This documentary noted some of the bad media coverage of the teaching profession. Despite the widespread concern explored in the film that teachers are asked to do too much for too little, there was a clip from Fox News Channel about teachers being greedy and just looking for financial gain. Interesting.
In my observation, that sort of media vilification is not uncommon. In our current culture, we’re always looking for people to blame. It is the government. It is the undocumented workers. It is the lazy poor people who are leeches on society. It is the Muslims, the Mormons, the liberals, the secularists and any other group the speaker/writer isn’t crazy about. There is always someone to blame.
To me, a very worrying trend is that these days Americans seem to really like scapegoats--though we don’t use that term a lot. I guess it feels better to make someone the villain instead of looking more deeply at a complex problem. But I find that approach to be emotionally immature and quite indulgent. It is unproductive to sit around whining and venting angrily that someone is the reason we have certain problems. It would be much more productive to instead find creative solutions to complex problems with many root causes. Finding such solutions starts with trying to understand the complexity and various root causes. But once a cause or two is identified, it does no one any good to just sit around griping. Great nations are not composed of people who simply sit around pointing fingers and stewing in their own anger. Great nations are composed of people who think deeply and creatively to understand complexities and find solutions.
In the case of concerns about our educational system, I think teachers are an easy target for such scapegoating. They are the most visible people in the failing system. It is easy to pick on them instead of looking more deeply to figure out why kids are not learning and graduating. Violence, hunger, family problems, drugs, financial instability, lack of classroom resources, crumbling school buildings. These are very pressing issues that undermine our ability to educate our kids. But they don’t have one easy source to blame. They also don’t have a quick fix.
Quite frankly, I think teachers are also an easy target due to gender. As we saw last year when Governor Walker tried to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for employees of the state of Wisconsin, in the brutal economy most of us endure, there is not a lot of sympathy for public employees in the base case. Teachers as a group seem to be particularly disliked. But it seems interesting that we don’t seem to lump police and fire fighters in for such ill-will even though they are government workers too. As a society, we tend to admire them. They risk their lives for others. (In truth, many teachers do the same these days.) However, I don’t think it is any coincidence that we beat up on a profession comprised mostly of women, and we salute (sometimes literally) professions where men dominate.
This disparate treatment has been most clear to me in times of crisis. When there have been horrific school shootings, the media doesn’t focus that much on the heroism of the teachers who try to save their students’ lives. Some of them have used their own bodies as shields to protect their students, but that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Yet, there seems to be a lot more coverage when a police officer or firefighter does something heroic. I’m not saying we shouldn’t praise the police and firefighters, but we need to have a less stifled, more expansive view of heroism. We should be praising the teachers too.
During 9/11, I remember hearing about teachers at schools near Ground Zero in Manhattan where there was concern buildings might tumble and crush their campuses. Those teachers apparently walked kids calmly to safety. What bravery! Many of us would have wanted to run for our lives, not keep a frantic group of kids together to get them to safety. But in the days, weeks and even years afterwards, I never heard those stories again. There was a lot of media coverage of the fire fighters and police however. I certainly respect those fine individuals, but why didn’t we hear more about the brave teachers?
My own belief is that it is rooted in our cultural beliefs about heroism and honor. We admire it in men. It is not as noteworthy in women. The assumption is that women are supposed to sacrifice themselves for children. They don’t get a lot of respect in the base case, it is easy to find fault in them, but not praise their heroism.
The following article is a recent example of the extreme disrespect one women in the school system had to endure. I don’t think this was an aberrational incident. But it went viral because someone on the bus thought to record what happened one day.
“‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’”
1 Thessalonians 5:13
Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.