Society’s Scapegoats (Polemic) by Alison Ross


A new report came out that said that US public school teachers toil in much more distressed conditions than their international industrial-world counterparts. U.S. teachers work longer hours, are paid less, and are less supported. SURPRISE! For though we tout ourselves as having one of the best educational systems in the world, the fact of the matter is, it sucks, especially compared to other countries. If teaching work conditions are bad (and they are awful, I am here to tell ya), then of COURSE the education of the children is going to be bad…not because the teachers suck, per se – most teachers I know have been nothing short of amazing – but because teachers need positive work conditions in order to effect positive change on their students. But DUH.

Yes, I am a teacher. Over the last 15 years, have taught in various venues, mainly in public high schools. In addition to over 11 years in public high schools, I have taught adult ESOL at a private language school, writing at the community college level, and have served as an assistant in two private schools: in an 8th grade classroom for learning disabled students, and in a Montessori classroom for 2-6 year olds. Every teaching job I have had has been difficult to some degree, but I will have to say that the public school teaching jobs have been the most harrowing of all. I would not wish a public school teaching job in today’s climate on my worst enemy…and yet I have made many friends in public schools for whom I despair deeply. (Oh, and I’ve made a few enemies along the way as well. I actually wish they would just go to hell rather than teach alongside me, but that’s another story)

The fact of the matter is, the reason that public school teaching sucks – and there are many many rewards inherent to the job, which is why I and countless others continue to do it (and I am talking about the rewards of interacting with students, not the summers-off perk which IS nice) – is because teachers today are Society’s Scapegoats. If we were not Society’s Scapegoats, then teaching conditions would not be so corrosively awful. But because society – the media, parents, students, administrators, the masses – chooses to scapegoat teachers for unfathomable reasons, then society must accept the consequence of their misguided malignance: horrible schools.

But are they horrible because of the teachers? HELL TO THE FUCK NO. The teachers are what give schools their GOOD aspects. Most teachers I have worked with clock in countless hours and are often as devoted to their students as they are to their families and spouses. They are creative, patient, dynamic, intellectual, fun, feisty, diligent, compassionate…the litany of accolades goes on infinitely. I have worked with very very very few “bad apple” teachers, and yet society, tragically misinformed by the malevolent media, would have us believe that the capable teachers number in the few.

How has this happened? How have we allowed the media and society to besmirch the saintly name of those who teach us how to read and write, solve equations and find the equator, who help sculpt our knowledge about the human body and other species, who lead us to explore diverse cultures and distant planets, who give us the tools to dig into past events, who assist our appreciation of disparate religions and philosophies, who help us cultivate the artist and musician and dancer and athlete trembling within, who facilitate our innate sense of self-discipline, who coax us to socialize and introspect, who elevate our very sense of BEING…

But wait, you protest. I had teachers who were mean and rude and spiteful, not to mention dumb and lazy.

Yes, yes, such teachers exist. Just like mean and rude and spiteful and dumb and lazy insert-job-title-here exist. Teachers are no exception to the rule that Bad Workers, indeed Bad People, Exist. But do bad teachers prevail? If you say yes, then either you were VERY unlucky as a kid, OR you are so mind-zombied by the media that you can no longer think for yourself. So now who’s numb and dumb?

The fact is, children of all demographics are becoming harder and harder to teach owing to brains addled by too much TV, video games, and internet and not enough reading, critical thinking, and fresh fucking AIR. Children need to cultivate and ventilate their minds. But since most children spend untold hours in front of glowing, glowering screens obliterating animated enemies instead of playing whimsical games with real humans outside and honing their reading skills, their brains are malformed, malfunctioning messes. And yet WE as teachers are supposed to somehow REMEDY that?*

If you think teaching is as simple as walking into work, planning a lesson, teaching that lesson, assigning homework, grading the homework, and then repeating that streamlined scenario all over again, each day, every day, you are very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very (are you counting?) very very VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY fucking WRONG. Shame on you for being such a willfully deluded fool. I invite you to teach for a year in any public school, but preferably one in an inner city, to see how laughably misled you have been.

A lot of why modern schools suck so bad to work in is because of Bill Gates and his cheerless band of profiteers who have spearheaded the wickedly wrongheaded charter school movement, which siphons taxes (YOUR taxes) from public schools and plunks them into the ever-swelling coffers of the CEO-types who manage the charter schools (which masquerade as the magical antidote to failing schools to lure a hapless public into their creepy lair). Too, Gates and his malicious minions were behind the crafting of the totalitarian scheme, Common Core standards. Common Core is already doing a bang-up job further burdening teachers with creativity-flattening objectives which wrangle students into an even more homogenized herds. Too, these standards and their accompanying practices subvert teachers’ former coveted autonomy and convert dynamic pedagogues into grim automatons.


One in four American children lives below the poverty line, and many lack regular access to food or healthcare. Most of these impoverished youth, too, are raised in stressful environments that involve violence and drugs. Teachers, many of whom teach severely impoverished students, can only do so much to facilitate such students’ learning abilities (which have been distorted) and indeed spend disproportionate time attending to their social needs. Attempting to discipline such students is a titanic task, as often they originate from brutally broken homes where parents are either physically or emotionally abusive or absent. And yet, teachers are held accountable for the high performance AND discipline of these pathetically poor youth.

American teachers are not just undervalued; we are DEVALUED. We are daunted and demoralized. Yet, we persist despite the exploitive, bureaucratically cumbersome conditions and constant societal slander. We love kids that much.

But to devalue a teacher is to devalue schools, devalue children, and ultimately, to devalue yourself and the world around you.

Stop using teachers as Society’s Scapegoats and start doing something tangible to help strengthen society and hence, help education be everything you want it to be.

*Teachers cannot possibly fix the crushing dysfunctions of a fractured, quasi-dystopian society. Yet, society unreasonably expects teachers to be accountable for the academic fluency of those many students whose poverty and attendant situations of drug use and parental physical and psychological abuse and neglect create rampant learning and behavioral deficiencies. Poverty, naturally, is not self-invoked but rather a product of a corrupt political system which conspires to embed societal misery and apathy to keep its repressive policies in place. Teachers cannot capably teach in chaotic climates such as those evolving from pervasive poverty – and yet, many teachers break their backs doing just that.

Adding to this chaotic climate are suffocating, labyrinthian bureaucratic measures that give teachers vertigo and are in large part responsible for the mass exodus from education every year. It’s one thing to expect some extra work from teachers, but quite another to choke and drown them in needless meetings, piles of paperwork, endless data compilation, and so on. This bureaucratic morass would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.

One Response to Society’s Scapegoats (Polemic) by Alison Ross

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