Judging by the news I’ve been reading lately, I’m beginning to think that a certain segment of the population is determined to drive people out of the business of educating children. Republican lawmakers and leaders are trying to pass new laws that really make it difficult for teachers in public schools to do their jobs. It’s like conservatives want young people to be dumb. Either that, or they want to control their thinking… as they insist that they are trying to prevent teachers from indoctrinating their children with what they consider wrong-headed, progressive ideas.
For instance, recently, Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, was under fire for announcing a tip line intended to encourage citizens to report teachers who are teaching “critical race theory” in school. Because I am a graduate of Virginia’s historic teacher’s college, Longwood University (which was Longwood College when I was a student), I have a lot of friends who are teachers. I also have friends who didn’t go to Longwood, but teach school. Quite a few of them were absolutely horrified by the prospect of Mr. Youngkin’s “tip line”, meant to identify and sanction teachers who promote ideas that offend Republicans.
Fortunately, a lot of Virginians, even the Republicans, still have a lot of respect for teachers and the very challenging work they do for too little pay. People were being encouraged to contact the tip line, but flood it with compliments instead of complaints. I’m not sure if the tip line has gotten off the ground or has actually received any complaints, but my guess is that this idea has gone over the like proverbial turd in a punch bowl. One of my friends, who is a teacher, and I know votes Republican, recently shared this excellent letter to the editor that appeared in a newspaper near where she lives. I think this sentiment is being echoed by a lot of people.
Mr. Youngkin has only been in office for a few weeks, but he’s already been sued by seven school districts in Virginia for writing an executive order unilaterally lifting the face mask mandate in public schools, and allowing parents to opt out of making their children wear masks. At this writing, a judge has blocked Mr. Youngkin’s executive order, at least for now. The school boards protested the executive order, because they claim it violates the Constitution of Virginia and Senate Bill 1303, which requires all school districts in Virginia to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies as provided by the CDC. The school boards also claim that Mr. Youngkin’s executive order, which are supposed to be used in case of emergency, undermine their local powers of authority.
As I read about this, I can’t help but be a little surprised by Mr. Youngkin’s decision to act like tyrant, especially since he’s a Republican, and Republicans are supposed to be against government overreach. But he’s pandering to parents, many of whom are not exactly the most educated folks themselves. I think Youngkin must have designs on a much higher echelon of politics, since in Virginia, governors can’t run for consecutive terms in office. So he can’t be immediately re-elected when his term ends in 2026, which makes me think that maybe he’s eyeing a more powerful position someday. Perhaps he wants to be POTUS? Who knows? But, as a governor who can’t be re-elected, there is no incentive for him to try to work for all voters. He has nothing to lose by pulling the shit he’s already pulled, and taking Virginia back to the Dark Ages. Below is a screenshot of a statement his spokesperson provided to News Channel 6, out of Richmond:
Ironically, Mr. Youngkin’s own son attends an out-of-state private boarding school, where face masks are not optional. I wonder if this is the same son who is a minor and illegally tried to vote for his father… twice! As a native Virginian, I am not surprised to see that Glenn Youngkin won the election after Ralph Northam’s term. Although I liked what Governor Northam was doing, I could see that many of my friends and relatives couldn’t stand Northam’s liberal policies. And Youngkin’s opponent was Terry McAuliffe, who was governor before and was, evidently, not very popular. So I knew Youngkin was going to win… but so far, he’s not showing that he cares much about the citizens of Virginia. He’s just pandering to Trump supporters, many of whom, I am so sad to report, are not exactly educated or deep thinkers. Either that, or they like the status quo, which puts white Christian men on top of the power heap.
But it’s not just in Virginia where this attack on teachers is happening. This morning, I read an article about an Oklahoma’s senator’s attack on teachers. Republican Senator Rob Standridge has introduced a new bill that would allow citizens to sue teachers who present opposing views to religious beliefs held by students. I don’t know a thing about Mr. Standridge, but I’ll bet he’s a protestant Christian. I wonder if, when he came up with his Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act, he was thinking about students who aren’t Christians.
It seems to me that this proposed bill could really present issues for teachers, constraining them in ways that would make it difficult or problematic to discuss certain topics in school. If passed, the law would make it so that parents could demand the removal of any book with perceived anti-religious content within it. According to a news article by The Independent:
Teachers could be sued a minimum of $10,000 “per incident, per individual” and the fines would be paid “from personal resources” not from school funds, from other individuals or groups. If the teacher is unable to pay, they would be fired, under the legislation.
$10,000 is a lot of money, especially for teachers, who historically don’t make a lot of money… especially in public schools. But apparently, some lawmakers think it’s really needed, as it’s been referred to as “necessary for the preservation of the public peace”. If the Act is passed, the law would take effect immediately. So that means that teachers in Oklahoma had better get their shit together and get it in their minds to STFU about anything deemed “anti-religious”, or they could be forced to PAY. Also, it sounds an AWFUL lot like the anti-abortion law passed in Texas last year, right down to the amount of money teachers could be forced to pay if they violate the rule. What the fuck is up with these legislators, anyway? I thought Republicans didn’t like frivolous lawsuits and government overreach. I guess they don’t mind legal action when it comes to pushing their own warped interests.
I really think that these actions are a slap in the face to people who have devoted their careers to making sure children are prepared to be responsible and functional adults and who, let’s face it, are taking care of children while the children’s parents are, hopefully, earning a living that supports them. I mean, I don’t have any children myself, but I do know that there were a LOT of parents who struggled when their kids had to be homeschooled because of COVID-19. Parents ought to be so grateful for everything that teachers do. But these right wing lawmakers seem bound and determined to turn parents against the very people who work long hours for little pay and put up with their little darlings and their many issues in schools every day. I tried being a teacher in Armenia. The discipline issues alone were a challenge for me, and there, I didn’t worry about some kid going crazy and shooting up the classroom. My friends who work as teachers have a heavy enough load to bear without lawmakers attacking them with these policies that are intended to restrict them from actually doing their jobs and educating children.
A couple of days ago, I wrote about one of Michigan’s Republican governor hopefuls, Garrett Soldano, who thinks that rape victims should be forced to birth, since their unborn fetus could one day be the President of the United States. In the podcast where he talked about that idea, Mr. Soldano also attacked critical race theory, calling it “absolute hot garbage.” He continued on a lengthy diatribe about how teachers need to stick only to the subjects they teach– English, math, science, and the like– and students should never know what a teacher’s political or religious beliefs are. Just stick to what’s in the approved textbook. Don’t be a human. Don’t share anything personal. Just teach from the book. By that idea, maybe teachers should be robots, completely programmed by whomever is in charge, and promoting things that are approved by the state. Wait… again, I thought Republicans were against government overreach! In his comments, Mr. Soldano sure did talk a lot about God… who, again, shouldn’t be part of a discussion about the government… Separation of church and state, you know… something I learned about in eighth grade civics class, many years ago.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I think the issue is, Republican politicians don’t actually want the rank and file children who attend public schools to be taught how to think for themselves. They are afraid that children in public schools could be introduced to ideas that make them challenge the status quo and knock them out of power. I think that’s the main reason why brilliant books like Maus, which provides a poignant and engaging account of the horrors of The Holocaust, and ideas on how that atrocity began, are being banned from curriculums. I think that white Christians who are running the government are afraid that children could be taught to think in ways that challenge their grips on power. It’s probably TERRIFYING to some of these people that young people’s minds could be opened to something beyond white, Christian, cisgendered MALES running things. And so, they want to offer a lot of negative reinforcement to the bright, sensitive, humanitarians who opt for careers in public education. It’s shameful and embarrassing.
Some of you might be thinking that you don’t want teachers “influencing” your kids. To that, I would say you should take your children out of public school and educate them yourselves. And you’d better be prepared to keep your kids away from television, Internet, movies, music, books, museums, and other people who don’t think just like you do. Oh, and you’d better be prepared to live FOREVER. Because sooner or later, your kids WILL be influenced by someone other than you. Unless you intend to be there forever, you’d better resign yourselves to the idea that your kids are going to learn things that you’d rather they didn’t. Personally, I think I’d rather they learn from trained, educated, professional teachers who are prepared to answer their questions than some rando on the street.
And yes, I also realize that not all teachers are “good”. Some teachers do need to be removed from their positions. Certainly, if a parent has a valid complaint about a teacher, he or she should speak up and make their concerns known. I have read a few shocking stories about ill-conceived lessons that some teachers have come up with– things like asking Black children to participate in mock slave auctions. Actually, if you Google “mock slave auctions in schools”, you will find that this is an idea that has been used in a number of different states around the country! Last year, I read about a teacher who got in trouble for a lesson on chivalry that irked some parents. Several years ago, some school officials in Utah were under fire for requiring that girls dance with anyone who asked them at a school dance. Some of the lessons were certainly well-meaning, but parents rightfully pointed out that they could be damaging. I don’t think it’s wrong for parents to object in those situations.
However– I DO think it’s wrong for lawmakers to pass laws that are intended to make teaching harder than it needs to be. Some of these new policies being proposed are making teaching especially onerous for teachers. I know for a fact that teachers go through a lot to be able to legally do what they do every day. It’s not easy to get qualified to teach school. And right now, especially, teaching is difficult. I can remember growing up in the 80s. We never heard anything about issues like autism or attention deficit disorder. Children who weren’t “normal” in all ways, were simply put on the “short bus” and labeled special ed kids. Nowadays, children with special needs can get individualized education plans, which is surely better for the children, but more work for their teachers. In my day, teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment to control children, and I did have a teacher who had a paddle shaped like a whale that he used to paddle kids in front of their peers. Nowadays, doing that would get a teacher put on the news. And, of course, we do have a pandemic going on, which makes teachers have to enforce mask policies and the like, putting themselves at risk of contracting a potentially deadly virus.
Do we really need for lawmakers to pass laws making it even easier for parents to harass teachers? I think not. I think these lawmakers ought to be ashamed of themselves. But most of them are Trump supporters, which only goes to show you that they have no shame… or critical thinking skills. And, once again, as much as I wanted to have children, I’m left feeling glad I don’t have them. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I have a lot of empathy for my friends who do. I think they’re going to need all of the thoughts and prayers they can get, as Republicans desperately try to get back in control of the government and turn the United States into a dystopian theocracy.