Opinion

NJ Teacher: Scapegoating Teacher Unions Could Lead to Unimaginable Violence

Susan Poage is a New Jersey teacher who resides in Berkeley Heights.

Mike Pompeo, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and secretary of state under Donald Trump, is attacking teachers and teachers’ unions. This is a move from the playbook of dictators: Find a scapegoat, and rally hatred around that scapegoat.

Scapegoating is part of the “Pyramid of Hate,” as defined by the Anti-Defamation League. It should be considered an act of bias.

Calling Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, the “most dangerous” threat to our country (allegedly because of what’s being taught in public schools) is laughable — but not funny. We have seen it happen before.

Think about how quickly acts of unimaginable violence start with acts of bias. The Rev. Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First They Came,” about indifference to Nazi victims, includes these words:

First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. … Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

As a Jewish person, I don’t invoke the horrors of the Holocaust lightly. But our country’s slide towards authoritarianism, punctuated by bursts of violence against those deemed “the enemy,” is terrifyingly familiar. To cite a few examples: legislators refusing to accept election results; the physical attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; threats to the LGBTQ+ community.

I am at teacher, and any attack on teachers and teachers’ unions cannot be waived off as insignificant. We must all speak up. Teachers are the cornerstone of our democracy. Public schools are where children are taught to be citizens of a global community. Public schools are where students can see a reflection of themselves and a window to a bigger world. Public schools teach our country’s history based on facts, even when that is an uncomfortable narrative.

Stand up and speak out for our public schools and our public school teachers.

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