Overview:

K-12 teachers and college professors are under threat from conservatives, putting the future of education in red states in doubt.

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A new national poll show teachers’ job satisfaction at an all-time low, ith more than half of teachers polled saying they wouldn’t advise their younger selves to take up a career in education.

In addition to unprecedented strain from the pandemic, the last few years have been marked with book bans, calls for cameras in classrooms to monitor teachers, censorship, and political firings—all rooted in conservative culture warfare. Contentious school board meetings with parents screaming about critical race theory and gender norms have become a regular occurrence around the country

The vagueness of the new anti-critical race theory laws around the country has many teachers walking on eggshells. “We asked for clarification from the state, from the union, from school lawyers. The universal response is no one’s really sure,” said Jen Given, a 10th-grade history teacher at Hollis Brookline High School in Hollis, New Hampshire. “It led us to be exceptionally cautious because we don’t want to risk our livelihoods when we’re not sure what the rules are.” 

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill eliminating the standard practice of tenure for college professors

Teachers at K-12 schools aren’t the only educators feeling like they are under threat. Colleges and universities in Republican states are also coming under fire. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that eliminated the standard practice of tenure for college professors. Tenure historically allowed professors to conduct research and give talks without fear of being fired for their political views. The new Florida law requires that all tenured college professors go before the university board every five years for review. 

“Tenure was there to protect people so that they could do ideas that may cause them to lose their job or whatever, academic freedom — I don’t know that’s really the role it plays, quite frankly, anymore,” DeSantis said. “I think what tenure does, if anything, it’s created more of an intellectual orthodoxy. For people that have dissenting views, it becomes harder for them to be tenured in the first place and then, once you’re tenured, your productivity really declines, particularly in certain disciplines.”

The conservative argument is fairly clear. Professors in red states teaching about racial justice, gender and sexuality, and other topics that conservatives oppose risk losing tenure along with the scholarly and economic security it provides. The net result could be fewer talented academics teaching in red states, which is likely one of the goals of the conservative movement. 

When conservatives attack educators, students lose. When experienced K-12 teachers and college professors decide to leave the profession, students lose the ability to learn from talented scholars and leaders who can expand their horizons and change lives. Young minds can be short-changed. But it seems as if conservative leaders are now more focused on winning elections by enforcing cultural norms and conservative ideology than improving the environment for educators and their students.

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.