In the last several weeks the demonetization of teachers has reached a fever pitch. In fact, the long-standing conservative attack on the government in general and on public schools and public school teachers in particular, seems to be broadening out to include firefighters, nurses, social workers, prison guards… If you work for the government, and you believe that you have the right to collectively bargain, your salary, pension, and working conditions are all up for grabs. The U.S. middle class has apparently agreed to its own destruction.

It’s a remarkable reversal. The people who exemplify the democratic ideals of public service have become the targets of a right-wing nihilism that believes that destroying the public commons will allow market forces to create utopia. One of the great tricks of this nihilism is the use of euphemism. It’s as if at some level conservatives realized that if they explained their real intentions they would be chased out of the room. You can’t tell people that you want to find a way to institutionalize low wages; instead, you push the “right to work” law.

You can’t tell people that you find the democratic process cumbersome and irritating; you have to say that you want “flexibility.” You don’t want to talk about the need to address poverty, so you talk about the “failure of public schools” and “bad teachers that cannot be fired.” And, most importantly, you can’t tell people that you want to create a more rigid, easily measurable education system, simply becuase that’s cheaper, and, again, becuase democracy and education is hard to measure or predict. You talk about accountability.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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