every K-12 classroom, allowing parents to see livestreams. Florida Republicans also introduced a similar bill, but added that teachers be required to wear microphones.

· The Nevada Family Alliance recently proposed placing body cameras on teacher to ensure they aren’t teaching critical race theory (CRT).

· In just the first three weeks of this year, more than seventy bills have been filed in 27 states to regulate instruction of topics such as race, history and sexuality.

· An Indiana House bill would require teachers to post their lesson plans for the next school year by June 30th.

· Book banning is sweeping the nation, now even including 41% of math books in Florida.

· This from a February 2022 Los Angeles Times article titled, “We love to love teachers, but budgets don’t show that,” by columnist, LZ Granderson. “Right now our nation’s schools are short-staffed; our educators are broke, burned out or both; and the national dialogue is more focused on what not to teach. Between 2006 and 2019, the number of education degrees dropped by 22%, while our population continued to grow.” The article goes on to report that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 567,000 educators in our public schools before the pandemic. A recent poll by the National Education System found that 55% are looking to leave earlier than planned.

· More than 90% of teachers buy school supplies with their own money.

· In another Los Angeles Times article, Anita Chabria writes from Sacramento, “A few weeks ago, Sacramento teacher Kacie Go had 56 kids for second period. That day, there were 109 students in her 8th-through 12th-grade school who were without an instructor because of staff shortages.” Sacramento teachers are currently on strike, and it is more than about pay.

In one of the gentler pushbacks from a teacher, there is this post on Facebook: “Dear People Accusing Teachers of Indoctrinating Students, just know that IF in fact, we were able to brainwash/indoctrinate students, we’d start with having them do all of their homework (on time), pay attention in class, study and bring us coffee every day.”

When asked by a parent if she taught critical race theory, a teacher answered, “Tell me what it is and I’ll tell you if I teach it.” Also a Facebook post.

This teacher took to task the requirement of posting lessons plans saying that she does about 100 per school year, and then noted “You can waste 80 school days a year easily: teacher absences, emergency drills, school assemblies, field trips, and large student absences due to sporting events.” Another commented that any teacher who does not change or adapt the lesson plan during the year is not a very good teacher.

One teacher reacted to cameras in the classroom saying that she would like to see cameras in the homes so she could see how her students were being treated.

A former teacher posted, “I quit my teaching job and now make more bartending for 15 less hours a week. Also I get blamed for way, way less and get told thank you, way, way more. No lesson plans or grading papers.”

This post nailed it, “Never forget the goal of creating chaos in schools: privatization. They will defund your schools to create charters and private schools and funnel tax money into private hands. They are transferring a public good into private hands for profit. It’s a scam.”

Remember that.

Schools boards are supposed to have teachers’ backs. Too often they don’t. In practice, school boards have always been targets for conservatives wanting more control, or as I like to say, Republicans want to rule and Democrats want to govern. Conservatives turn out more in local elections and thus control more school boards. If that weren’t enough, they are now even more targeted school boards just as are the secretaries of state and county election officials to restrict voting. Today, behind increased pitched battles for school board control, you will find dark money. Remember that.

There are scores of stories about school boards and candidates for school boards. From the Raw Story web site: “John Carlo, a candidate for a Nevada county school board, was filmed speaking at a church saying that the U.S. Constitution demands Americans procreate. He explained that because homosexuals can’t give birth that they are unconstitutional. He did not address whether heterosexual couples who are unable to have children are also “unconstitutional” under his definition.”

Even though school boards tend to already be conservative, Reuters documented intimidation of 33 board members across 15 states. Here is one threat to a school board member in Virginia, “I am going to gut you like the fat f — -ing pig you are when I find you.” One of her adult children got this in a letter, “It is too bad your mother is an ugly communist whore. If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you.” In a northern Indiana county, someone called on people to get “firearms, ammunition, and extensive training” to fight the “tyranny” of the school board.

Apparently, storming our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021 was basic training. Don’t forget the storming of Michigan’s capitol building. Next up, storming school board meetings.

The attacks on teacher and educators are political fodder for right-wing politicians. To be clear, this is nothing more than the latest “hot-button-topic du jour” by Republicans to rile up the base to continue to keep them in power, to lower taxes even more and to decimate governmental regulations on corporations.

So far, these tactics and threats are mostly about intimidation, and are rarely followed through on. But if you are on the receiving end of such a tactic, I cannot imagine a blasé reaction, especially if you have children. The tactics are working. People are scared.

It would be tempting to say that this is mostly a red state phenomenon — not so.

The school district just north of where I live in Southern California recently voted 3–2 to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory. The thing is, no one has ever found anywhere in the country where CRT is being taught in grades K-12 — anywhere. So the point can be nothing more than political posturing — and to disrupt, disorient and deceive.

To highlight an earlier Facebook teacher comment on this blog: In case you do not see what is in front of us, Betsy DeVos, and now far too many Republicans, would get rid of public education in favor of private schools. All in the name of their true religion — capitalism. Then we would have parents taking out loans for their children, kindergarten through high school, and supersizing the debt for millions of us. Remember, 43 million owe $1.6 trillion in student loans, just from college. Remember that old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons?” “I owe my soul to the company store.” Just substitute banks for company store — cradle to grave indebtedness. To paraphrase a Seven Dwarfs’ song, I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.

It will not be long before they will begin labeling public education as “socialism,” their go-to fallback word for anything that tries to support the general welfare and lift all boats. But if trying to reason with these folks, never say support the general welfare. When they hear that, they think of welfare programs, and minorities. Idiots.

But the idiots are winning.

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Keith Frohreich

Keith Frohreich

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Writer of books, blogs and newspaper columns. Due to the current threats to our democracy, my blogs, for now, will focus on those threats. If not me, who?