The short answer to this question is that far too many people are bashing teachers and public schools, and we need to give them more homework, because very few of them know what they’re talking about. And a few need some serious detention.
But the longer answer is that the bashing is coming from different places for different reasons. And to respond effectively to the very real attacks that our schools, our profession, and our communities face, it’s important to pay attention to these differences.
The parent who’s angry at the public school system because it’s not successfully educating his/her children is not the same as the billionaire with no education experience who couldn’t survive in a classroom for two days, but who has made privatizing education policy a hobby, and who has the resources to do so because the country’s financial and tax systems are broken.
The educators who start a community-based charter school so they can create a collaborative school culture are not the same as the hedge fund managers who invest in charter schools because they see an opportunity to turn a profit or because they want to privatize one of the last public institutions we have left.
The well-meaning college grad who joins a Teach for America program out of an altruistic impulse is not the same as the corporate managers who want to use market reforms to create a less expensive, less secure, and less experienced teaching force.
And the hard-pressed taxpayer who directs frustration at teachers struggling to hang on to their health insurance or pensions—which far too few people have at all—is not coming from the same place as those responsible for the obscene economic inequality that is squeezing both.
In my home state of New Jersey, there’s a man named David Tepper who manages the Appaloosa Hedge Fund. Last year, Tepper made $4 billion as a hedge fund manager. This was equal to the salaries of 60 percent of the state’s teachers, who educate 850,000 students. But Gov. Christie rolled back a millionaire’s tax and cut $1 billion out of the state school budget, so people like Tepper would have lower taxes. It’s not only impossible to sustain a successful public school system with such policies, it’s also impossible to sustain anything resembling a democracy for very long.