If you want a classic formulation from our new Gilded Age, here it is, as described recently in the Guardian: “A head-on assault on teachers for their long summer vacations would ‘sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs [and] having to rely on food pantries.’” That’s advice for what not to criticize in a “messaging guide” produced by the State Policy Network (SPN), an “alliance” of 66 right-wing “ideas factories,” funded by such luminaries as the Koch Brothers, the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), and the DeVos family (that is, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s billionaire relatives and Amway heirs). It’s part of a right-wing stealth strategy for finding just the right approach to discrediting America’s restive red-state teachers, chafing under seemingly never-ending tax-cut regimes in states like Oklahoma, programs sponsored by those same plutocratic luminaries. As an approach to governing, such tax-cutting, now decades old, has — you won’t be surprised to learn — mainly been a giveaway to the rich (just as Donald Trump’s recent tax “reform” bill will be). When it comes to what formerly were known as public schools but that the right now calls “government schools,” the results have been catastrophic. Oklahoma, for instance, has cut per-student funding by 28% in the last decade.
In the past, SPN went after another set of villains (if you happen to be a billionaire), a crew opposed to an inequality gap that never seems to do anything but grow. In fact, it has recently come close to reaching the record heights of the previous Gilded Age in 1913. I’m talking about unions. Now, however, it’s those ungrateful striking teachers that are SPN’s target and for good reason. In red states like Arizona, Kentucky, and West Virginia, their recent protests, walkouts, and strikes in favor of saving schools that have been put on a financial starvation diet (like teachers’ salaries) and increasingly lack everything, even in a few cases the time to teach, are beginning to shake up state politics — and not in ways that either those billionaires or the Republican Party much likes. After all, those teachers teach… well, students (from whom we’ve heard quite a bit recently)… and those students, unbelievably enough, have… parents, and when you add up those teachers, parents, and students (future voters all), they turn out to be a group with the kind of numerical heft that billionaires, despite the way they’ve been multiplying year by year in this country, lack.
So stop for a moment and read TomDispatch regular and Oregon high-school teacher Belle Chesler who’s been thinking about how (and why) both students and teachers are suddenly shaking up this increasingly upside-down country of ours.