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Reactionary 'Education Refomers' Fenty and Rhee Support Scott Walker's Attack on Teachers

Why is it suddenly okay to blame a group of people doing such important work? We can partially blame media darlings who pointed fingers at unions instead of at poverty.

Polls have shown that most of the country is siding with the besieged workers in Wisconsin, many of them teachers, whose livelihoods and fundamental right to bargain have been under attack--and ultimately decimated--by authoritarian, overreaching governor Scott Walker.

Still, the move to demonize teachers for “budget problems" continues in state after state, with similar bills that would restrict bargaining being passed right and left. This disturbing trend demonstrates that Walker and other lawmakers feel emboldened to attack teachers, one of the last truly middle-class (not wealthy) professions in this country -- and a profession not coincidentally dominated by women, and in many areas women of color.

Why is it suddenly okay to blame a group of people doing such important work? Well, part of the problem is the bipartisan embrace of “education reformers” like Michelle Rhee and the mayor who championed her, Adrian Fenty (who was defeated after just one term by an unsatisfied constituency). Going further than the typically anti-union "reform" types among their peers, these two have actually come out and endorsed Governor Walker's actions.

Earlier this week, Fenty made the following statement: “ He’s right on the substance, I think. I tend to agree with him on the need for collective bargaining reform. But he’s also right on the politics.” Rhee has repeatedly come out in support of Walker, saying she thinks, “the move to try to limit what they bargain over is an important one.”

Rhee and Fenty were praised by Democrats, including President Obama. But as Rhee heads to Florida to help right-wing Rick Scott bust some teachers' unions there, let’s hope the scales are lifting from the public's eyes. When even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose education choices have hardly been orthodox or progressive, thinks Walker is going too far on collective bargaining, you know that Rhee's and Fenty’s views are extreme.

In a way, this is a good thing for those of us who want to push back on the “education reform” mantra that bad teachers are the source of all the ills plaguing our school system. It’s a fallacy to pretend that the people who sign up for grueling work and mediocre pay to do the hard work of actually trying to help kids learn are the ones holding back progress. It’s equally absurd to blame teachers’ pensions for budget cuts when we could be taxing millionaires just a tad to make up for any gaps.

Blogger E.D. Klain been on top of this issue from day one, and it’s worth reading all of his coverage. Here is the key paragraph explaining why “moderate” endorsement of people like Rhee and Fenty has opened the door for authoritarians like Walker:

Democrats, the media, and these large foundations have all played a role in the fight against teachers’ unions and the place of traditional public school in society. This has played nicely into the hands of Republicans like Scott Walker and Chris Christie and other GOP politicians at the state and national level who have long gunned for teachers’ unions and for a breakup of the public school "monopoly." Indeed, the demonization of teachers plays a central part in the modern school-reform movement.

I’ve always found this demonization of teachers to be bizarre, a way of passing off responsibility for the continuation of an impoverished, disadvantaged underclass to some of the last remnants of the actual middle-class. Why do these ideas gain traction? The fabled "silver bullet" of firing bad teachers makes it seem so easy to fix our massive problem: there's no sacrifice, no money involved. It's like blaming the kids' problems on the babysitter when it's the parents (to extend the metaphor, society at large) that are its root.

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