Class Hatred in the Sunday Independent: Emer O’Kelly’s Polemic Against Teachers

In an vitriolic anti-teacher polemic today in the Sunday Independent Emer O’Kelly lets loose on who see deems the ‘untouchables’; that is secondary school teachers, and specifically those belonging to the ASTI trade union, however it is quite clear that her thoughts spread across the entire teaching profession. The immediate crime of ASTI members is voting against the latest tranche of austerity measures. This  O’Kelly deems as ‘idiotic, selfish and disruptive’. She goes onto the usual trope of the long suffering ‘private sector worker’ as compared to their public sector counterparts. Of course such solidarity with private sector workers only goes as far as to demand the lessening of conditions and pay for their public sector counterparts, neither O’Kelly nor pretty much the entire media establishment have ever shown as much of an ounce of solidarity to private sector workers when on strike or facing unemployment.

But her main point of argument is to demand that secondary school teachers (and one would imagine the entire profession) should have any rights to permanent work revoked, as she puts it:

…we can cheer loudly at the suggestion by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, that ASTI members may face the possibility of compulsory redundancy

Notwithstanding the fact that O’Kelly’s assertion is in itself mistaken; most teachers spend years on temporary contract, sometimes up to a decade before the elusive permanent contract appears – permanent contracts are also steadily being eroded in third level education, being replaced by precarious short-term contracts, and indeed at primary level Jobbridge has appeared, bringing the teacher’s salary down to a mere €50 top-up to their social welfare entitlements.

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She gives a number of other reasons  for demanding a higher turnover of teaching staff, her  main argumentbeing the high level of adult illiteracy in Ireland.

…we can point it out when we recall the horrifying figure for adult illiteracy in this country, as certified by the OECD. Nearly one fifth of Irish adults are functionally illiterate, having gone through our self-satisfied, self-glorifying education system. Functional illiteracy means that they are unable to read the instructions on a packet of medication, or the destination on a bus. And the people responsible for this are protected from being made redundant

Now this is interesting as she puts all blame for issues of illiteracy on teaching staff; not a word on social exclusion nor unequal resource distribution favouring more affluent areas nor the numerous political, economic and social issues involved, and she certainly has nothing to say about the class issues involved. This view of blaming the teacher does not stand up as research has shown the major cause of poor literacy outcomes is from early exit from school,  and not as O’Kelly puts it from teacher performance; as the National Adult Literacy Agency puts it: .

..early school leavers, older adults, non-English speakers and unemployed people are most at risk of having literacy difficulties. In addition, the people with the lowest skills are least likely to take part in adult education.

and

 In Ireland nearly 30% of the workforce has only Junior Certificate or less, while 10% has only primary level or no formal qualifications at all.

The other major reasons cited by the agency are:

…physical or psychological reasons such as poor hearing, vision or problems with speech specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia that were not diagnosed. Being part of a large class and not having specific needs catered for. Poverty and lack of access to educational resources. No free secondary education until 1967

Again as with private sector workers, O’Kelly’s solidarity with the those with literacy problems doesn’t go as far as to question either educational resources or the class inequalities laying at the base of much of these issues. O’Kelly’s solution is to make teaching a more precarious profession, something unlikely to have any positive effect on literacy levels as the aforementioned research has shown, teacher contracts have little or nothing to do with illiteracy. Of course if Emer O’Kelly was concerned about illiteracy  two minutes of research, even a quick Google search, would have shown all of  this. This says one of two things about O’Kelly: either she  is a particularly poor journalist whose level of research skills wouldn’t get her past a leaving cert essay; or she is simply using this as a very poor attempt to attack unionised workers.

Likewise her concern for parents, people for whom she has had little sympathy for in the past, is not credible. She states that ASTI’s very limited action of not doing work for free outside working hours is a direct  attack on parents, here she states:

On Wednesday, the ASTI members will begin industrial action by refusing to hold parent-teacher meetings outside school hours. This will cause huge disruption for most parents, and for all working parents.

Is this the same Emer O’Kelly who is opposed to both maternity leave and stay at home mothers? Here’s O’Kelly in a polemic against ‘lazy’ young mothers back in 2008:

I read an interview recently with a woman about to return to work after maternity leave. She was complaining that 12 weeks was not nearly enough. Her problem was not with the wrench of leaving her little one for eight hours a day; her complaint was that she had had a Caesarean section when giving birth, and 12 weeks was not enough time to recover from such major surgery.

With an attitude like that, I hope the woman worked in the public service: because a couple of people like her would quickly put a private-sector employer in the bankruptcy court.

The truth is, we’re all going to have to give a bit more  Sunday Independent – 29th June 2008

As she puts it, women have to get back to work from maternity leave as quickly as possible because.

There’s also the small fact of ethics: you owe it to an employer to put your back into your job rather than shmoozing your way through, spending as much time working out how to buck the system as you spend actually on the job.

The truth is, we’re all going to have to give a bit more  Sunday Independent – 29th June 2008

Now she does go on to tell us that although she has never had a C-section (or children), but she has had major surgery, after which she was back to work in two weeks. Of course if work for O’Kelly is writing un-researched and biased polemical pieces, major surgery or even children for that matter shouldn’t be too much trouble. However one might imagine that the young mother who complained may have had a real job with actual real work involved.

So we can safely conclude that O’Kelly has little care for private sector workers beyond using them as a stick to beat public sectors with, people facing problems with literacy and certainly she has little or no sympathy for parents, working or otherwise; this begs the question what is her problem with teachers? The answer to this may lie at the beginning of the polemic:

ONCE again teachers, the people to whom parents have no option but to entrust the ethical formation of their children for hours of the day, have disgraced themselves

The problem that seems to be at the root of O’Kelly’s polemic is the role of teachers in society and their position in what she deems the ethical formation of students.  As outlined above, ethics for O’Kelly means that the employer is always right, that workers owe their employers everything and should not whinge about minor issues like child care or recovering from c-sections; and workers especially should not refuse to tow the line on austerity cutbacks.  This is not the first time that O’Kelly pushed this line, back in 2010 she made similar complaints about the political motives of teachers:

 It’s hard to believe that the men and women entrusted with the educational formation of many of our citizens at second level, and all of our citizens at university level, can behave in such an unprincipled fashion. At least, it’s hard to believe of the IFUT; we’re used to the outrageously selfish impropriety of teachers at primary and secondary level. But how uneasy does it make you feel to envisage the intellectual elite of the country being taught ethics, philosophy, and particularly, politics, by people who refuse to abide by a democratic, if reluctant, vote?

‘Copper-fastened’ deal all comes down to the nuts and bolts: Sunday Independent 20 June 2010

Here is the nub of the problem: teachers and to O’Kelly’s surprise lectures are not acting in  their traditional conservative role but are in fact acting as the vanguard of resistance to state policy. This process itself maybe reflective of the proletarianisation of the teaching profession over the last number of decades. The teaching profession once a ‘respectable’ and conservative profession acting alongside the conservative curriculum has been one of the key hegemonic pillars of class rule. If teachers at all levels (even university) are becoming more proletarianised and unionised and as in the case of ASTI are acting in the vanguard of resistance; this for the well-connected O’Kelly needs to be stopped before the idea catches on.

 

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