My son asked me today on the ride home from his after school jazz band practice if it ever bothered me that persons with less education than I had made more money–a lot more money–than I did. “That’s an easy one,” I told him. “No. Because how much money someone makes has nothing to do with their value in this world.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what does bother me,” I said. “When I was your age, and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, there was an unwritten, unspoken agreement…a sort of ‘social contract’ if you will. And that agreement was that if you chose to be a teacher, in exchange for earning a huge salary, you would get a wage that kept pace with increases in the cost of living, decent health care coverage and retirement benefits, and some form of job security.”
“Sounds reasonable,” my son said.
“It was…until about 10-12 years ago, when conservatives started tearing apart this social contract. Today in Michigan, teachers no longer have tenure, and the due process job security rights it provided, our health insurance costs have gone through the roof, the teacher pension fund has been raided–several times–by the governor, with more attacks on teacher pensions on the horizon, and many teachers haven’t seen a raise in 6 years or more.”
“That’s not fair!”
“No, it’s not. And while some folks will say that these changes are no different than those that have impacted other professions, and sectors of the population, there was never a negotiation with teachers on any of these ‘changes.’ It wasn’t like Republicans came to teachers unions and said, ‘In exchange for giving up your right to tenure, your salaries will increase by 10 percent over the next 5 years,’ or school boards said ‘If you pay more of your health care costs, we will work with insurance companies to keep premiums and co-pays at their current rates, and keep the increases in payments to a minimum.'”
“Is that why you and mom are so mad about all of this stuff?”
“It’s why a lot of teachers are upset about these changes. Because we teachers tend to be rule followers…and the rules of this ‘game’ have been changed, unilaterally. And at the same time, a very small group of persons–investment bankers, hedge fund managers, insurance and pharmaceutical company CEOs–have become incredibly, unbelievably wealthy, while the rest of us have been stuck…or worse.
“It’s just rubbing salt in the wound that the careers we have chosen are all about helping to improve the ‘greater good.’ It’s not like teachers were expecting to get rich some day–we’re not. But we did expect that if we worked hard, and held up our part of the social contract, we would be treated fairly.”
“And you’re not?”
“No. Teachers are being treated with disrespect by lots of people, including many of our elected leaders. And there is so little value placed on education nowadays that a person who never went to public school, or sent her kids to a public school, or even taught, has now been confirmed as Secretary of Education.”
“So why not just quit?”
“Well, we’re not quitters. And the work we do as teachers is too important. And now, finally, more persons are realizing that this ‘social contract’ is pretty important, and things like vouchers, and school choice, and privatizing schools are just really bad ideas. So it’s not time to quit; it’s time to fight.”
“Cool. What’s for dinner?”