How 2 public servants look different in Utahns’ eyes, George Pyle writes

On one side, there’s a fear of police. On the other, a fear of knowledge.

Can you believe these people?

What people?

These people who work for the public, are paid by the taxpayers, responsible to elected officials, yet seem to feel as if they are above us all.

You said it. The job they do is important, certainly. We would never want to do without them. But the way they talk you’d think that if anyone questioned them at all, watched them at work, restrained their behavior in any way whatsoever, they suddenly would not be able to do their jobs and society would fall apart.

Right. Even in Utah, where public sector unions aren’t strong, their professional associations seem to exist to object to any increased oversight and to resent any suggestions that they take more responsibility for their actions.

We know the work they do is difficult. Dangerous, even. And those who do the job right deserve our respect and thanks. But they are way too slow to call out those among them who aren’t so good at their job and should find something else to do.

They sure don’t seem to remember who they work for and who is paying their salaries.

Yep. I get really tired of all these whiny teachers.


Yeah. Teachers. Who did you think we were talking about?

I thought we were talking about cops.

• • •

It isn’t difficult to figure out which of the characters in this dialogue is a Republican and which is a Democrat. Or, to put a more pop-culture shine on it, it might be the jocks vs. the nerds.

There’s a lot of prejudice on both sides that flows from fear — as prejudices generally do.

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists generally don’t want the police questioned or second-guessed, even as they are increasingly clamoring for teachers to be limited in what they can say, to be prohibited from talking about race or religion or the real history of our culture, even to have their classes livestreamed so suspicious parents — or unrelated busybodies — can watch.

Utah public officials including State Board of Education Member Natalie Cline and U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens are sounding the warning claxons about critical race theory, something they can neither find nor define. Not that it matters.

The latest idea — set aside for now in Utah but still under consideration in Oklahoma — is that parents should have the right to sue teachers for up to $10,000 for the sin of making their little darlings feel bad by pointing out that not everyone has the same religious beliefs or by telling the truth about the history of bigotry and violence that is woven into our nation.

School boards are also working overtime to make sure that fewer children read books like “Maus” or “The Bluest Eye” or anything that offers what literature is for: empathy, especially with Blacks, Hispanics and LGBTQ people.

At the same time, arguments from the right stand against police officers being held accountable for any violence they might do because, if they think anyone is looking over their shoulders, they might ask questions first and shoot later. And if that happens, bad guys will get away, commit more crimes, bring decent society to its knees.

The fear on the left, meanwhile, is that under-supervised police will become uniformed death squads roaming our streets, while over-supervised teachers will become pointless automatons afraid to tell the truth about history and literature, pulling our culture backwards.

Some may argue that, if polices officers are on video, why aren’t teachers? But the comparison doesn’t work.

For one thing, nobody looks at police body cam footage unless something, usually something deadly, has happened. We don’t broadcast live everything officers do and see, mostly, as Sgt. Joe Friday, used to say, to protect the innocent.

But an always-on video feed of classrooms — or even a recording to be checked when some wrongdoing is alleged — can have no effect other than to inhibit discussions and sour the student-teacher relationship, to the detriment of students at least as much as teachers. Especially in today’s political environment, when everyone knows the point of such stream would be for parents and others who don’t like education anyway to play gotcha.

Seriously, if teachers were Jedi masters who could cloud your children’s minds, they’d be using that power to fill them with multiplication tables and the rules of grammar.

There are bad teachers, just as there are bad police officers, bad journalists, bad plumbers, bad doctors and bad politicians. It is mostly up to the good ones to call the bad ones out, which doesn’t happen enough.

But a bad teacher is mostly a waste of everyone’s time. A bad cop can leave someone dead on the pavement.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, had a few teachers he didn’t like, but never one he was afraid of. Maybe he just wasn’t listening.


Twitter, @debatestate