How could we care about students and not want better opportunities for them?

“You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.”

 

  • Donald Trump, Jr.

 

It’s hard not to be upset by the fact that one of our president’s sons — also a member of his inner circle — referred to our profession as “loser teachers” last week.

That’s something I never expected to hear, and it scares me because that attitude helps justify decreasing support for public education, at a time when our schools sorely need support.

But I don’t want to focus on the “loser teachers” part. I know I’m no loser, and it’s been talked to death already.

I want to focus on the “sell you on socialism from birth” part.

I’ve known a few teachers who are socialists, but honestly not many, and I live in a pretty liberal state. I worked with one teacher who was socialist a few years ago, and I never saw him promote it in school — in fact, he took great pains not to.

So why this stereotype of teachers as socialists? Where does it come from, and is it true? For the record, I don’t think the Trumps are the only ones who think this.

. . .

Here’s what I do think. Many teachers promote social justice — you don’t have to look far on Edu-Twitter to confirm this — and that gets misinterpreted (intentionally or not) as promoting socialism.

Social justice and socialism are both political buzzwords, but they are not the same thing. According to Social Justice Solutions, social justice is “the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.” It’s not so different from “no child left behind.”

Socialism, of course, is an economic system in which the “government owns and controls the means of production (such as factories) and distribution of goods,” according to Merriam-Webster and pretty much every econ textbook.

So why do so many teachers promote social justice? And is social justice really what critics oppose?

. . .

I think the first answer is pretty obvious. The job of a teacher requires us to care about other people’s children — children who come from all different kinds of backgrounds. Not just teach them — CARE about them.

Public schools enroll children without regard for immigration status. We also enroll children of all income levels, races, religions, cultures, gender identities and sexual orientations. We enroll children whose parents are in prison, whose parents have been crime victims, whose parents are homeless or facing bankruptcy.

Unlike many of our adult peers, we don’t work in office cubicles where we are shielded from the harshest realities of the world. We see children suffering and families struggling, and we feel empathy.

How could we not?

How could I not be frustrated with a health care system that caused one of my dear students, several years ago, to be homeless because of medical costs while struggling with childhood cancer? He later died.

How could my colleagues not be alarmed when their students’ parents face deportation? 

Many teachers embrace social justice because it speaks to what they live and see every day. If you believe in educational equity and you want all of your students to have a genuine shot at success in this country, then it’s no surprise that you would support a view that “everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.”  

. . .

The second question is more difficult: Is social justice what our critics really oppose? I don’t know if those who criticize public school teachers disagree with social justice — or they if they simply conflate it with socialism.

I just don’t know. I won’t put words in anyone’s mouth.

I think it’s important that we distinguish between the two, though.

There has to be room in our schools — and our society, for that matter — for people who believe in equal opportunity and equity in education without being pigeonholed as political or economic socialists. (There has to be room for actual socialists to express their views too, but that’s a different story.)

Otherwise, the political name-calling and polarization in the next few years is going to lead us to a place we really don’t want to be — where equity starts being a dirty word and “leaving children behind” becomes acceptable.

Let’s not let that happen.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or like the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom

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