Healthy Democracies Don't Scapegoat Their TeachersBreaking News
tags: teachers, education, labor, COVID-19
Liat Olenick is a Brooklyn-based elementary school teacher and activist. She has been teaching in New York City schools for 10 years
Healthy democracies don’t hate their teachers. But the last year has made clear that powerful Americans do—on both sides of the political spectrum. And until this changes, our democracy, our children, and our futures are in grave danger.
As an educator with ten years experience teaching in New York City, I have never felt so hopeless about the future of public schools in this country. The first week of 2022 was a nightmare for both teachers and students, but instead of offering support or investment in measures that could help schools survive this Covid surge, politicians and pundits attacked us for asking for minimal Covid protections. These attacks came after a particularly brutal year for education: Since 2020, teachers across the country have been threatened by fascists for teaching about race and human rights.
Indeed, attacking teachers and schools over both Covid-19 and “critical race theory” is a primary Republican organizing strategy. As of December of 2021, eight Republican-controlled states had passed anti-democratic laws restricting teachers’ ability to teach the truth about US history. In Tennessee, teachers who teach about the history of racial discrimination risk losing funding for their schools. In Wisconsin, Republican legislators passed a law that would result in multi-thousand-dollar fines for teachers who mention topics like race or equity. In Texas, teachers are being required to teach “both sides” of topics such as the Holocaust and slavery. And in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has introduced a bill that would empower parents to sue teachers for teaching the truth about US history. Meanwhile, just last week, a school board in Pennsylvania explicitly instructed teachers not to teach about the January 6 insurrection.
Through it all, the White House, the federal Department of Education, and the Democratic Party have done nothing to defend teachers or public education. Biden didn’t even comment on the anti-CRT furor until this past November. He did, however, quietly pull funding to upgrade school buildings from his Build Back Better plan during negotiations last fall.
Meanwhile, the very real dangers kids and teachers face in schools—like Covid-19 or school shootings—have been met with learned helplessness from the media and leading Democrats. Instead of demanding gun control legislation or mandating basic Covid mitigation measures in all schools, Democrats have succumbed to the pressures of the Fox News propaganda machine, making them more concerned about how they “message” their position on CRT than the reality that children are being murdered by assault weapons in school, anti-vaxxers are threatening teachers and principals for enforcing basic Covid safety measures, and thousands of children are getting sick.
And now, a year after a fascist insurrection and nearly two years into a pandemic that has upended the education system, teachers like me are under renewed assault simply for asking for basic protections during a Covid surge that is sending record numbers of children to the hospital. In cities across the country, teachers have spent the last month asking for no more, and no less, than adequate testing, masking, and improved ventilation to prevent Covid from spreading in schools. With few exceptions, most districts have ignored our pleas, resulting in the Covid chaos we saw in schools last week. While the media has consistently skewed these requests as radical demands to shut down schools, in fact teachers like those in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia have resorted to asking for temporary remote schooling only after school districts refused to increase testing or improve ventilation and masking.