Rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks this fall due to lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching background to enter classrooms. Arizona is allowing college students to step in and instruct children.
— The Washington Post, 08/03/2022
We appear to be experiencing a rather serious teacher drain.
I say ‘appear’ because I’ve read one reputable source that says the data doesn’t support findings of a nationwide shortage. But even so, its author admits there are some states — most in the deep South, unsurprisingly — with severe shortages, both chronic and acute.
But whether there’s an actual teacher shortage or not, there is no question there’s a teacher crisis. Teachers all over the country are either leaving the profession, or seriously thinking about it.
And who can blame them?
Their pay is notoriously lousy. Their schools are deteriorating. Their districts are woefully underfunded. They’re burning out at alarming rates. And they’re looking at a bleak future of bigger classes, longer hours, weaker unions, demented parents, and students whose intellectual growth may have been stunted by two-plus years of Covid disruption.
For plenty of teachers, these things alone have been enough to drive them out. But now those remaining in the profession are seeing the rise of something called “parental rights,” the grotesque but dangerous commitment of under-educated parents to under-educating their children.
These parents have been cynically manipulated into thinking all sorts of ignorant nonsense about what their kids should and shouldn’t be taught. They’ve been led to believe that teachers have an “agenda,” one that shames kids for being white, and “grooms” them for sexual abuse.
They’ve fallen for manufactured outrage, and they’ve been drawn into a warped sort of activism: banning books, dictating curricula, rewriting history, stigmatizing anyone not white or Christian, and harassing teachers into toeing a rigid ideological line. They openly confuse pedagogy with pedophilia.
Adding to the pressure, plenty of school districts have adopted policies — and even written laws — that force teachers to think carefully about every word they say regarding American history, racism, gender, and sexual orientation. Critical thinking is permitted only within a narrow — and narrowing — spectrum of acceptable ideas.
Not only is it near-impossible to teach effectively in such circumstances, but it also risks creating a nation of child informers, kids eager to run to their parents at the first sign of teacher heresy.
None of this an accident. It’s the result of a deliberate effort to undermine public education, a long-term investment by Republicans and their corporate enablers. To quote myself: “They need the schools to produce the gullible voters of the future, and to train them to not pay attention.”
These are people who were never comfortable in the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. They believe — though they’d never admit it — that women needn’t worry their pretty little heads about “book-learning,” and that Black people belong in the fields, not the classroom.
With the assistance of lavishly-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, they have long regarded public education as a threat to their plans for a docile and brainwashed workforce.
For decades, they’ve focused their efforts on school boards, working to install right-wing ideologues, people who will obstruct spending and suppress independent thought. These days, they plant provocateurs at public board meetings, irate but fake “parents” whose mission is to gin up anger in the service of retrograde ideas.
It has always been easy to see what the right is doing, but harder to figure out why they’re doing it. They seem bent on creating a nation of mindless, reprogrammable drones — think North Korea — who will be content to shut up and work.
Yet it seems self-defeating. How useful would that kind of workforce be? In an age of technology, the economy will need more brainpower, not less. Corporations will need workers with educations that are deeper and broader, yet they seem unwilling to push for the necessary resources to make that happen. Creative thinking has long been what sets the American workforce apart from the rest of the world, yet it’s exactly that comparative advantage that is most vulnerable to a degraded education system.
I can only conclude that they’re okay with that. Either they’re too short-sighted to perceive the steep downside to their subversion, or they’re too cruel to care. Either way, teachers bear the brunt of that subversion, and society pays the price in kids who can’t think.
So we have a race to the bottom, with unmistakable elements of systemic inequality and class discrimination. Because even as they starve public schools, they promote a self-perpetuating two-tier education system that mirrors the basic have-or-have-not dynamic of the country at large.
First-rate educations are still available to those who can afford it. The ruling class of tomorrow is comfortably enrolled in the private schools of today. They are growing up in a bubble of entitlement, effectively insulated from both cultural and intellectual diversity. What sorts of leaders can we expect them to become?
Meanwhile, private school teachers are paid even worse than their public school counterparts, so in both cases the question becomes why would anyone want to be a teacher?
It’s still a respected profession, but you’d never know it. Their dedication is, at best, taken for granted, and at worst met with violent rhetoric, public intimidation, and legal jeopardy.
This is a gross disservice, not just to the teachers themselves, but also to the communities they serve. Not to mention the children they’re trying, against ridiculous odds, to teach.
Dedication only goes so far.