Here’s the bad news: Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on teacher’s rights in Wisconsin is no less than the new front in the culture war that’s raging all over America. Along with the conservative majority’s attempts in Washington to defund and erase anything that sniffs of progressive idealism (i.e. Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, Universal Health Care, and public parks in San Francisco), Walker and other conservatives are attempting to put teachers in their place.
Teachers have long been considered by social conservatives to be a bunch of liberal indoctrinators, infecting impressionable minds with crazy ideas like equality, self-determination, social justice and global responsibility. To some extent, there’s truth in this allegation. At the very core of the calling to teach is the impulse to affect change, to see children as the vessels of our highest understanding and to help them learn about the world they’re inheriting from us. For many conservatives, this is a threatening truth and with all things that threaten the status quo, they seek to demonize, marginalize and ultimately squash it. See “Multiculturalism in Arizona.”
This is nothing new (I’m getting to the good news). Socrates, perhaps the architect of best practices in Western Civilization, was convicted and executed by the Greek power structure for failing to “acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities.” Galileo was sentenced to life in prison for challenging the conservative church authority in his day and suggesting the crazy idea that the earth moves. In 1950, no fewer than 400 public high school and university teachers were targeted by McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee for having Communist sympathies. The FBI’s “Dissemination of Information Policy” saw fit to spread derogatory personal information about these teachers simply because a colleague or administrator mentioned them as possible agitators.
And so here was are again. Teachers, who by-and-large vote Democratic and generally lean left in their social and political attitudes are being cast as the scapegoat for our national crisis. They are now being portrayed by the right as free loaders with a distorted sense of entitlement. As Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity phrased it, the “pampered nature of these public employees is finally reined in.” As a public school teacher I’ve felt a lot of things but I can honestly say that “pampered” has never been one of those. It sounds grim, doesn’t it? So what’s the good news?
Here’s the good news: the Socratic method is still being employed in schools and no one is forced to pray to Zeus anymore. Galileo was right and we figured out how to reach the moon and beyond. McCarthy was proven to be a drunken ego-maniacal liar and it’s still legal to be a Communist, a Socialist, or an Environmentalist in America, even if your local Congressman doesn’t like the idea. In a nutshell, the power mongers of every generation try to impede the progress of human evolution. Every attempt fails. This one will too. That knowledge may not make it easier to accept the short term pain of pay cuts and insults, but it might give us a reason to keep fighting.