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And they have gladly taught; Teachers have not unbalanced our budgets; Our wars have

Apr 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) April 13, 2011

Author: Samuel Hazo

Apparently it’s open season on teachers. The dogmatized, rhyming governors of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and our own Pennsylvania have made it their mission to discipline and reform the teaching profession in the name of fiscal sanity. Why?

The given reason is that state treasuries, in order to remain solvent, need the money that would normally be spent on teachers’ salaries and benefits. This is the justification that usually translates as the “bottom line” in such matters.

What’s left unsaid is that there is a top line which identifies teaching as an essential and indispensable human service performed by professionals, without which the bottom line would not exist. Such professionals are as deserving of respect and just remuneration as are doctors, dentists, judges or, for that matter, governors.

Instead, the teaching profession is berated, particularly by those who never taught and who could not win the respect of students if they did. So they dredge up the old cliches — “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” They say teachers work short hours in a 10-month year and are spoiled baby boomers.

Such critics do not need a refutation as much as they need an education. They have the same mentality as the Bush brainiacs who conceived the “No Child Left Behind” folly, in which students are not educated for self-discovery and prepared for further study but simply trained to score well on standardized tests.

Teaching, in essence, combines both the conservative and liberal aspects of learning by preserving what is valuable and eternally relevant from the past and sharing it with others in the present. In this spirit someone once rightly defined education as a period during which students are absented from the present for a time in order to learn from the past so that they can better face the present in the future.

Ideally, all students should embody the spirit of the student-clerk in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” — “and gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”

Since all teachers are in fact but older students, they should personify and perpetuate this spirit all their lives (as most good teachers do). For them, teaching is what great educator Gilbert Highet called it — an art. And the best teachers, over and above their professional qualifications, not only know what they are talking about but have the good of their students at heart. The students who benefit are forever grateful.

Listening to the patronizing remarks of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is to be left with the impression that he regards teachers as house servants whose status and rights should be determined by the head of the house, namely, himself. Surely he and his similarly motivated governor colleagues know that the war-drain on the federal government is a major reason for dried-up federal social and infrastructure assistance to the states, some of which would certainly have been ticketed for education.

They know as well that the corporations in lock-step with them (and which contributed to their campaigns) have benefited mightily from no-bid contracts that the former administration gave them to re-construct what we had destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For the full story of this collusion I refer you to Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.”) But instead of going after the war-lovers and the war-profiteers, these governors are going after, among others, teachers.

In a country that ranks 12th in college graduation and in which students rank 17th in science and 12th in math, what savants except the governors believe that reducing the salaries and benefits of teachers, enlarging class sizes and letting some teachers go would improve the situation? If this is the meaning of fiscal sanity, what is fiscal insanity?

The wars in which we have been involved since 2003 (Afghanistan and Iraq) have been widely considered illegal and unwinnable. And the ongoing costs are astronomical.

Using conservative figures, exclusive of Libya, U.S. wars now cost about $5,000 per second, $300,000 per minute, $18,000,000 per hour, $432,000,000 a day. And each year: $157,680,000,000! The total cost of eight years of war is $1,261,440,000,000. That is almost the equivalent of the deficit. And war money, let us remember, is money down the drain.

Here is a civilian parallel. The annual budget of the University of Pittsburgh, including the medical schools, is about $2 billion. That amount would fund the ongoing, feckless and illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for not quite five days!

Anyone who can add can see that the wealth of the country is being disproportionately divided and that at-home expenses are being relegated to the bottom of the barrel. If governors see that their treasuries are in trouble because the costs of federal adventurism are taking away money that should rightly have come to them, they should forthrightly place the blame where it belongs — on the president and Congress. It certainly makes no sense to impose the burden of budget-balancing on teachers, under whose tutelage the future of the country depends.

It’s been said that fighting for the rights of others is really fighting for one’s own rights since human rights are common to us all. Supporting teachers whose rights to bargain collectively for just wages and benefits have been arbitrarily jeopardized or suspended is as good a place to start as any. And the time to start is yesterday.

Memo:
Samuel Hazo is McAnulty Distinguished Professor of English emeritus at Duquesne University (samhazo1@ earthlink.net).

Copyright (c) 2011 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Record Number: 1104135734717



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