They hate teachers too

Published May 9, 2019

By Gary Pearce

Last week, I blogged that a lot of Republican politicians “hate public schools.” A reader agreed, but asked: “Why?”

Well, it’s not just public schools. They hate teachers too. Before, during and after the teacher rally last week, the politicians and their John Locke-Civitas amen chorus hammered away at what Senator Phil Berger called “the special interest education lobby.”

Education is a “special interest”? That’s a revealing statement.

Berger said the “special interest education lobby will say just about anything to convince you that Republicans hate education and Democrats love it. They do this because their primary motive is to elect Democrats, and to do that they need to mislead you into believing that Republican education policies have harmed our state.”

Well, they have harmed our state. But why? Why would so many Republicans support so many policies that cause so much harm to public schools – and to our state?

They haven’t always. Republican Governors Jim Holshouser (1973-77) and Jim Martin (1985-1993) were strong supporters of public schools and teachers. As late as 1997, Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker endorsed Governor Jim Hunt’s plan to raise teacher pay to the national average.

(It worked, by the way. Berger brags that North Carolina is 29th in teacher pay. That’s still in the bottom half. In 2000, we were at the national average and had risen from 43rd to the top 20.)

But, again, why the anti-teacher, anti-public-school rhetoric and action?

There are five reasons: race, religion, ideology, politics and – as is so often the case in politics – money.

Race: Anti-public-school feeling dates back to the private “segregation academies” that sprang up in the 1950s and 1960s. Under Trump, the Republican Party is dominated by a rural, high-school-educated whites. Hostility to “race-mixing” still runs strong.

Religion: Sometimes this is camouflage for race, and sometimes it’s sincere conviction. The Supreme Court not only struck down school segregation, it “took God and prayer out of the schools.” People who think this way have become more and more powerful in the Republican Party since the late 1970s. If they can’t make public-school children pray their way, they want tax subsidies for their private schools.

Ideology: The Republican Party today holds to a rigid right-wing ideology that is rabidly anti-government. The ideologues, like Charles Koch, call public schools “government schools.” By definition, bad.

Politics and Money: Race, religion and ideology make a potent political brew, and it’s turbocharged by the most powerful fuel in politics: Money. Big money.

The rise of anti-public-school politics coincides with the rise of an ultra-wealthy, ultra-reactionary oligarchy – think Koch brothers and Art Pope – who have deployed their wealth to shape politics, dictate policy and reshape society in a way that serves their own selfish interests at the expense of most Americans.

Their agenda: cut taxes (their taxes), cut regulations (on their businesses) and cut the safety net for the poor and for the middle class. They want employees who are dumb and docile, not influenced by trouble-making activist teachers who seek fair pay, decent benefits and professional respect. Employees might start wanting the same things!

The oligarchs have declared war on teachers and schools, and they’ve been winning in North Carolina. But that doesn’t mean North Carolinians like it. The oligarchs’ success stems from one mid-term election, 2010, and their ruthless use of gerrymandering, voter suppression and dark money to stay in power since.

They know their education policies aren’t popular. That’s why they mask their real record, manufacture the “special-interest education lobby” and twist facts and figures to make it seem like they love public schools.

But North Carolina’s motto is Esse quam videri. To be, rather than to seem.