The strike doesn’t make the kids victims, the system did that already, when it closed schools, and sent rival gang members to the same campus resulting in chaos and death. The system did when it spent money on consultants, and testing, instead of counselors and social workers. The system did when it refused to set class-size limits, packed students in classrooms with no air-conditioning, then tried to say that classes weren’t that big. Then, the system refused to honor agreements made with teachers, refused to bargain on these issues, and tried to make the union look like the bully. I know what side I’m on in this fight, with the children and the union. Which side are you on?
I am not flexible about this. If you want to look tough at the expense of public-school teachers, you are a snob or a coward, or perhaps both. Every member of this MSNBC panel that Digby found, including all the liberals and all the Democrats thereon, can bite me, seriously. If I have to read one more smug, Ivy League writer from Slate talking, as the big strike goes on, about public-school teachers as though they were unruly hired help, I may hit someone with a fish. Let Matt Yglesias do 20 percent more work for four percent less pay and see how he likes it. The idea that, say, "Chuck" Lane cares more about "the kids" than do the people walking the picket lines in Chicago is damned near close to obscene.
We are at a point at which teachers are clearly seen as the biggest assholes in the world who should be happy to work in terrible conditions and be willing to be fired when kids don't thrive in that environment. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. Seriously, teachers used to be considered the backbone of our culture and one of the foundations of the middle class. Now they are "retrograde and ridiculous" according to the privileged chattering classes who can't even be bothered to inform themselves of the real issues.
In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won't use her name–who'd been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn't do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year. Under Chicago's new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire. No teachers' union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field - for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You've guessed it by now: It's the same teacher.
In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and fuck-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.
No one, we were sure, became a teacher because she loved history or literature and wanted to pass that on to the next generation. All of them simply had no other choice. How did we know that? Because they weren’t lawyers or doctors or “businessmen”—one of those words, even in the post-Madmen era, still spoken with veneration and awe. It was a circular argument, to be sure, but its circularity merely reflected the closed universe of assumption in which we operated.
Like my teachers, I have chosen a career in education and don’t make a lot of money. Unlike them, I’m a professor. I’m continuously astonished at the pass that gets me among the people I grew up with. Had I chosen to be a high-school teacher, I’d be just another loser. But tenured professors are different. Especially if we teach in elite schools (which I don’t.) We’re more talented, more refined, more ambitious—more like them. We’re capitalist tools, too.
So that’s where and how I grew up. And when I hear journalists and commentators, many of them fresh out of the Ivy League, talking to teachers as if they were servants trying to steal the family silver, that’s what I hear. It’s an ugly tone from ugly people.
Every so often I want to ask them, “Didn’t your parents teach you better manners?” Then I remember whom I’m dealing with.