Crisis in education – The shortage of teachers is a symptom of a greater challenge

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

By Julianne Malveaux

(Trice Edney Wire) — In August, you can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without reading or hearing about the teacher shortage. And it’s clear that current shortages are highly publicized and politicized, with reasons for shortages ranging from low salaries and teacher burnout, to teacher dissatisfaction, COVID and an aging teaching staff.

Some teachers talk about classroom conditions, a decline in respect for teachers, or the challenges of dealing with unruly students with little administrative support. Others are frustrated with the presence of so-called “law enforcement” officers in schools and how these officers treat black and brown students differently than others. A high-profile incident in Montgomery County, Maryland involved police officers verbally reprimanding and handcuffing a 5-year-old child. This incident is just one of hundreds where out-of-control and selfish police treat children like adults and mete out punishments, without understanding. Teachers often feel helpless in these situations. Some use them as a catalyst to leave the classroom.

The class has become increasingly tense as lawmakers try to influence the agenda. Some have banned the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal concept rarely injected into K-12 education but feared by those who also fear the truth about our nation’s flawed foundations. Other states have banned teaching about race or concepts that make students “uncomfortable.” In Colleyville, Texas, a black principal of a predominantly white high school was forced to resign over disputes over critical race theory. The school district preferred to put him on paid leave rather than deal with the truth. If a principal can be forced to resign, what about a teacher? Many teachers feel like they are walking on eggshells when teaching the true history of our country.

Education has become so politicized that some school boards are banning books because the content is considered “objectionable” by some. According to PEN America, there were at least 1,560 book bans in 2021-22. Many of these books featured characters who were people of color. The Washington Post reports that books have also been pulled from libraries because they had LGBTQ themes or dealt directly with race and racism. Who wants to teach in an environment supported by negationist conservatives who don’t want students to learn about slavery, the unequal treatment of women, or the invisibility of LGBTQ people? Addressing these issues is not political; it’s factual, but the conservative presence in school boards has made the classroom increasingly uncomfortable for many teachers.

This contributes to the teacher shortage, which The Economist magazine describes as “neither new nor national”. Indeed, for several years, each fall has seen a widely publicized shortage in some regions. There has always been a shortage of teachers in inner-city schools, with many forced to use substitute teachers when they cannot find permanent staff. This year, Texas has about a thousand vacancies. In Maryland, 5,500 teachers left the profession. Nevada schools opened Aug. 8 short of fourteen hundred teachers. The Federal Department of Education has released a factsheet detailing responses to the teacher shortage, including innovative ways to recruit and support teachers.

Absent from much of this discussion is the attack on black teachers and the extreme shortage of black teachers in many inner city school districts where most students are African American. The data on differential discipline of black students, which includes disproportionate suspensions and expulsions, reflects the cultural biases that too many white teachers bring to the classroom. The academic achievement gap is partly a function of how university hierarchies discriminate against black students and teachers.

To address the so-called teacher shortage, it is essential to consider the purpose of education and the fact that too often students are taught to follow a structure that oppresses them. Education is often a political tool to force assimilation. Consider how residential schools were often violently forced to give up their Indian and Native identities in order to access education.

There is a crisis in education, and the teacher shortage is a manifestation of the many ways teachers and students are devalued as “educators” pursue a false and demeaning narrative. If education were more reflective of reality, people would flock to classrooms instead of fleeing in frustration at being forced into a curriculum that distorts the truth.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA.

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