Teachers, preferably unarmed, are some of my favorite people. While the travesty of a government muddles along in the District of Columbia I think back on my own education and wonder what went wrong. I’m sure you knew kids who hated school; I certainly knew plenty. For whatever reason they didn’t want to be enclosed in a classroom with everyone else, learning stuff for which they could see no practical application. Reading doesn’t appeal to everyone. Memories of advanced math still send shudders down my spine. And what was the point of gym class if it wasn’t to make those of us who liked reading feel bad at that awkward stage of life when you discover your body isn’t as well-made as that of others your age? Education isn’t perfect, but it’s what we now need more than ever.
There’s no way that everyone will learn to enjoy reading. We aren’t cookie-cutter people. Thinking, as my own mathematical experiences demonstrated, can be very hard work. No one person knows everything. That’s why, at least in my day, after you reached sixth grade you started to have teachers who specialized in subjects. What I didn’t realize as a kid is how hard these modern-day saints have it. Pay scales are low. Hours are long for those dedicated to being good teachers—the brevity of the school day beliefs the amount of work done after hours. Increasingly our educators have to hold down a second job to be able to survive. The least we can do is learn in gratitude.
School shootings are so tragic because many of the victims are those who haven’t had a chance at life yet. We elect uneducated presidents and wonder what could possibly go wrong. Education, if done right, becomes a lifelong journey. The day that passes without learning something new is the day I come home and go to bed depressed. More than simple evolving, life is learning. Teachers are those who set us off on that track. The young, it is true, have more flexibility in learning. There are more options open to you before your thinking gets set in its way. I ran into seminarians who, no matter how much you’d offer, had already made up their minds. No education required. Perhaps what we need to teach at the youngest possible age is that school never ends. The formal classroom experience may cease at grade twelve, the baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral degree, but the learning goes on. And it’s a good thing, not some bizarre punishment. For that teachers, unarmed, are those to whom we should be grateful. If only we’d be willing to invest in them.
Well, the internet seems to have discovered adjunct Hell. Naturally, I’m too late to be part of the statistics, but I never rule that out as a future fate. This week I’ve seen several stories, some of them on major news network sites, shocked and indignant about the conditions under which adjunct instructors live. There’s quite a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing, but journalists and academics alike are tip-toeing around the blue whale in the room. Our society does not value education. Yes, we insist on educating children to the point of basic competency, but do we really, as a society, value that education? Ask just about any teacher. These people pour out their talent and efforts to give other people’s children the boost they need to get along in life. And many of them have to work second jobs just to make ends meet. Do we expect any less of higher education? We want it cheap and dirty with guaranteed jobs when it’s done. Universities want star faculty who publish all the time. You can’t do that when you’re busy teaching all the time. And we’ve got a glut.
The glut is PhDs. We’re cheap. More accurately, we’re broke. One of the things they don’t tell you when you apply for doctoral programs is that you are signing up to be ungainfully employed for your best earning years. Universities won’t tell you that because they need the money that graduate students bring with them, mostly in the form of student loans. News flash, America: education is not cheap! Another news flash: we are fast falling behind other cultures where teachers are respected, well paid, and even venerated. Gasp! Do such fantasy lands exist? Yes, they do.
Try a little experiment: think where you would be without your teachers. You certainly wouldn’t be reading this blog, and probably not reading at all. Your employment would likely be manual labor. Your math skills would be such that you’d be easily cheated of your wages. You would probably believe in a myth about the earth being created in six days and think that was science. When I read about the societies advancing the swiftest, America does not top the the list any more. When I learn more about those societies where the cutting edge is measured by Singapore or Beijing, I find out they highly value their teachers. They are paid well. They are respected. Here, in the US, chances are that the person teaching your kids in college makes a poverty-level salary and may be surviving by food stamps. Three quarters of our higher education teaching force consists of adjuncts. Three quarters. And these people are no slouches. They’re simply the victims of a society that doesn’t want to pay for education. Listening to administrators attempting to justify their decisions makes me squirm. How much did you say that Greg Schiano, Brady Hoke, or Bo Pelini “earn(ed)” in a year? Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Any old school will do