Teachers are holding massive walkouts in Oklahoma and threatening to do so in Kentucky, right on the heels of a similar labor protest movement in West Virginia. Educators are fed up in many red states that slashed taxes and budgets following the Great Recession and failed to raise new revenues in response to the economic recovery. Republicans, unsurprisingly, oppose this surge of worker activism and have landed on a familiar strategy and talking point: Pitting striking teachers against their students.
“I think about the kids,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Dallas Morning News when asked about the Oklahoma walkout. “I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, tried a similar tactic, suggesting that real teachers “want to teach their children” and that the teachers union was somehow opposed to that goal.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, another Republican, has characterized the teachers as greedy and childish, saying their behavior is like that of “a teenager wanting a better car.”
“That’s a very classic talking point,” said Jon Shelton, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of “Teacher Strike! Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order.” “That’s wrong, of course. Teachers by and large go into it because it’s a calling. They do this because they care about kids and want what’s best for them.”
“Kids don’t benefit from teachers who are overworked and tired because they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet,” said Joseph Slater, a professor at University of Toledo College of Law who specializes in labor law. “Nor do kids benefit…