Why "We" Demonize Teachers
A year ago in Wisconsin, during the Walker administration's gutting of public unions, we heard a surge of bitter resentment and contempt directed toward public school teachers, - from the public itself. Quite a number of teachers seemed as surprised as they were dismayed. Public education is not a high status job, - and no one knows this better than elementary and high school teachers, - but a lot wondered what exactly they had done to deserve a New Jersey whack. How they "don't care about the kids, only money." How they are incompetent, stupid, immoral, wasteful, and, basically, blood-sucking leeches on the body politic.
Adequate reasons, you'd think, if it were true: but why do so many prefer to think it is true? Where did this come from? I heard something else going on underneath, the - what Ursula K. LeGuin called - shifgrethor.
On some level, the demonization of teachers is nothing new. Kids have always done it. When I was a Fourth Grader, we kids sang "...teacher hit me with a ruler. I bopped her on the bean with a rotten tangerine..." Some added the version "...I met her at the door with a loaded .44..." And we sang it with gusto and an odd sincerity.
Whether we had teachers we admired, who supported and rescued and inspired us, or ones who disliked, misunderstood us and behaved unjustly, we all understood that Teacher was a category opposite that of Kids. Now and then we fraternized as individuals, but we were natural antagonists. (Not that we analyzed it at the time, of course, but looking back, I can see it.)
Teachers are the bearers of the Death of Childhood. That's a lot of it.
Their job is to bring us messages we don't yet want to accept: that we must change to fit our future, and in specific ways that go against our inclinations.
Teachers expect us to do inner work as well as schoolwork, like impulse control, self-restraint, persistence, time-planning, patience, fairness, and an awareness of, and consideration for, Others.
Teachers work to temper the sovereignty of Child Will, understanding, as a kid cannot, that submitting your will to another - conditional obedience - can be the first step in learning to control it yourself and have some measure of command over yourself lifelong.
Civilization rests on these lessons, but none of it is easy, comfortable or enjoyable. The first stages of skill and character acquisition rarely are. And the process is unremitting and goes on and on, starting anew every year for 12 years! It sounds more like doing serious prison time to some kids than the prospect of doing real prison time. So we resent and resist it - till we grow up, and are able to see it all in a different light.
Except we don't all necessarily grow up. A lot of us have found we can get away with not growing up as we go through life, and getting away with something is such a buzz, we pride ourselves on it.
Kid culture has always been important in neighborhoods and in school, even in the times and places it was driven underground. It's the way we learn to connect and interact with our peers. But for a couple of centuries, the understanding had been that true self-realization and real power came from joining the adult world. There was a trade-off of sorts. The dangerous pleasures, like sex, drugs, alcohol, babies, authority and money, were officially off limits until you demonstrated that you could make yourself useful in society, and follow its shibboleths: work, marriage, solvency, responsibility, sometimes military service.
And then times changed. Sometime between the Playboy Manifesto and the end of the revolutionary 1970s, adult culture came to seem solely one of boring burdens and grim obligations, with no real power or thrill. So Kid culture got brought along with kids who matured - or at least got older - while preferring a standard of less responsibility to rules and self-denial. It was a victory to get the goodies of adult life while retaining your allegiance to the "inner child" that was so fashionable in pop psychology.
Grown up inner children still doesn't like to be told what to do, or to follow the rules of somebody who doesn't even pay them, as a boss does. A grown up inner child's allegiance is with other kids over authority, and when they have kids of their own they automatically side with them against the teachers and the cops.
I have heard the following uttered by actual parents: "NO ONE has the right to order MY CHILD around!" and "I hated doing homework. My kid doesn't have to. Because I said so." This isn't about their child, it's about their visceral memory of hating their first experience of not being the dominant force in their world. It isn't even always conscious.
But it enhances the pleasure of payback on that caste whom they reluctantly underwrite with their taxes.
Still, plenty of people do grow into traditional adults, responsible, hardworking, god-fearing people. But the problem remains: teachers are the Bearers of the Death of Childhood.
The teacher is still the permanent Antagonist, the infector of liberal ideas, the corrupter of their child's innate ignorant purity. They remember how they were forced to share and take turns in Kindergarten, and they still resent the imposition. They conveniently forget how scary and hard it was to fine out about sex from other kids or exploitive adults because their parents, who are the only ones who can convey this sacred information, found it hard to do and put it off. Teachers brainwashed children into feeling for "the Environment", and often encouraged sympathy for the scourges of multiculturalism, secularism and pacifism, and against the proper divisions of race, sex and class. AND they have the gall to do it while picking your pocket!
So, either way, teachers bear the brunt of a lot of unresolved resentment or ambivalence on the part of voting age citizens who, if faced with actually having to do their job (never mind for 20 years or so) would prefer long term dental surgery.
Anyway, that's my take on it.
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