I don’t usually make a blog post out of “did you see what was on Jon Stewart last night,” but his show last night was so rare and important, I’ll make an exception.
The subject was Wisconsin, but Stewart boiled it down to an attack against teachers. Really this was a commentary on his favorite targets in the media, Fox News and Fox Business. But this perspective is so ingrained, the show almost looked like it came from a foreign country. Stewart showed multiple takes of news anchors appalled at the $50,000 a year base salary for teachers, plus benefits, as irresponsibly generous, and then the same anchors downplaying $250,000 a year as not actually rich, when in the context of the Bush tax cuts. He showed reporters decrying any effort to strip bonuses of bailed-out Wall Street executives as a violation of the sanctity of contracts, then the same reporters hopeful that union contracts will be torched and set ablaze.
But it was the interview segment with Diane Ravitch that was even more impressive. The typical Bill Gates/Arne Duncan perspective of privatization and union-busting is so prevalent on American television, critics like Ravitch never get an opportunity. She rightly points out that Finland, held up as a model in movies like Waiting for Superman as having the best schools in the world, have no charter schools, offer no standardized testing, and have 100% teacher’s unions. She points out that it’s poverty more than anything which is the greatest indicator of a successful classroom.
At this point, Stewart talked about how teachers have become such an inviting target, and how it angers him. Then it came out – his mother was a teacher. Mine too. The same is true for millions of people across the country. “God forbid you do the job of a teacher for a year,” Stewart said, growing a little angry. “It will blow your mind. My mother was a teacher for years, she worked in the education field, she’s still in the education field. I couldn’t be more impressed by what she did in her life. Those people have no idea. And yet that’s the conversation.” There are a lot of people with this perspective, I would argue, who see these attacks on teachers as baseless attacks on their own family. But we almost never hear from them.
I don’t think this will have the same impact as, say, the 9-11 health care show that Stewart did. But it ought to. There’s no balance in the media to the debate over education. It’s all pushed by wealthy interests who either have no clue what teachers do and therefore try to run schools like a business, or just want the profits that could be gained by for-profit charter schools. And as Diane Ravitch says, it’s a bipartisan problem. But there’s another side to the debate, and Jon Stewart presented it last night. Let’s hope the high-profile media moguls who hang on his every word were watching.