As we usher in Women’s History Month it is important to examine the many battles that women have faced over the years. From bell hooks, to Susan B. Anthony, to Aurora Levins Morales, we have seen women battle misogyny and marginalization. Nothing rings more true to us at this time as the war we see on teachers. The war on teachers IS a war on women.
Women United for Public Education wrote a powerful article on this a few months ago where they said,
“an occupation that houses predominantly women is the direct target of a male-dominated system. Is the drop and halt of this profession as seen in the statistics above due to economics? That may be partly responsible. But, as the gender-defining roles within our society become even more blurred, we feel that those in power are feeling the potential loss of their hierarchical stature and are seeking to retain their positions.”
As woman fight even harder against the dominance of a male-centered society, the push against them becomes even stronger. Within the last several months, we have seen women in the education activist world targeted for speaking out for children and their profession. Deborah Vailes, a teacher in the Rapides Parish School District, shared a photo showing a little girl crying about Common Core . She did this from her home computer. Vailes post was reported to her principal by a third party and she was called in by her principal, Dana Nolan, and given a written reprimand. Vailes is currently suing to keep her job.
Peggy Robertson, one of the founders of United Opt Out, announced earlier this year she would not be administering the PARCC in a heartfelt letter to the community in which she teaches. In the letter she states,
"We must begin to take down this profit machine by beginning with the data the corporations so dearly love. No data. No profit. I will not hand over Colorado’s children (and their data) to the corporations via federal mandates.”
“Our children are not gaining from the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing; instead, I see corporations profiting immensely, along with politicians and various other individuals who have jumped on the Common Core train. The link between the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing is inextricable…. Public education is the new cash cow; privatization is the end goal. We must begin to take down this profit machine by beginning with the data the corporations so dearly love. No data. No profit. I will not hand over Colorado’s children (and their data) to the corporations via federal mandates.”
The Denver Post on March 1stdocumented the district's thoughts that Robertson’s stance was indeed “job threatening.” Sadly, her local refused to publicly support her. Pam Shamburg spokesperson for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, states that the, “DCTA board did not vote to encourage teachers to refuse test administration.”
In another case, a female teacher in Wyoming, who asked not to be identified, shared with the news outlet Truth in American Education that she had a gag order placed on her regarding talking about her opposition to the Common Core Standards. She writes about sharing her concerns at a department meeting,
“I shared my feelings, concerns and opinions. I suggested they become aware that there are two sides to this and to be prepared to have an opinion. I pointed out that questions could come from concerned parents or others in the community. I also shared that my main concern was with the changes to data privacy and losing local control. When I was finishing my administrator said that there would be no more emailing, or talking about the common core amongst the staff. There was a finality to his tone and the meeting was quickly over at that point. I then received an email from my administrator reminding me of our district policy of not using school resources to push political concerns or agendas. He also stated that there was to be no more discussion about common core unless it was on an ‘educational’ basis between staff members.”
Finally, in yet another case last year, Ann Florence, a English teacher in the Granite School District (Utah), was fired for refusing to give tests she saw as unethical and a burden to instruction time. She and her colleagues “resisted the requirement that English teachers grade students' writing samples in the test. They insisted it was unethical for teachers to grade their own students on an exam given across the district because the teachers themselves would be judged by the students' success on the exam.”
The American Civil Liberties Union deems the War on Women as “the legislative and rhetorical attacks on women and women’s rights taking place across the nation. It includes a wide-range of policy efforts designed to place restrictions on women's health care and erode protections for women and their families."
We see this example quite clear in the attacks on women in education. There is a clear rhetorical and legislative attack on the profession of teaching. The rhetoric we hear being driven by the corporate education agenda (which is the house of mostly white wealthy males) is a direct attack on a profession that is over 75% women. These attacks can be seen most blatantly in the examples above, as well as in the attacks on a teachers right to due process, and on a teachers right to speak out on behalf of children.
As the great feminist bell hooks stated, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else's whim or to someone else's ignorance.” Fight on, ladies, for we cannot bow down to ignorance that hurts our children.
Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson
Badass Teachers Association