Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Ultimate Source Of Teacher Demonization

As the son of a teacher, I suppose it's fair to say that I bring to the subject of teaching and teachers a natural bias toward their side of our education story.  If you want to view the rest of this post through the lens of what may be a natural bias, feel free.  I prefer to think that it merely gives me a front-row view of the facts.  Which is important, because it is the very existence of facts that play a major role in the current crisis in our education system--or rather, in what's left of our system.

The basic outline of that decline and fall are, for the most part, well-described in this article on The Huffington Post's Web site.  Essentially, the article is a plea to reverse the decades-long trend in starving public schools of funding, while essentially privatizing grades K through 12 via charter schools and other "market mechanisms."  As a predicate to making that plea, however, the author lists a variety of factors beyond the control of teachers that nevertheless lead to their demonization.  All of them are real, and each of them is worthy of extended individual discussion.  With that in mind, I'd like to put in my 25 cents for identifying one as perhaps being more important than all the rest:  the fundamental anti-intellectualism of Americans.

Historically, hatred of education has been a fundamental characteristic of American life since probably before the beginning of the Republic.  And it makes an odd sort of sense, when you think about the reasons that motivated the settlement of America by Europeans.  They came here seeking to either get rich, or to believe what they wanted to believe.  Nobody came here to get a better education, or to get smarter.  In fact, brains are the reason for all of the friction between those who value education and those who do not.  Anyone can get rich, and anyone can believe.  But brains are a matter of genetics, and learning, whether one has brains or not, is a matter of hard work.  Not everyone has the right genetic make-up, and not everyone wants to work hard at something that does not always provide an immediate material reward.

Given these realities, is it really surprising that hatred of the educated is the only form of class warfare that is acceptable in the United States?  And is it really any more surprising that our political culture, from the early nineteen-century on up to the present, features so many attacks on "college boys (and girls)," "intellectual snobs," and "eggheads"?  I remember one of Richard Nixon's aide-de-crooks, John Ehrlichman, addressing Sam Dash, lead counsel for the Senate Select Watergate Committee, as "Professor" Dash, as though Dash's intellectual credentials would somehow make him alien to "real" Americans.

At least it was the case, back in Nixon's heyday, that we could still agree on the existence of facts.  In the post Bush-Cheney era, however, facts themselves are up for debate.  Want to go to war in Iraq?  Need to invent a conspiracy theory to do so, to satisfy those "eggheads" in the intellectual community?  Well then, just cherry-pick the evidence, cobble together some "facts," get a respected, loyal soldier like Colin Powell to sell them, and who gives a rat's behind if lives are lost and trillions are spent on a lie?  You're in the pursuit of oil and profits, while waging war against a "false god," and snookering the brainy class to boot.  It's win-win-win.  Except, of course, that it was lose-lose-lose.  For all of us.

And even THAT failure doesn't stop us from feeling free to question the most provable facts, if doing so will somehow get us ahead of the latest "egghead conspiracy" and feel powerful.  Doubt me?  Take a look at this.  As the responses to the ridiculous question affirm, the existence of the Roman Empire is about as well-documented a historical fact as any.  But not to those wrapped up in the non-existent power of "belief."

That's why conservative politicians are so hell-bent on destroying the public school system and instituting privatized education, controlled by their supporters.  They believe, not without reason, that this is the key to destroying any concept of objective truth--and, with it, any basis for opposing their ability to control every aspect of American society.  And, if you think they want to stop this process at grade 12, think again.  Look at what they've done--or haven't done--with our college loan crisis.  They're perfectly happy to put any obstacles in the way of a potential source of political opposition--even if that makes the United States effectively a brain-dead country compared to the nations with which we compete and trade.

We're talking, again, about a fundamental aspect of our national character.  I have no silver-bullet solutions.  But we'd better start focusing on finding one, and finding one fast.  Before the only facts know are the ones that the investing class will let you believe in.  Perhaps the best way is to align ourselves on the sides of the current scapegoats:  teachers.  Whether you have school-age children or not, find a way to get involved in public education, whether in your local schools or on the local  board of education.  Make yourself known.  Make yourself heard.  And help them to push back, while we still can.

Because, whether we have school-age children or not, we all benefit from a society where facts are stubborn things--and everyone has the resources to acquire them.

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