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Education Funding Opinion

What Does a “Good Wife” Do When a “Stern Father” Becomes Abusive?

By Anthony Cody — February 24, 2011 1 min read

I am going out on a limb here with some experimental thinking that was provoked by a recent commentary by a Berkeley professor of linguistics, George Lakoff. In this post, Lakoff offers a way of understanding the recent turmoil in Wisconsin, in the context of the conservative world view.

He writes:

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don't have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

In the past I have written about a sort of feminist understanding of the way teachers have been disempowered historically. We have a profession that is 80% female, working in schools where the principal is more often male, reproducing in some ways the authority structure of the home. If a student gets in trouble, off he is sent to the principal’s office for discipline - the school’s version of “just wait ‘til your father gets home!”

In this context, the teacher has become a sort of “wife.” And there is pressure on her to be a “good wife.” The “good wife” must subordinate herself to the authority of the father, and enforce the rules the father has set forth. The rules are embodied in the tests the students must pass to gain official approval, and those who rebel are pushed out of school or have diplomas withheld. And schools, teachers and principals unable to coerce students to perform are likewise punished. While some teachers have raised moral objections to the test-and-punish regime set forth by No Child Left Behind, the profession - and our unions - have largely complied with federal and state mandates.

But what happens when the stern father becomes abusive?

Lakoff was writing about the situation in Wisconsin, where teachers and other public employees are being “disciplined” by Governor Scott right now. The stern father has crossed the line and is seeking to subordinate the wives completely, by destroying their ability to even advocate for themselves through collective bargaining.

Teachers in Wisconsin are in danger of becoming “bad wives,” who defy the man of the house. To that, I say it is about time. And as long as we are pushing back, let’s go all the way, and reject our federal government’s stern father mandates in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as well. Some of us rebels are putting together a protest march in Washington, DC, this summer to Save Our Schools. Want to come?

What do you think? Are teachers too accustomed to being “good wives”? Is it time to break some dishes?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.