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Laying Blame

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

The public school teachers in Wisconsin are not responsible for the credit collapse, the national unemployment rate, the fall of the industrial sector or the fiscal crisis. 

Allowing them to bargain collectively has not bankrupted Wisconsin. Its declining tax revenues have nothing to do with the fact that highly educated and trained professionals are earning a decent wage, albeit less than they would in the private sector.  

So why are they being blamed and scapegoated? Why are they in the center of the storm over our fiscal future? Where are the Wall Street banks for whom there was no limit to greed?  

And most important: Why should our children pay for this? 

Make no mistake: They will pay.  

I saw Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly drag the president of the teachers union in Wisconsin over the coals and then some when he refused to condemn what is being reported as resorting to phony sick days to allow teachers to go to Madison to protest. Is it wrong to not show up for work so you can protest? Of course it is. The governor isn't paying for that; you're not getting even with him. It's the kids who sit staring blankly at a substitute who pay. 

But I can certainly understand the frustration of dedicated teachers at being the butt of bad politics. Everyone likes to talk about bad teachers. However many there are is too many, and they should be fired. But most teachers, the overwhelming majority of teachers, are dedicated men and women working against incredible odds to do right by their students. The teachers I know arrive early and leave late. They bring the school supplies that they buy out of their own pockets. They make themselves available to parents and students long after the school day ends. They are as frustrated by the bureaucracy in large school systems as anyone. Many of them, including many very good ones, give up within five years. 

How will taking away their collective bargaining rights change that? 

Did I miss the part in this debate where we thank teachers for taking on the social ills no one else wants to touch? The part where we express our gratitude to them for taking care of and trying to teach kids who come to school scared and hungry and unable to read or write? Was I not listening when someone made the point that teachers are the foundation of our nation's future?  

There's plenty of blame to go around for what's gone wrong with the economy. You can blame Bush or Obama, Wall Street or the regulators. You can blame Fannie and Freddie and Congress and the Fed. But how do we get off blaming public school teachers? 

People keep asking me how this will play politically: Will it help or hurt the Democrats in the next election? Will it help or hurt the union movement nationally?  

The truth is that I (and, dare I say, most of the people opining) have no idea. Those are not even the questions that trouble me most. What worries me is the fact that when you turn teachers into scapegoats for problems they had no role in creating, they're likely to do more than call in sick to go protest.  

At a certain point, like others who feel their work and commitment are neither recognized nor rewarded, they will simply quit. Frankly, I wouldn't blame them. But it means that whether it's the Republicans or the Democrats who gain, it will be the kids who pay.


See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich.  

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