Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers (crosspost: Dissent & Cookies)

The MoD Open Letter of the Summer Award goes to our friend at Dissent and Cookies for this painfully open letter to those who, in the wake of Act 10 and in the full light of day, declare their disdain for the noblest of professions: teaching.

In addition to exposing the shocking level of visceral hatred that is often and openly directed toward educators, she discusses how this "divide and conquer" tactics (the hallmark of Scott Walker's governance) distract us from the policies that deserve our scrutiny:
"...public sector employees like UW professors and public school teachers aren’t the enemy, nor have they ever been, and by placing the blame on them for everything from the recession to unemployment rates, we don’t focus on what actually blew up the economy. As Robert Reich argues, “Divide and Conquer tactics pit average working Americans against each other, distract attention from the most unprecedented concentrated wealth at the top, and conceal regressive plans to further enlarge and entrench that power.”  
In the spirit of bringing people together on the issues that matter - supporting and defending our excellent public schools and our proud tradition of academic freedoms, and building respectful communities where we can live and work together well (regardless of whether we agree or disagree), I share the full post here with her permission (original here). Please read it, share it, and use it to start conversations with your friends and neighbors about where we went wrong, and where we can go from here to make things better.

When I graduated from college, I, like many graduates, had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  I was medically cleared to go to West Africa to join the Peace Corps.  I’d applied to seminary and to graduate school.  Grad school took me first, I took it as a sign, and started on a path to get my Ph.D. and become a college professor.  At no time on this path did anyone warn me that at some point in my life, I would be hated, despised, loathed, and treated with contempt for the occupation I chose.  I don’t know that it would have made any difference, but a heads up would have been nice.

When I grew up, I loved my teachers.  I loved my professors.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been in classrooms with some of the most gifted teachers who inspired me, taught me what it means to teach, and were not only amazing teachers, but scholars and activists as well.  I truly learned from the best.  When I finally landed a job as a college professor, I was excited to pay it forward–to give my students all that I had learned during those years.  But once I actually began teaching, I was stunned and deeply confused at the very vocal resentment towards those who had chosen to work in the field of education.  When Act 10 was passed, to say it divided Wisconsin would be an understatement.  We were called lazy, overpaid, greedy, and undeserving of the benefits we had bargained for in lieu of lower wages.  At the time, I thought this was hurtful and it made me incredibly angry.  Then, Governor Walker got reelected and we saw an increase in the vitriolic rhetoric towards educators when they began to speak out against his proposed budget.  Admittedly, I have put myself in the spotlight through Facebook posts, tweets, and now through my blog posts, so I expected to get a few horrible comments thrown my way.  I was told I should be on a government watch list because I teach in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies.  I was called a communist.  I was told to “quit whining” and get a real job.  Some wrote:
 “if you want to know why I seem angry, it’s because this “crisis” was a manufactured one ” much like the rape crisis you manufactured on campus. Watch, remove the gender studies courses and rape claims go way down;” 
 “so is someone going to start mocking and insulting her and telling HER to ‘quit your complaining and whining! omg! suck it up!” and all that?”

“Teach students something that will allow them to get a job and pay their mortgages, and then we can worry about your job and mortgage.”
All hurtful and frustrating but I had no idea how bad it would get.

Here are a list of things I have been personally called since I started blogging:
“Liberal union cunt”
“Dyke profesor”
“Lesbo cock sucker”
“Flaming liberal whore”
You get the idea. There are more. You won’t see these on my blog, because I have the ability to delete them, but they’re there.  Anonymous strangers who feel better about themselves by demeaning me.  Misogyny and ignorance at its finest.  And this is mild compared to some of the things other writers or those in the public eye have gone through–I don’t in any way want to diminish the very real death threats that have sent some into hiding for daring to speak out against that which they see as unjust.

As John Oliver points out in a segment on online harassment this regularly happens to “any woman who makes the mistake of having a thought in her mind, and then vocalizing it online.”

Again, these were online comments.  And I’m clearly not the only one who’s experienced this. Just this week, a friend posted this:
Once again, none of these responses to his tweet were accurate (professors don’t teach children, tenure is not a job for life,) but that didn’t stop the immediate backlash against one tweet regarding the elimination of tenure from state statutes in Wisconsin and the very real ramifications of that.
Fast forward to two days ago.  I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: “Looks like gas prices have gone up!”
Me: “Um, yep? I guess so?”
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) “If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.”
I was dumbfounded.  A good friend noted, “Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it around into mistaken and misplaced class rage. That is truly sociopathic.”  Agreed.  This man, this complete stranger, felt it necessary to make sure I knew how much he hated me.  I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I know it has happened to others. Example? One friend got punched in the face at a bar by a 70 year old man for simply trying to correct misinformation regarding faculty salaries.  Let me repeat that.  Punched in the face by a 70 year old man.

I posted my experience on Facebook, and perhaps most disturbing was the number of people who had reached out and told me they’d experienced similar interactions.  I don’t know when it became ok to physically confront someone and attack them just “because.”  Another friend pointed out, “The thing is – misconception aside – even if you were a billionaire it shouldn’t be commented on by a hateful stranger who would call you or anyone a bitch.”  Exactly.  And the fact that this is evidently happening more often and to more educators should call us all to take pause and ask ourselves, how did Wisconsin get this divided?  What happened in this man’s life, and what had he been told about educators that he felt entitled to speak his mind and let me know exactly how much contempt he had for me and everyone who does what I do?  It takes a lot of hatred and misplaced anger to behave in such a way.  And to know that this is not an isolated incident frankly both saddens and enrages me.

As I wrote in my Facebook post, I truly want to invent a sign that says “everything you know about college professors is wrong” and wear it daily.  As I pointed out in the letter I wrote to the Joint Finance Committee before they passed the budget, “I will officially make less now as a tenured professor than I did when I started in 2009. In most jobs, your pay is supposed to increase over time—not the other way around. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t make a six figure salary nor will I ever if I spend the rest of my lifetime working in the Colleges. Up until a few years ago, I was still eligible for the earned income tax credit.  Starting salaries of a professor with a Ph.D. remain at $43,000 and have stagnated. The highest paid professor with a Ph.D. at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, after 23 years of experience and service to our campus, makes $65,521.00. Most of my colleagues have second jobs, some at other institutions and others in any part time job available. Several who work full time on my campus and at other institutions are eligible for food stamps and reduced priced lunch programs for their children. They live paycheck to paycheck, working as line cooks and waitresses. They continue to pay off student loans and will do so for the next 25+ years at our rate of pay. Just the other day, a tenured faculty member asked if I’d be a reference on her application to Family Video. I bartended for several years during the summer to help pay off my student loans and make sure I didn’t find myself further in debt. As awkward as it was to have my students see me behind a bar, sadly, I couldn’t afford to leave that job because I made more serving alcohol than teaching in the UW System . . . . We are being asked, for yet another year, to do more with less. There is nothing left. State divestment in public education cannot continue. I get it. 
Defunding public education has become politically easy. As the Nation recently reported, ‘If states won’t raise taxes or cut back on mass incarceration, gutting higher education becomes the path of least resistance.’ But it’s a dangerous path we’ve been walking on for far too long.'”

So how did we get here? And what can we expect in the future? As Katharine J. Cramer writes in her piece regarding the politics of resentment, “Consistently conservative groups saw things differently, obviously. They wanted lower taxes and fewer government programs . . . and asserted that government programs —except for defense spending—should be as small as possible. They believed in bootstraps and lamented peoples’ apparent inability to use them. Besides spending on defense, they were also ok with funding for programs like the WPA [Works Progress Administration] and the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] that rewarded hard work. Notice how their support for government spending hinged on notions of deservingness. We have seen this theme before. In their eyes, government programs are only legitimate if they support deserving Americans. And this group, like others in my sample treated deservingness as a matter of whether or not the policy recipients are hard-working Americans like themselves (Soss and Schram 2007; Skocpol and Williamson 2012, ch. 4). They approved of government programs when they perceived the programs gave out benefits that were payments to people who had earned them, not handouts to the undeserving (Winter 2008). Hard work was a key consideration, not just for the consistently conservative groups, but arguably for the vast majority of the groups, including the groups who were ambivalent about small government. This is important. It suggests that support for limited government is not driven mainly by a principled belief in small government, but instead by attitudes about a particular program’s recipients (Nelson and Kinder 1996;Schneider and Ingram 1993) . . . Support for small government policies or candidates seemed motivated by something other than abstract adherence to the idea that smaller government is better, and was not a simple result of disliking government or feeling ignored by it.

This is where the politics of resentment comes in. In the conversations, you can see how resentment toward target groups often served as the glue between anti-government and small government attitudes . . . . The blow-up over Governor Walker’s budget measures shortly after he took office in early 2011 illustrates these sentiments . . . Each of these groups was supportive of Walker’s proposal to require public workers to pay more into their health and pension benefits. As we saw in the previous chapter, they perceived that these benefits came directly from their own pockets and that as rural residents they worked much harder than the desk workers in state government. In addition, they perceived that the public workers in their own communities (especially school teachers) made salaries that were much higher than their own.”

The problem with this is that public sector employees like UW professors and public school teachers aren’t the enemy, nor have they ever been, and by placing the blame on them for everything from the recession to unemployment rates, we don’t focus on what actually blew up the economy. As Robert Reich argues, “Divide and Conquer tactics pit average working Americans against each other, distract attention from the most unprecedented concentrated wealth at the top, and conceal regressive plans to further enlarge and entrench that power.”  Similarly, Paul Krugman noted, “There is a better answer, and a teachable moment here, which gets at the real nature of inequality in America. It’s not about overpaid teachers. Let’s start by looking at the real winners in soaring inequality — the people who not only make incredible amounts of money, but get to pay very low taxes.  According to Forbes, in 2012 the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders took home a combined $16.7 billion. Now look at those supposedly overpaid government employees. According to the BLS, the median high school teacher earns $55,050 per year. So, those 40 hedge fund guys made as much as 300,000, that’s three hundred thousand, school teachers — almost a third of all high school teachers in America. OK, teachers get benefits, so their total compensation cost is higher than their wage, so maybe it’s only 200,000. But you should keep numbers like these in mind whenever anyone tries to shift attention from the one percent (and the .001 percent) to Americans who aren’t even upper-middle class.”
So why are we still blaming the wrong people for societal’s ills?  When will it stop? And how do we convince someone who only knows and truly believes that educators are the reason their lives aren’t where they should be–that educators and other public sector workers should be punished for “undeserved” benefits, and that their lives are truly better off because of the dismantling of public education–that all of these beliefs are based in false ideologies?

I have no answers.  But to those who hate me, who see no value in what I do, and who think I don’t deserve the privileges conferred by years of hard work and determination, I ask–if my job is so wonderful, so star spangled awesome, why don’t you do what I do?  If being a teacher is so easy, why not become one? If our benefits are so egregiously disproportionate to yours, what is stopping you from going to graduate school and obtaining your very own Ph.D.?  Because instead of dismissing my job, asking for (more) “shared sacrifice,” and belittling my career choice, maybe your time would be better spent becoming an educator, spending some time with people who live and work in my profession, and a little less time in the comments section of your local newspapers, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in peoples’ faces saying cruel and ugly things based on falsehoods, deeply rooted misplaced resentment, and ignorance.

No comments:

Post a Comment