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Scapegoating Teachers Pays Off

It's extremely rare to read anything positive about public-school teachers these days.  That's why I was quite surprised to read "Stop Humiliating Teachers" (The New Yorker, Feb. 11).  The writer reminds readers that blaming teachers whenever there is an economic or social crisis is nothing new because there's a huge payoff in doing so.

The very first column I wrote for Education Week warned about the damage done to teacher morale by incessant attacks ("Teachers Are Potted Palms in School Reform," Feb. 16, 2010).  I've revisited this issue often since then because it is destroying whatever pride teachers once felt for the work they did.  The opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal are notorious for their viciousness.  It's so easy to kick others when they are down, and teachers make such nice targets.

Neoliberal politicians and corporate reformers have teamed up to convince taxpayers that public schools are beyond salvaging.  They  point only to the failures and never to the successes. They argue that the future of the nation is threatened by teachers who are concerned only with their salaries and benefits, and protected by their unions. Trying to explain that there are factors beyond the control of teachers is seen as making excuses or else how could charter schools post such positive outcomes.

The payoff for this strategy, of course, is money in the form of the $600 billion or so spent on public education in this country.  The goal is to privatize all education.  The campaign to scapegoat teachers is working remarkably well.  Anger and frustration over the glacial pace of improvement - if any - show no signs of abating.  I don't think schools or the teaching profession in this country will be recognizable a decade from now. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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