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Update: Goldstein Compares Current Teacher Fears To 1980s' Welfare Fears

As some of you may recall, I was surprised to find out that Dana Goldstein used the powerful idea of a "moral panic" to describe concerns over ineffective teachers in her book.  

In the following days, Goldstein explained to me via Twitter that moral panic was indeed what's been happening, and that "this anxiety has consistently overlooked the profession's structure, child poverty, & other factors that matter."

In the fascinating excerpt she shares (above), Goldstein writes that "the ineffective tenured teachers has emerged as a feared character, a vampiric type who sucks tax dollars into her bloated pension and health care plans, without much regard for the children under her care." 

Hmm. My experience, for what it's worth, is that "teacher bashing" or the so-called "war on teachers" has been the authentic experience of some teachers, and has been the part of some Republican lawmakers' efforts (as in Wisconsin). 

But it hasn't been my experience that teachers have been singled out by reform advocates -- most of them Democrats -- in the way that welfare queens were the targeted by Republican lawmakers (a comparison Goldstein raises in the excerpt above). 

Instead, the idea of teacher bashing and the war on teachers has been part of the case made by advocates for teachers to fight against efforts to change the way schools and teaching work that they did not think were reasonable (or likely to be effective).

Claiming that reformers are conducting a war on teachers has worked really well at putting reformers on the defensive -- as have accusations against reformers for being elite, racist, etc. And for all I know this may be how moral panics of the past have emerged: an idea expressed by one segment of society is amplified by its intended victims as a means of self-defense.

But it's not the same as what comes to mind when I think of moral panic, which is to describe a broader, society-wide fear of a certain category of person based on profession, race, or appearance. I'm curious what scholars who have developed the idea of a moral panic would say about Goldstein's use of the term here, or how 2015-ish concerns about ineffective teachers map against 1980's concerns about welfare queens.

**Also: The paperback version of Goldstein's book, The Teacher Wars, comes out next month!**

Related posts: At AFT Conference, Goldstein Compares Reform Efforts To "Moral Panic"Goldstein Puts TFA Under The MicroscopeGoldstein & Carey Debate Test Proliferation.


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Come on, Alexander, the reform ideology makes no sense without liberal, neo-liberal moral panic. Vergara makes no sense unless you believe the worst about teachers and unions. I don't understand how you or other liberal reformers can deny that teacher-bashing is a fundamental basis of the contemporary reform movement. If they don't believe the worst about us, how does it make any sense to impose stakes on tests for individual teachers on teachers? Why would they impose something that extreme on all teachers and all students unless their belief in the power of bad teachers is so strong that it demands such a punitive and senseless policy?

What about my media colleagues? The Newsweek cover -- "The way to fix education: We must fire bad teachers!" (The second sentence repeated over and over on a blackboard) -- and the more recent one with the rotten apple. The Time cover showing Michelle Rhee with the broom to sweep out bad teachers. The Los Angeles Times' huge, costly project rating every teacher in LAUSD by name, based on shifts in students' test scores. (My colleagues sputter when it's pointed out that this is exactly the same concept as rating journalists based on clicks on their articles and on their employers' revenues -- they sputter, but they don't have an answer.) All of these high-profile forums involve targeting and blaming -- and thus bashing -- teachers. I have two semi-retired colleagues, both high-profile veteran newspaper political commentators who are generally liberal, who produce an ongoing website on state politics and who firmly, outspokenly subscribe to and promote the utterly wrongheaded view that low academic achievement is entirely due to "bad teachers" who "can't be fired" because of their unions.

And I'm sure there are plenty of public examples, but personally, in my life, there are many people who identify as liberal Democrats but who entirely subscribe to the view that the reason high-poverty schools tend to be low-achieving is because they're filled with bad teachers who can't be fired because of their unions. Since that's an entirely false story (the real issue with high-poverty schools and their teaching staffs tends to be that those schools can't KEEP teachers and suffer from excessive turnover and hard-to-fill openings), it tends to be held by those who know very little about education issues and have just absorbed that notion vaguely, but they still take it as gospel. (In some cases, those of us who are well-informed are able to set them straight successfully, but until those discussions, the vague wisdom that they've absorbed is based on bashing and blaming teachers.)

And I see more and more liberal Democrats, including media commentators, who have become outspokenly anti-labor, and their hostility focuses more on public employee unions and concentrates most on teachers' unions. (What's Jonathan Alter's quote in "Waiting for 'Superman' "?) So: a broader, society-wide fear of (or, at least, contempt for) a certain category of person based on profession? I don't know how much clearer that could be.

Alexander must have missed Campbell Brown's campaign against child-molesting teachers. And like a million other clear examples of teacher-bashing.

I can't summarize a 300-page book in the comment to a blog post. But I do not believe that there is a "war on teachers." That's why my book is called "The Teacher Wars." I demonstrate in the book that in the United States, we've been warring *over* the teaching profession for 185 years. These battles often encompassed an element of moral panic. Male teachers, in the early 19th century, were accused of being lash-wielding drunks (many of the politicians who made this argument wanted to recruit female teachers because they could be paid half as much, allowing taxes to remain low). A century later, female teachers were accused of being too "weak" to control classrooms of recent immigrant students (nevermind that those classrooms were impossible to control because they had up to 70 kids in them, often speaking five or six languages). In the twentieth century there were several waves of moral panic over pacifist and leftist teachers (during the Red Scares, tens of thousands of teachers lost their jobs).

I hear echoes of these past moral panics in the ways in which tenured, career, traditionally educated teachers have been portrayed in the media and by policymakers since "A Nation At Risk," and even more so over the past decade. I offer examples of this recent "moral panic" rhetoric in the introduction to the book, and note that the panic has, paradoxically, been accompanied by a renewed idealism about the power of teachers' work. I attempt to explain that paradox. The root of both the panic and the idealization lies in our hope that teachers can close inequality gaps, which have causes far beyond our schools. When teachers fail to close those gaps, we are disappointed. And historically, instead of acknowledging that teachers can mitigate but not completely overcome poverty, we tend to instead redouble familiar efforts to evaluate or pay or recruit teachers differently, most of which have been tried in the past without producing widespread change.

The analogy to the moral panic over welfare queens is a simple one. We have anxiety, as a nation, over people whom we perceive to be a waste of public dollars. Teachers, especially tenured, older teachers, have certainly been accused of that again and again in recent years.

Tracing this history and applying the idea of moral panic is not, in any way, an argument that the current teaching profession should not be reformed. I end my book with 11 reform suggestions, which include revising outdated union protections that I don't believe make sense for today's workforce. But by far the most important reforms, in my view, would be to remake teacher education and to rebuild the profession to be far more collaborative among adults over the entire course of the career ladder. Chapter 10 is devoted to those ideas.

The paperback is out August 4 and I hope anyone who is curious will read it.


Have read and appreciated the book, Ms. Goldstein -- and given it as a gift (and not my copy, either!). I learned a lot from it and I think the suggestions for reform are well-founded and worthwhile. But I don't think it's over the top to call the attitude toward teachers spreading outward from the "reform" sector a war.

Dana and the others,
I'd say that the term "teacher wars" is better in multiple ways than the term "war on teachers."

From my perspective, it is a harsher indictment of the contemporary reform movement to call it part of the recurring "teacher wars." Because, thy had been warned by history.

They've largely ignored patterns of human interaction, thus ensuring that they would be caught up in those same cycles of history, and today's teachers are paying for that oversight. Incongruously, they care so much for their agenda but they don't care enough to read history, and that's quite an oversight.

I don't think we should demonize the reform movement as a whole (even though it often demonizes us.) And, with rare exceptions, we shouldn't demonize individual reformers. But, they largely ignored not only education history,but the wisdom of the ages. They largely ignored key themes in history such as Power Corrupts. They've been far too quick to flush checks and balances down the toilet.

Also, although reformers often seem to see the professional autonomy of teaches as a principle to be ignored or destroyed, they aren't shooting us. They aren't evil. They just see themselves as being able to break out of "deja vu, all over again." I understand why young reformers would have such hubris, but its time for their movement to grow up.

p.s., had reformers read Catch 22, and wrestled with it, would they have ever gone down that data-driven path? Or, by asking that question am I resisting the need to look unflinchingly at human history - forgetting that of course all sorts of "wars" will follow wars?

"FOR ALL I KNOW this may be how moral panics of the past have emerged" [emphasis added]???

As someone who writes a WaPo blog critiquing education coverage, how would you look at a reporter engaging in this sort of explanation for not having read the book?

this conversation moved to Twitter, as conversations are wont to do these days.

search for goldstein, dorn, or russo and you'll find a few added thoughts.

meantime, wow, it's hot.

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