02/21/2012 03:16 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2012

On Reproductive Rights and the Over-Regulation of Teachers

I've made a few comparisons between other occupations and teaching to highlight some of the ridiculous rules and regulations imposed on educators as a result of both No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now Race to the Top (RT3). I wondered what would happen if physicians suffered the same condescension as teachers (a follow-up to which you can find here). More recently, I compared the assault on climate scientists with the distrust of experts on education within the whole education policy conversation.

I'm about to make another parallel: certain powers seek to regulate and monitor classrooms as they currently do women's uteruses. There, I said it. The current struggle for reproductive rights, and the giant cultural leap backwards we are about to take, effectively mirrors the smothering paternal surveillance of teachers and their work. Let me explain.

History tells us that teaching and working with children has not been a chosen profession for a lot of men. Currently, only one out of every four K-12 teachers are men and the ratio drops to only one in 10 at the elementary level. The typical reasons have been low status of the profession, low salary relative to other careers available to men, gender stereotypes, and fear of child abuse accusations. To put it simply, working with kids is not seen as a very manly thing to do.

Men, however, typically dominate the bodies that control what teachers do, such as legislatures, departments of education, school boards, administrative posts, policy-making organizations, and analysts at think tanks. The recent paragon of no-nonsense education reform is the wealthy privateer, perhaps a software billionaire or hedge-fund manager. Be honest, can you think of any philanthropist of education that isn't a man? I can't.

A profession dominated by women and populated by children is perfect for paternal powers to exercise their lust for control, surveillance, punishment, and public humiliation, all in the name of the generic umbrella "reform." This is why Secretary Duncan's new grant competition RESPECT, which aims to boost teacher preparation and quality, is an embarrassment of Biblical proportions. Greater flexibility through accountability, progress through constant measurement, and collaboration via competition are oxymoronic principles that will continue to undermine the professional status of individual teachers.

Despite public lamentations, both the attacks on reproductive rights and the over-regulation of teachers are permissible and persistent. The school classroom has often been referred to as an extension of the home, a realm of the more feminine and domestic private sphere. Invasions of this space are continuous, as are the constant intrusion into the most private of private spaces belonging to women. I'd say that the current brand of education reform and recent restrictions on reproductive rights are par for course in the United States, perpetrated by almost the same people. That is, persons in powerful positions that love meddling in the affairs of others, particularly women.