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We were having a conversation in the teachers’ room and discussing the Chicago teachers’ strike and remarking on how the politicians and the media tried to bully the Chicago teachers with all this talk about how they were harming the interest of their students by having the nerve to walk out on strike and leave the kids without school. One of the teachers in the room remarked, “I’m really tired of us teachers being made the villains, of being blamed, being vilified. I’m really, really tired of being villainized.”
I sympathize. I recognize the truth there, but I’m not sure I feel so bad about it. Maybe it’s because, like misery, villainy loves company. I mean think about it. We’re actually in fairly good company. Immigrants are being villainized. That’s a fairly sizeable group of people. And a lot of us would have a hard time finding anything to eat without them.
Black people, for centuries, have been villainized. Young people, especially African American and Latino, are really being villainized, disrespected, arrested and imprisoned in huge numbers. Native Americans have been villainized for centuries, too. During World War II Japanese Americans were villainized and incarcerated.
Then there are the public workers and unions — even people who take retirement pay. In the 1950s, teachers and writers, film makers and union activists, anyone with progressive views or sympathetic to socialist countries were villains. Back in the 1960s those who protested the Vietnam war or who became activists were villainized. Feminists have been villainized for years. So have gays and lesbians.
Looking outside this country, the Filipinos were villainized at the end of the 19th century when they refused to accept U.S. “liberation”. I can remember when the Koreans were villainized, and then the Vietnamese. The Chinese were villainized when they were socialist, and now, again, as they are capitalist and threaten U.S. hegemony in Asia, it seems like, once again, they will become the villains. The Soviets were villainized and the Russians could again earn that status. During the 1960s and 1970s people around the world who stood up against colonialism and fought in liberation struggles were villainized; guerrillas were villainized; Cuba — villainized for decades. I can remember in the 1980s when countries in Central America were villainized. Then came Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan — Muslims, Arabs and South Asians — all villainized. And what about Palestinians? They’ve got a permanent place on the villain’s list. Romney’s trying to villainize 47% of the population that are, in his world, slackers. And I wonder if teachers are on that list, too? Would that make us villains x 2?
At one time or another the label of villain has been pinned on a major part of humanity. About the only people who are not villainized are the bankers, the CEOs, the weapons makers, the drone makers, the spies, the Pentagon brass, the big politicians and, of course, the media, which they own. They are never villains because they define who has those qualities of villainy.
Given the attitude I find among a lot of teachers, the villainy is bound to grow. There’s no telling how villainous we might become.
And given the determination of the elite to knock teachers out of the way so corporate vultures can feed on the carcass of public education, it’s unlikely that we teachers are going to see any change in status for some time to come. So we might as well get used to it.
Bruce Neuburger is a public school teacher in California for 26 years.