Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to Tell the Public School Story

Repugs and DINOs have done such a good job over the last thirty years of demonizing unions, the public sector in general and public school teachers specifically that even we passionate supporters of all three have a difficult time making our own argument.

... education blogger extraordinaire JerseyJazzman has an excellent take on what should be the storyline for teachers going forward. After putting forward the well-honed narrative of the neoliberal "reformists", he says:
We don't have a story like this - yet. The good news is that we are beginning to create one. Again, I know some of you are getting frustrated with the choir-preaching mode that we seem to be stuck in, but that's how these narratives get built. The reformy right figured this out long ago, but they have to work a lot harder at it than we do. They have to sell nonsense, illogic, and lies; we just have to find the right way to tell the truth.

Again, I'm no politician; I don't have the chops to write the full orchestral score. I can, however, whistle the tune:

In every country in the world, poverty impedes educational success. Our biggest education problem is that more of our kids are in poverty than any other developed nation. When America's public school teachers get kids who are well-fed and healthy and live in stable homes with parents who have good jobs, those kids do better in school than any other children in the world.

But a group of people who do not teach (or taught for a short while and not very well) have decided to blame teachers - teachers! - for all the problems in our country. They say that "choice" will save our schools, but the "choice" they offer is between underfunded, crumbling public schools and corporatized, autocratic charter schools that they admit they will never serve all children. These schools cherry-pick their students and then falsely claim they have the secret for success. Their inability to educate all students proves that public schools are not the problem - poverty is. 

Why do these people sell this snake oil? Three reasons:

1) Many of them are looking to make money - a lot of money - off of education. They want to do to our schools what they did to our military, turning them into a bunch of Haliburton Highs.

2) They want to finally and completely break the unions. Once the teachers fall, it's all over for the middle class.

3) They need a scapegoat. Teachers didn't create these problems: the corporate titans of Wall Street did. These plutocrats are now paying a gang of carnival barkers a big bunch of money to blame teachers - teachers! - for the problems they themselves made.
I encourage you to read the whole thing, and make a regular visit to his blog if you're passionate about this issue.

The "reformists" have a big head start on teachers in pushing their storyline. The only way to counter it is to get aggressive on the fights that can be won, while defining the fights that cannot be won (such as metrics, where pure resistance will leave us crushed underfoot) in progressive terms.

Kevin Gosztula at Firedoglake with myths vs. facts in the Chicago Teachers Union strike.

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