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5 So-Called Liberal Pundits Who Are Attacking Teachers

Chicago's teacher strike is shaping up to be one of the most important labor actions in a generation. So why are people who consider themselves progressives siding with the bosses?

Chicago's teacher strike may turn out to be the most important one in a generation, as teachers stand up to a corporate-backed education reform regime that stresses testing and firing teachers as a form of “accountability” while continuing to refuse to invest real money in making educational opportunities equal for all students. 

The so-called education reform movement wants high-stakes tests that students take yearly to be used to evaluate teachers and weed out the "bad" ones, and pushes money into charter schools that are privately owned and don't have union teachers. Under the guise of "accountability" for teachers and schools, reformers put taxpayer dollars into the hands of private investors despite the charter schools' negligible results when it comes to actually improving education. The movement has been particularly pernicious because it's crept inside the heart of the Democratic party and taken hold of politicians and commentators who profess to be on the side of working people, but end up bashing teachers' unions. 

As Molly Ball at the Atlantic wrote last week, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, spoke during the convention at a movie screening hosted by the face of the pro-charter-school movement, Michelle Rhee. “Another Democratic star, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, spoke at the cocktails-and-canapes reception afterward,” Ball noted. “Across the country, Democratic officials from governors like Colorado's John Hickenlooper to former President Clinton -- buoyed by the well-funded encouragement of the hedge-fund bigwigs behind much of the charter-school movement -- are shifting the party's consensus away from the union-dictated terms to which it has long been loyal.”

And of course, Chicago's teachers are facing down Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff for Barack Obama.

It's not just politicians falling for the rhetoric of the union-busters when it comes to teachers. Few would dare to demonize police or firefighters' unions the same way they have teachers, who are mostly women, working for decent middle-class wages but hardly getting rich, and in Chicago often working in  horrific conditions, with huge classes and in some cases no air conditioning. Yet as the teachers hit the streets and Chicagoans  declared support, supposedly liberal pundits echoed far-right talking points about teacher salaries and budget cuts, implied that teachers were hurting students by standing up for their rights and for better conditions in the schools, and argued that not supporting the union was evidence of their independent thought—not their susceptibility to a well-funded message machine or their general  contempt for public school teachers.

 Here's five of the most egregious examples of otherwise smart liberal pundits repeating the talking points of the corporate education reform movement.

1. Nicholas Kristof. The New York Times' columnist is celebrated for his trips into Global South countries to report heartwrenching stories of women; he's lauded as an activist and a human rights advocate. But when it comes to women and workers fighting for their rights closer to home, he seems to have a big blind spot.  He tweeted:

Re the Chicago teacher strike, my take: teachers should have greater pay but more accountability & less job security.

Kristof doesn't seem to have a great grasp on the facts—arguing for “bottom-third” teachers not to have job protections, then suggesting that we should listen to teachers for ideas on how to weed out that bottom third. “In response to your questions, yes, 1 yr value added isn't adequate to judge a teacher. 3 yrs data better. Some subjects not measurable,” he admits, but continues to argue for high-stakes testing as “accountability.”

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