We enter the conversation about American education during a time of economic recession, intense political partisanship, and deep frustration. Many conservatives and previously apolitical citizens have reacted to the election of the country’s first black president by marching (quite angrily) further to the Right. Seemingly overnight, the most public face of conservatism has shifted from a willfully naïve, pro-government nationalism to a conspiracy-tinged, anti-government libertarianism. The same folks who, only a few years ago, dismissed any and all criticism of the Bush administration as unpatriotic if not treasonous now freely take aim at Barack Obama with a bevy of unsubstantiated, hateful and, yes, racist accusations. We are in the midst of an economic downturn due in large part to the weak or non-existent governmental regulation of an irresponsible finance industry run amok. Yet, remarkably, the Right cites the real problem as an irresponsible government run amok. As a result, leftists are startled to find themselves, often these days, in the uncomfortable position of defending the state.
Not that they would disagree that corruption exists in government. And that’s the point; part of the effectiveness of this new conservative movement lies in its ability to mobilize around an issue so obviously agreeable that few could deny its status as ‘an issue.’ For instance, one can disagree in nearly every way with the Tea Party Movement and the regressive ideology it embodies. But who would stand up and say that a $1.3 trillion federal deficit is a good thing, or that they want an authoritarian government that will infringe upon their civil liberties? So while the new conservative movement might clearly miss the mark in diagnosing the root of the problem, and while much of its bloviating has shown itself to be little more than an angry expression of white privilege, it forces concessions from opponents and gains populist support by fixating on issues that are, at face value, hard to oppose.
Nearly every publicly funded institution is vulnerable to attack in the new political environment created by this reinvented and reinvigorated conservatism, and our public school system is no exception. In the education debate, too, the issue upon which they have fixated clearly misses the mark as the issue, yet it is hard to oppose as an issue: bad teachers (and, simultaneously, the unions that allegedly protect them). Adam Bessie breaks this down in an October 15th op-ed for truth-out.org.
Also worth reading is Maya Schenwar’s interview of Bill Ayers (a link to the transcript can be found in the body of Bessie’s op-ed). In it, Ayers acknowledges the appeal of the bad teacher argument, and we can hardly disagree. Nor can we deny that teachers should be held accountable to their students, their schools, and their communities. But we, like Bessie and Ayers, see an underlying motive in much (if not most) of the talk about bad teachers and teacher accountability. We read it as a not-so-subtle attempt to create popular resentment toward some of the last powerful unions in the country, the NEA and AFT, as well as to chip away at Americans’ belief in the effectiveness of public education. As our site continues to grow and we become able to publish articles more frequently, we will consistently defend our public schools and the dedicated, amazing folks who teach in them. We will expose the motives of those who wish to privatize American education, and, to borrow Bessie’s phrase, we will attempt to debunk “the myth of the bad teacher.”