When did teachers become the enemy?

Published June 9, 2022

Note: The following column was published in Politics NC.

While we were told to wait for all the information to make a judgment about police actions in Uvalde, the police themselves were quick to share a (now disproven) story that the shooter gained access through a door propped open by a teacher. This attempt to blame a teacher for the public safety failures in Uvalde got a shocking amount of traction in the days that followed for something that was apparently wholesale fabricated. 

Whether it was covid or recent mass shootings, teachers have become the scapegoat for displaced anger. It ties to a long and ongoing narrative effort to undermine teachers and thereby public education. Just a few years ago, despite decades of effort from the right-wing to portray teachers as “union thugs” or worse, teachers continued to be one of the most trusted if undervalued public figures in American life. Across all demographics and ideologies people trusted teachers even when they were not happy with schools – now, like so much else there is a huge ideological divide in trust for teachers.

The pandemic and the frustration borne of it, created an opening that this long standing narrative from the right-wing to undercut teachers was only happy to fill. As teachers did what they always do – made the best with the resources available to them, they became the face of pandemic responses they too were adapting to as best they could. 

But maybe it’s time for reasonable people to take a step back and wonder that of all we’ve seen in the last two years, were teachers really the source of our problems? And now, in the wake of the latest tragedy, is it ok for a teacher to take the blame for a shooting over public safety officials – especially when the story wasn’t even true? There is a reason this was the knee-jerk response of local police looking to shirk blame, and there’s as troubling a reason it was able to get traction on social media.

Autocratic forces want to systematically undermine public institutions like our schools, that’s the reason they’ve vilified teachers as activists and now even predators. It will only escalate. It will do so, along every front of the culture wars as we’ve seen: it started with masks, it went to racial and LGBTQ+ issues, and now even mass shootings are teachers’ fault. It won’t stop until enough reasonable people stand up and say enough is enough. The person that spends most of their time educating our kids. The person that spends their own limited money on materials. The people who are in one of the highest risk of infection jobs during the pandemic. What are the forces portraying those people as the enemy seeking to gain in doing so?

Daniel Gilligan, PhD is President of Current NC Institute, a North Carolina based 501(c)3 dedicated to fighting disinformation and protecting voting rights.