Saturday, March 2, 2013
Blame it on the teachers
One of the mysteries of online publishing is that an article that I published months, or even years, ago will occasionally come to the attention of somebody someplace in the world. I’m still not quite sure how that happens, and I continue to be fascinated by the reach of the internet. To date, I’ve “traveled” to more than 100 countries, a few of which I’ve never heard of.A few days ago, I was in Fiji, which is probably the ONLY way that I’ll ever get to that little group of islands in the South Pacific.
The article that popped up the other day was originally published in December of 2011, and it was titled “What if the world were run by nine year olds?”. The subject of the story was a teacher in Virginia named John Hunter, and his story can be found at the link below:
More that a decade before I became a full time college professor in China, I worked for the Insurance School in Chicago for seven years as a part-time college level insurance teacher. As a result, I’ve long had a “soft spot” for teachers, and I recently went back to work again (part time) for the Flagstaff Unified School District.
Teaching is not an easy occupation. As Calvin and Hobbes reminded us nearly 20 years ago, teachers are often blamed for the failings of their students, if spite of their best efforts to educate them.
A recent mass email that I had received (titled “the best email of the year’) again highlighted the difficulty of being a teacher, using the pretense of an imaginary interview. In case you missed it, here’s the story:
After being interviewed by the school administration, the prospective teacher said,
“Let me see if I’ve got this right.
You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love of learning.
You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride.
You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook, and apply for a job.
You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of anti social behavior, and make sure they pass their final exams.
You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Spanish, or any other language, by letter, telephone, newsletter and report card.
You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps.
You want me to do all this, and then you tell me …
I CAN’T PRAY?”
Admittedly, the story above is a bit of a stretch - but not my much. In addition to all of the above, legislators in a number of states around the country (including Arizona) want to have teachers carry firearms, further adding to their responsibilities.
In his book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, Thomas Friedman pointed out that there are TWO main factors that led to a high standard of living in the countries of the world:
1) the degree to which the countries were “wired” (measured in megabytes per capita) and
2) the countries that have the highest percentage of high school graduates, and spent the highest amount of GDP on teachers salaries, had the highest standard of living.
That same reasoning also applies to the states in America as well. To a very large degree, the states that spent the highest amount per student (which would include investments in both computers and teacher salaries) invariably had the highest per capita income.
The chart below shows the per pupil expenditures by state, as of 2009:
how’s YOUR state doing?
The top dozen (after adjusting for regional cast differences) are as follows:
Vermont $17, 847
Alaska $16, 174
New York $15, 863
New Jersey $15,116
Rhode Island $14,567
Louisiana $12, 253
United States $11,665
Arizona is 4th from the bottom, at $8655 per student
Mississippi is 10th from the bottom, at $9708 per student
Money alone, though, isn't the entire solution. Unless we make significant structural changes in our education system, we will continue to lag far behind countries like South Korea, Finland, and Singapore.
The link below will let you compare per capita income by state:
how well off are you, really?
How does that list match up with expenditures per pupil?
Let’s take a look:
New York 7th
New Jersey 2nd
Rhode Island 16th
Connecticut tied for 1st
United States 20th
As you can see, it’s not a perfect match, but 7 of the top 12 in spending per student are also in the top 12 for per capita income, and 3 more weren‘t far behind. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on education. Unfortunately, however, there too many “right wing” governors in this country who don’t understand the difference between spending and investment. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is one of those.
In case you haven’t heard, Governor Walker is a good friend of the Koch brothers.
During his inaugural address in January of 2011, he attacked the teachers union, and in March of 2011, he signed Act 10 into law, which severely limited teachers and local workers from bargaining over health benefits, pensions, and workplace safety. Although a Dane Country judge repealed most of the provisions of the law in the fall of 2012, it remains in force for state employees. City, county, and school employees have now regained the rights that they had prior to March of 2011.
Although Governor Walker doesn’t trust teachers on bargaining rights, he DOES trust them with guns. On December 19, he said that giving guns to teachers should be “part of the discussion” on school safety. He also is of the opinion that assault weapons should NOT be banned, and he does not feel that there should be a limit on the size of magazines that can be used. As a result, it shouldn’t shock you to learn that the NRA contributed $815,000 to help Walker win his recall election last June, in large part due to his A+ rating with them.
The group also awarded Walker with the Harlon B. Carter Legislative Achievement Award in April of 2012.
Scott Walker’s attack on teachers and other state employees led to wide spread protests at the Capital in Madison, and caused 14 Democrats in the legislature to flee to Illinois in February of 2011 so that the Senate would not have a quorum to vote on the Republican plan to cut salaries, health insurance, pensions, and bargaining rights for state employees.
His actions also led to the recall campaign that occurred in the summer of 2011. Due to a huge influx of money from outside groups, Walker survived the recall campaign by a margin of 54% to 45%. Walker’s supporters spent $45.6 million to keep him in office, which dwarfed the $17.9 million spent by his opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.
What Scott Walker, and people like him, fail to understand is that teachers don’t start their careers because they want to make a lot of money. There are PLENTY of other jobs in the corporate world that would pay more for comparable years of service.
The clip below, of a soon-to-be-retired teacher in Rhode Island will tell you more about what teaching is REALLY about than any handbook that you’ve ever read about teaching:
So, Governor, you’re free to blame whoever you want for what you claim was a state operating deficit of $3.6 billion in Wisconsin.
Just don’t blame the teachers.