America worships the idea of the ‘first responder’. This role, usually male and police officer or fire fighter is seen as a protector and valiant hero who can rescue us whenever we are in trouble. First responders come to a violent situation or run into a burning building without thinking about their own safety. Conversely, America has stigmatized the ‘pink ghetto’, professions like teaching that are predominately female and require no weapons and focus on nurturing and caring. Unglamorous professions life teaching require hours of time spent with young people, patiently building their resolve, character and intelligence.
Currently two issues, gun violence and fair labor practices, have involved the effects of educational stigmatization. These two issues exemplify the poor condition for teachers and how the right is attempting to destroy public education. The first issue of gun violence involved a Florida shooting which lead Trump proposing arming teachers and administrators. the second issue centers on fair labor practices in a West Virginia teacher strike that started on Thursday. These two issues are related and are the result of conservative attempts at delegitimizing and eventually destroying public education.
The West Virginia teacher strike, the largest educational strike in the state’s history, is a result of poor pay and poor working conditions for teachers in the state. West Virginia, which ranked 48 out of 50th in teacher’s salary, has closed all public schools in the state. While West Virginia has a history of militant labor movements and commentators on the right and left have diagnosed the problems of the region, the state has yet to figure out how to stop its teacher shortage.
What unite the political action of the West Virginia teachers and the Florida students are their attempts to push back against the degradation of education in this country. Teacher unions, while no panacea, are the only effective large-scale organization to fight for fair labor practices on behalf of educators and therefore students. A poorly paid and poorly equipped teacher is a poorly educated student. In a state like West Virginia that does not have collective bargaining, large-scale strikes are the most effective way to bring the capitalist government to heel. Mass shootings, in turn, are the most effective form of political speech the right has yet devised. Student activism, not a good guy with a gun, is a more effective way of preventing future mass shootings and truly protecting our school.
The right, and its elected representatives in the Republican Party, have essentially abjured responsibility of ever limiting guns or protecting our schools. Acting in bad faith, the NRA blames the left for exploiting gun violence, when in fact gun violence is a feature not a bug of the right’s political agenda.
The right is destroying our civil fabric by destroying teacher morale through poor working conditions and the murder of young children in their own schools. The right no more wants to facilitate a reduction of school gun violence than a car thief wants to facilitate car alarms. Teacher shortages and school shootings work together to facilitate the enshrinement of white supremacy and patriarchy in U.S. political life. The Republican Party is the servitor of this reactionary and dreadful strain of political thought in American life and should not be negotiated with under any circumstances.
In a liberated society a school would be a place of wonder and joy for the children and the dedicated professionals who have undertaken the momentous task of educating future citizens. Instead, in our society, teachers are forced to hide students while their friends are murdered down the hall.
Our teachers are America’s true first responders, the men and women who put their lives on the line emotionally and sometimes literally for our children. Stigmatized and brutalized through poor working conditions, lack of support and now the literal threat of violence, teachers are responding with urgency and valor to the four-alarm emergency that is a child’s life in a capitalist society. The question is how will we stand in solidarity with our teachers and their students, or will we turn our back on them while the bullets fly.
Striking teachers in the state capitol Charleston, West Virginia, Thursday February 22