Scott’s Convenient Scapegoat

The 17th century social philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said that life for our uneducated, prehistoric brethren was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Sadly, that also perfectly describes my fourth-grade teacher (let’s call her “Sister D”), an inveterate neatnik who ultimately came to be convinced that I was Satan’s gay paramour because I didn’t stay inside the lines when I colored.

Needless to say, I didn’t like Sister D much. This hirsute, hectoring homunculus made my ninth year on this planet a virtual hell, and forgiveness has been slow in coming. As a result of assiduous Buddhist practice, however, the old resentments are slowly starting to fade. And as a condition of my current matrimonial status, I am no longer allowed to call Attila the Nun certain things. (“Homunculus” was apparently a glaring, long-overlooked loophole that I’m quite certain will be closed by next year’s sweeping omnibus marriage act.)

So I fully understand how a feeling of animus toward one member of a group – for instance, a group of evil, soulless harpies with preternaturally beady, coal-black eyes – can color one’s feelings toward everyone in that group.

That said, I’m still trying to get my head around the recent – and ongoing – assault on teachers that culminated in voters’ early-June ratification of Scott Walker’s anti-teacher agenda.

Needless to say, the feelings on this issue run deep on both sides, but I can’t help but think there’s a strong current of anti-education sentiment that undergirds the conservative position. And as much as I might like to get on the anti-teacher bandwagon – after all, my own experiences with at least one teacher have provided me a cavernous entry point into Walker’s camp – I just don’t understand it, and I can’t help but think this is little more than classic scapegoating at work.

To help illustrate my feelings on this issue, here’s just one description of scapegoating, from the Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology:

“Scapegoating is unfairly blaming a group for causing societal misfortunes (e.g., the Nazis blaming the Jews for Germany’s loss of World War I). Mass frustrations, such as economic, political, and social crises, can lead to severe attacks against scapegoated groups …. Early scapegoating theories invoked Freudian psychodynamics and, later, the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Both view scapegoating as displaced aggression, in which people vent frustrations on an innocent and usually weak and vulnerable victim. A recent approach, however, views scapegoating as rooted in stereotypes that exaggerate the power of successful minority groups.”

Now, while I’m sensitive to the prevailing Internet ethos that says making comparisons to Hitler or Nazis automatically disqualifies your argument, I can’t help but recognize much of the above at work in Wisconsin these days.

To me, a sane approach to drastically cutting someone’s salary in response to an economic crisis that was caused by another group entirely (i.e., banks and Wall Street speculators who acted recklessly out of greed) would be to say something like this: “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. Through no fault of yours, our state’s budget is a mess. We need to temporarily cut your salary and benefits to close this yawning gap. This is so embarrassing. But we’ll remember your sacrifice, and we honor the work you’re doing with our state’s children, our most precious resource. If we can squeeze an apology out of those Wall Street scoundrels, you better believe we’ll do it. Now let’s all get back to work to make Wisconsin as strong as possible. By the way, that sweater is at least 20 years out of date. And covered in coffee stains. Seriously.”

But what was the Republicans’ approach? Demonizing teachers as whiny, overpaid, overprivileged parasites and stripping their bargaining rights while agitating for more tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, which would have the notable side benefit of richly rewarding many of the same people who caused the economy to crash in the first place.

And if you disagreed with this agenda? Well, you were engaging in class warfare, of course.

It’s time to move on, and I have no doubt that our state’s wounds will heal. But I’ll continue to be puzzled by the contempt that was, and is, directed at our teachers, who, after all, play an indispensible role in our economy.

Bit by bit, I’m getting over my resentment toward my least favorite teacher. Hopefully, our state can one day get over its jaundiced attitude toward the rest of them.

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