Saturday, February 19, 2011


Teachers in Wisconsin are in open revolt, trying to prevent the governor and his minions from stripping away in one bill all the rights that public employees have won over the past 50 years. Why are they under attack by the Republicans? Now that the Supremes have ruled that corporations are people and can donate unlimited sums of secret money to political causes, those who stand to benefit most from those corporate donations are trying to shut off any funds that might be donated in opposition to corporate PACs.

It seems unlikely that the voters of Wisconsin knew what they were voting for when they handed over the entire state government to the Republicans. Or perhaps this election turned on the apathy of those who could not be bothered to get out and vote, and who are now shocked, shocked that their government has shown itself to be so radical and vindictive towards teachers and other public employees.

One of the provisions of the bill strips teachers of any participation in the decision making process in local schools. As practitioners, they will have no say in curriculum or anything else. They will be relegated to the role of factory workers.

As a comparison, consider an example cited in the film "Food, Inc." which looks at the meat packing industry over the history of this country. Meat packing was at first an extremely dangerous occupation, but through organizing and unionization became much safer and well paid - a true step into the middle class. Now, due to union busting by the meat cartels, it is once again horrifically dangerous, with low-wage workers risking life and limb while cutting meat on a fast moving line.

Before unions, teachers had no rights, could be dismissed for no reason, and did not earn much in salary or benefits. Today, teachers have protection from arbitrary dismissal, due process rights, better compensation, and health and retirement benefits.

Why are teachers targets now? One reason may be that we are dangerous because we try to teach children to think. How does one eliminate that type of teaching? Put in place a testing system that labels schools as failures if their students do not do well on exams that have nothing to do with creative or analytical thinking. Brilliant. Then target teachers, keeping them in such fear for their jobs that they will fall in line.

How is this good for education? It's not, but perhaps those who are engineering these changes in public education do not have open or honest agendas. Which children in this country attend public schools? Which ones are home schooled or attend private schools? Is there some correlation between the latter two and those who wrote the punitive testing laws and who now want to attack teachers? I think the answers might be surprising, and not in a good way.

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