Republican Teachers Could Lead Public Debate on Reform

Recently, I was online discussing with a veteran teacher the idea of more federal assistance to states for the purposes of hiring, rehiring, and retaining teachers and other school staff. The discussion moved along to testing, union protections, and other topics of education reform.

It didn't take long before we hit an impasse, less because of political differences, I'd like to think, and more because this person was fundamentally disinterested in communication or civility. Information was not something he desired, and ideas were not something he enjoyed discussing. It was his cross to bear, I'm sure. At any rate, it was mine, as I attempted to wring some intellectuality, honesty or plain curiosity out of him. And a thought flashed in my mind—fairly or unfairly—that this individual shouldn't be a teacher—never should have been in the first place, and definitely shouldn't be now. Without even observing him in the classroom, I was sure that he couldn't be a good teacher—not with that attitude.

And just like that, he had won the argument. The one about public unions and teacher tenure, anyway.

Huh. That's funny, I thought. The worse the arguments are for teachers being the problem, the more enticing the "blame the teacher" position becomes, if only briefly. It's win/win for conservative teachers to take part in the debate! If they make a really well-reasoned, intelligent and thoughtful argument, they might have a chance of converting a hard-core union supporter; on the other hand, if a Tea Party Teacher (TEAchers Party?) conducts himself shamefully and makes a complete mockery of his profession, he may ironically have to beat off the converts with a stick. Liberals will give up their union rights willingly just for a chance to see their enemies fired.

Of course, I'm joking—at least mostly joking. Although, it would be a good debate tactic ("You think I'm unintelligent and brutish? Well, I teach children for a living and I've got tenure. What are you going to do about it?"). But it did get me thinking about the public debate and how much power Republican teachers really do have in directing the conversation.

Assuming they take a standard conservative position, Republican teachers would be given a great amount of credence simply for being teachers who speak out against what most would consider their own self-interest. "How noble, how brave," etc. There's nothing the media loves more than someone who somehow defies expectations by going against the grain of their profession, their party, or any other identification. What a twist, right? Teachers who don't want union protection. Teachers who don't want more funding. Right or wrong, they would get the coverage.

And since the media and politicians of both parties have already been swept up in the anti-union, Waiting For Superman craze, that alone could win them the debate (if it hasn't been won already).

But then there's another possibility, and I think it's the reason we haven't seen a powerful Tea-Party Teacher movement happen yet. In my experience, even the most individualistic, conservative, union-suspicious Republicans learn rather quickly once they enter the profession that there is good reason for tenure protections and due process in K-12 teaching, both for the good of their own jobs and the good of the children they teach. And though the privatization movement seems to have taken hold with both parties, the simple argument that more teachers should be hired rather than fired, and that teachers should be highly qualified, has broad bipartisan support amongst teachers, like the rejection of high-stakes standardized testing.

So if conservative teachers truly do share the educational values and professional opinions of liberal teachers—and the National Education Association's overwhelming support for Democrats year after year suggests that they do—they again have the opportunity to direct the conversation by contradicting their fellow Republicans, once again giving them the spotlight as agitators.

In any case, it's Republican teachers all the way down. It isn't that Democratic Teachers don't have a voice; certainly, they have a long history and a promising future of fighting for progressive education policy in this country, and they shouldn't stop now (I'm certainly not going to); but in a time where policy is once again in flux, and everyone is suspected of partisanship, the media will look very favorably on Republican Teachers: individuals who either break with other teachers or break with other Republicans.

It worked for Democrats like Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan, who got brownie points in the media for angering teachers unions. It will work for Republicans. But what could be interesting is if, rather than supporting the privatizers of both parties and perpetuating the myth of the corporate education mavericks—rather than saying, "Those brave Democratic union-busters were right"—they swing the pendulum back by being more Democratic than the Democrats. Republican Teachers could tell President Obama, Arne Duncan, and Mayor Emanuel, among others, that lack of teacher accountability isn't the problem, and charters aren't the answer; they could insist that we reinvest in our nation's public schools unapologetically and without delay.

Republican Teachers could save our schools if, as I suspect, the majority of them support a strong, unionized public school system just as much as traditional Democratic Teachers do. And if I'm right, it's about time they spoke up.

Just a thought. Welcome to my blog.

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