This past week an early career teacher, highly regarded in the classroom and very accomplished in the field of education, received a parental request that a student not be required to read The Great Gatsby. That parent, however, had signed a consent agreement with all texts, including that novel, identified as required reading at the beginning of the course.
The parent then reached out to the administration, who confirmed that the teacher had to assign a different work. This, of course, undermines the teacher and the process established, but it also creates more work for teachers already under incredible strain.
While parental oversight of assigned reading has been common in education for decades, this situation comes as states are increasingly passing parental trigger legislation, which moves the parental power from each parent’s own children to parents being able to ban works for all teachers or students to explore in classes.
That same teacher, frustrated and disillusioned, later that day read aloud their resignation letter to me in the context of telling me that much that they had taught in the first three years of teaching could no longer be taught in the last couple years—and increasingly will be directly banned in the coming year (as my home state is poised to pass its own educational gag order this spring).
The teacher cried while reading the letter aloud, and added that the resignation was depressing; this, you see, was a career they had been working toward since high school—and within 6 years, teaching is dead.
The current anti-teacher climate in the U.S. is incredibly harsh and driven by orchestrated false narratives:
Right-wing media are creating parental trigger structures even without the concurrent legislation:
While teacher and school bashing (notably as “liberal indoctrination”) has a long history in the U.S., reaching back to Catholic schools fighting for market space as public schooling increased in the 19th century, the current anti-teacher climate has its roots not in Republican politics but in the Obama administration’s education agenda.
Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education heralded an era of education reform that actually doubled-down on the worst aspects under George W. Bush, and that doubling down feed into a growing media attack on “bad teachers”:
Instead of rejecting the standard approaches to education reform begun under Reagan and federalized under W. Bush, the Obama administration turned their blame to teachers and teacher quality. During the Obama years, the great experiment in value-added methods (VAM) devastated the teaching profession.
The perennial paradox of education has always been that teacher quality matters but it remains a very small part of measurable student achievement (only about 10-15%). Therefore, the Holy Grail of the VAM experiment—identifying “good” and “bad” teachers through standardized test scores of students—was always doomed to fail.
But it did accomplish planting the seeds of today’s multi-pronged attack on teachers—the “science of reading” movement blaming teachers and teacher educators for student reading achievement and the anti-CRT/educational gag order movements being linked to parent trigger laws.
Throughout the education reform era over the past 40 years, many of us in education have argued that education reform initiatives are less about improving education and more about killing public education and the teaching profession—charter schools and voucher schemes, Teach For America, VAM and merit pay, demonizing and dismantling unions and tenure, etc., to name a few.
From Fox News lies to parental trigger laws and education gag orders, the evidence is very clear now that this current wave of teacher bashing is definitely about killing the profession, and not about student discomfort.
Let me return to the opening teacher story.
When the parent was asked for reasons why they wanted their child not to read The Great Gatsby—so the teacher had context for choosing an alternate text—the parent responded that they did not want the child (a high school student) to read about inappropriate relationships and sexual content. So here is a point of fact about the insincerity of these challenges; that student had already read and studied The Crucible, without any complaint, a play grounded in adultery.
I am certain some parents challenging what their children are being taught are sincere, but I am also certain the larger political motivation among conservatives is to completely dismantle public education.
Just as I have explained that there simply is no CRT propaganda agenda in K-12 schools, there is no liberal indoctrination/grooming occurring in K-12 (or K-16) education either.
The Ingraham rants are simply political lies.
And these lies are not improving education.
They have one goal and it seems to have been effective: Teaching is dead.