I started paying attention to politics when I was about 10 years old. It was Bush vs. Dukakis and I squared off against a friend of mine in the schoolyard for several months over who was going to win. To be honest, Susan was far more serious about the political process than I was, and probably could have destroyed me in any actual debate. Mostly, we just verbally sparred and and had fun at recess. I bring this up, though, to mention something that I noticed even then. Teachers were often portrayed as being liberal commie pinkos. Or, in the parlance of the 80’s, more Fast Times at Ridgemont High than Gordon Gekko of Wall Street. As I’ve gotten older, I have begun to have severe issues with that portrayal. One large problem I have with holding up teachers as the icon for liberal left thinking is that I find it counterintuitive to honest conservative thought.
Education empowers individuals to think for themselves, recognize personal paths to success and, in general, opens up additional opportunities to take care of ones individual needs without burdening the state. In other words, individual and economic freedom and responsibility.
Ideally, teachers, in their native habitats, tend to see a wide range of socioeconomic conditions, and understand that education may be the only tool their students have in order to better themselves. They have a vested interest in promoting access to that education. In public institutions all their funding comes from taxes, in various forms, so they have a very personal interest in not promoting a traditional welfare state. Many teachers do not participate in Social Security, either, so their retirement plans often depend on both a strong economy and a sufficiently affluent government. An educated population does much to enable those things.
Additionally, public schools are pretty much the very definition of government influence run amok. From the President and Congress all the way down to the local City Council, almost every political office feels the need to meddle in education. Whether it is an opinion that theology should replace science, physical education should be removed in favor of additional sedentary class time or the nutritional value of a hot dog wrapped in lettuce, politicians are quick to introduce legislation that changes the educational system. All. The. Time. I have no problem venturing to say that teachers do not appreciate this constant meddling. A call for smaller, more focused government, indeed.
Are there areas that merit being called Liberal or Leftist? Yes, I definitely think so. Right or wrong, teacher’s unions can wield some tremendous power. Power that, arguably, can only be balanced by the behemoth that is the Fed. (The opposite is true, as well, I think). I spoke with a school administrator recently who told me that my old 8th grade principal was the last one to have his health insurance paid for life. That kind of compensation is hardly fiscally responsible. Of course, nobody on the Right would likely blink if you offered that option as part of a compensation package to your typical Fortune 500 CEO. Additionally, many individual teachers are exposed to a great deal of poverty and hardship. These are things that do tend to tug at the heart strings, and often engender a desire to help and provide for those who cannot currently help themselves. So I can certainly see why many teachers would be more in favor of certain social programs than their more… shall we say, sheltered counterparts?
I’m not trying to be obtuse here, either. Looking back in history, educational institutions have often given birth to revolutionaries. They haven’t all been liberal by any stretch of the imagination, but when you’re going to tar and feather an entire section of people, you can’t exactly be surgical about it. My question, and my challenge, to all my conservative brethren out there, is why do we still insist on using that broad brush? Why do we allow it to be acceptable for our leaders? Honest conservatism demands better.