Teachers and the Death of the American Worker

The first decade of the 21st century has been an ominous harbinger for the American worker.

Children and adults in poverty, the working poor, and the working class are increasing; the middle-class is eroding; and the pooling of capital among the 1% is expanding, forming the anchor stalling the progress of the USS Democracy.

In The State of Working America (12th ed), Mishel, Bivens, Gould, and Shierholz identify the disturbing trends that signal the approaching death of the American worker:

America’s vast middle class has suffered a ‘lost decade’ and faces the threat of another (p. 5)....

Income and wage inequality have risen sharply over the last 30 years (p. 6)....

Rising inequality is the major cause of wage stagnation for workers and of the failure of low- and middle-income families to appropriately benefit from growth (p. 6)....

Economic policies caused increased inequality of wages and incomes (p. 7)....

Claims that growing inequality has not hurt middle-income families are flawed (p. 8)....

Growing income inequality has not been offset by increased mobility (p. 9)....

Inequalities persist by race and gender. (p. 9)

In 2012, the American worker—like those trapped in poverty and the working poor—have no political party because, ironically, the democratic process in the U.S. has been bought by Corporate America and democracy has been left in that wake.

Public school teachers also have no political party, and with the Chicago teachers' strike, teachers now more than ever represent the political and public failure to appreicate and recognize the importance of the American worker.

Teachers as Workers

Early and mid-twentieth century America may have been a turning point for unionization in a country that lives more by ideology than evidence, but even that assessment may be tinted by the rose-colored glasses of hindsight.

The truth is likely that Americans' embracing of rugged individualism has always been an impenetrable wall between the American character and the community and solidarity at the core of unions.

Nonetheless, the American public school teacher has over the past decade—during the demonstrable decline of the working and middle class as well as the rise of poverty in the U.S.—gradually become the target of the popular corporate agenda to end tenure and break unions, despite the essential democratic nature of both.

Politicians, corporate advocates, and the media have fed a willing public a steady diet of false but robust narratives that characterize teachers as the sole force behind misleading claims of failed public schools. Any evidence- and experience-based rebuttal to the "bad" teacher claim or the corrupt union mantra has been met with a "no excuses" ideology that chants "poverty is not destiny."

This corporate agenda has no basis in fact, but the abundant commentaries and scholarship refuting this drum beat have failed to pierce the American public's self-defeating faith in America the meritocracy.

The political and corporate elite know this, and they have little motivation to set aside their lies since they work, and since they benefit in the end.

And so we now have a teachers' strike in Chicago, a strike being mischaracterized in Chicago and across the U.S.—more laziness and greediness heaped on teachers, and more evidence that the Democratic party is indistinguishable from the Republican party in terms of education and labor policy.

What is most disturbing ultimately about the demonizing of teachers and in effect all American workers is that most Americans are and will always be those exact workers who are being stripped of their rights, dignity, and access to the American Dream that the political and corporate elite along with the public claim to be protecting.

The Chicago teachers' strike is yet another referendum on the failing education reform agenda that is destined to strip teachers of their professionalism and to further stratify the education system of the U.S. so that affluent children (mostly white) gain even more advantage in their schooling than they have in their lives over children living in working class, working poor, and impoverished homes (disproportionately people of color).

It is a political lie to claim that the Chicago teachers' strike is the fault of lazy and greedy teachers supported by their corrupt union. It is a political lie to ignore the central demand of those teachers—a stand against test-based teacher accountability.

But neither the political elite nor the corporate elite will eventually lose in this debate because a public embracing of the corporate agenda and rejection of the striking teachers is a self-defeating commitment that will guarantee what appears inevitable now—the death of the American worker.

Teachers are not alone in this, but public school teachers are great American workers. I cannot fathom how we have come to a day when Americans no longer value something that cannot be more American than workers in solidarity.


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