Authoritarian attacks on teachers

March 19, 2022

From the March-April 2022 issue of News & Letters

You might think teachers have had enough to contend with, switching between virtual and in-person teaching, dealing with face masks and reaching the minds of students miles across town. (See “Teachers fight for health” Jan,-Feb. 2022 N&L.) But now 17 state legislatures are pushing bills requiring schools to post online every piece of instructional material that will be used for the school year: books, articles, handouts and videos. Republican Congressional representatives also promise to pass “transparency legislation” as part of a “parents’ bill of rights,” a concept that inspired Virginia voters to elect a Republican governor in 2020 in a blue state.

Christopher Rufo, who has helped lead the attack on critical race theory, wrote on Twitter: “The strategy here is to use a non-threatening, liberal value—‘transparency.’” He sees these bills as a tool for rooting critical race theory out of schools (“New transparency bills would force teachers to post instructional materials,” by Laura Meckler, March 2, 2022, Washington Post).

Transparency legislation and “a parents’ bill of rights” have nothing to do with students’ education and are all about right-wing scare tactics to win votes. Micro-management of classroom content damages student learning by destroying teachers’ freedom to learn their students’ needs and teach effectively throughout the school year. Proponents, who have screamed for schools to be open, COVID or not, only want them to warehouse young people to alleviate the adult labor shortage.

The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on ignoramuses: Zimbabwe’s government tried to suspend for three months 135,000 teachers striking for better pay, while demanding schools remain open and declaring “backyard” teacher-run schools illegal. Zimbabwe’s High Court has voided the suspension. Teacher’s wages are now about $100 a month. The teachers want the $540 a month they were getting in 2018. Last week the teachers rejected the government’s offer of a 20% pay raise along with some incentives.

Meanwhile, illegal “home schools” defy lockdown in townships. Priced out of online access, poor children turn to backyard teachers as COVID closes state classrooms.

“Trying to conduct online lessons does not work,” says Moud Maenzanise, a teacher who has transformed her veranda into a teaching area for five students. “At times, a teacher needs physical contact with a student because [otherwise] you will be producing a half-baked student.

“There is a need to assess the physiological capacity of the student…. We need to build the whole person, but we cannot do that online. Online lessons are for the affluent north, but here in the ghetto parents cannot afford that.”

Susan Van Gelder

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