Educators and adults who work with students have reasons beyond a paycheck for doing what they do. They connect to the work and the people in their workplace in more than a transactional way. They develop relationships and interact as their full, authentic selves. That’s the beauty and power of educators and, while under vicious attack, also their Achilles heel.
A new laser focus in the “culture wars” is aimed squarely at our schools and on our educators. Groups that are explicitly created to target, demonize and dismantle anything they don’t like — or anyone they don’t like —in our schools are popping up in every state and are connected nationwide. As reported in US News in June 2021, there are “at least 165 local and national groups that aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender.”
It is not surprising to anyone who watches carefully (and follows the money and rhetoric) to see that the ultimate agenda of this national effort is to whip up a frenzy in local towns everywhere in anticipation of the next Presidential election. Steve Bannon was quoted in his May podcast to say, “The path to save the nation is very simple — it’s going to go through the school boards.”
With social justice issues being centered in these attacks, this targeting campaign feeds into the existing polarization, frustration, fatigue, uncertainty and grief being experienced by our country. What is especially alarming is that with these attacks comes something we haven’t seen before at this scale in our school communities: vitriol, threats and real danger. Educators under attack come to question everything they thought they knew about safety, themselves and their world.
OEA members can always go to their local President or OEA Staff Consultant for support, advocacy and protection for any number of issues, but this brand of public attack can be so explosive and damaging that a more comprehensive and coordinated approach that includes the OEA statewide organization had to be developed. In addition, because of the personal and cruel nature of these attacks on our educators — who are deeply connected with their students and with the social justice curriculum they are implementing — the trauma can be brutal.
Local leaders and associations need to be supported in talking about race and social justice so they can combat the inaccurate and outrageous rhetoric being weaponized against their members. For these reasons and more, OEA has begun to build protocols and resources to raise the bar in how we support individual OEA members who have been subjected to these kinds of public attacks.
OEA wants to reduce barriers to reporting these attacks so that any member can get help when they need it. To seek support, a member can go to their local association contacts (local President or local OEA Staff Consultant) or they can email the OEA Headquarters Office at firstname.lastname@example.org (PART stands for Public Attack Response Team). If the member prefers to speak to a BIPOC staff person or leader, that can be arranged. There is a Public Attack Intake Form that is used when a report comes in, but a member can ask for an interview instead.
BECAUSE OF THE PERSONAL AND CRUEL NATURE OF THESE ATTACKS ON OUR EDUCATORS —WHO ARE DEEPLY CONNECTED WITH THEIR STUDENTS AND WITH THE SOCIAL JUSTICE CURRICULUM THEY ARE IMPLEMENTING — THE TRAUMA CAN BE BRUTAL.
The local leaders, local staff and OEA Headquarters office then coordinate and provide support that is unique to the member’s needs and wishes. There is no such thing as a standard solution package because every situation is nuanced, and everyone’s needs are different. Sometimes districts and colleagues are supportive, and other times, they are not. Sometimes there is an organizing or legal effort that can alleviate and prevent future issues and sometimes, a quieter approach is what will make the member safer. Every approach centers the OEA member who is being targeted. OEA is new to this and is learning as we go, but it is crystal clear that a trauma-informed and culturally proficient approach is called for in social justice attacks like these.
OEA’s goal for the individually targeted members is to keep them safe, employed and healed, because bringing their spirits back from this kind of trauma is what is necessary to return to the beauty and power of their work —and themselves. Aurora Levins Morales tells us, “What is required to face trauma is the ability to mourn fully and deeply, all that has been taken from us. Only through mourning everything we have lost can we discover that we have in fact survived; that our spirits are indestructible.”
OEA is very grateful to the members, leaders and staff who have already survived or are still on their survival journey after a public attack. Many of our tools and resources that we have collected to support members, leaders and staff who need them came from these “warriors” who built them mid-battle.
We have you to thank for our nimbleness and for better responses and tools to come. It is our greatest hope that as our nation and communities struggle past these divisive and destructive times, our members will once again be empowered to lead and inspire as they are meant to.