Rob's Soapbox - America Is Simmering
February 21st, 2011 -
AMERICA IS SIMMERING
I hate to be an “I Told you so.”
Wait a minute, no I Don’t. I told you so. I told you all of this was coming and I told you why. I even told
you why it mattered and why you should care and how it would affect you. None of that matters now,
nor will it matter as the nation burns in 2011, but it makes me feel better about myself so, once again, I
told you so.
Many years ago I made a case for the fact that school teachers were not underpaid. At the time I was
threatened, chastised and called every name in the book. The only refuting of my claim (other than
personal attacks and name calling) was to point out the importance of the work teachers do. To that I
retorted that all people can make a claim for their importance and worth and told the story of my 6th
grade class project. Almost all of us at some point did the age old exercise in which the 30 students in
the classroom were each assigned a different line of work. Then we were told that Earth was ending and
the 30 of us had to decide which 3 of the group would be sent to Mars to colonize a new species of the
human race. Every student had to make his or her case verbally in front of the class and at the end of
the hour, there would be a vote to decide who lived and who died.
The girl who had been assigned the position of “doctor,” was an easy winner. For starters, even as 6th
graders we all knew we needed a girl in order to procreate. I am sure it was no accident that my teacher,
Mr. Crane, made sure that the girls were also given arguably the most potentially important jobs of the
bunch, since we would need a doctor to keep us and our newborn babies alive. Even more obvious was
the choice of the most popular kid in the class, Sean, who had been given the job of engineering pilot.
In other words, he was the only guy that knew how to fly the rocket that would take us to Mars. Duh, of
course he has to go.
That left one spot for the remaining 28 kids. As each person made their case, others in the class were
able to rebuff and shoot down their importance. When the cop made his case, it was pointed out that
there would be no law and order problems amongst the humans and that a cop wasn’t going to fend off
aliens so he was hardly important enough. Garbage worker? No thanks, we can clean up after ourselves.
Lawyer? What, to sue the universe? The school teacher was given her fair due, but in the end, it was
determined that the adults who would start that the new society would be the first teachers. In the
end, it came down to the scientist and the profession I had been assigned. The scientist made his case,
which seemed rather obvious to me, of his importance. After all, if you’re going to live on Mars it might
be helpful to know which mushrooms are safe to eat…or whatever it is that scientists do. The vote,
however, wasn’t even close. Five kids voted for the scientist and the others voted for me…the clown.
That’s right, the clown. My case had been simple; in times of peril and stress, everyone needs to laugh
for it is the only way to remain grounded. So off we went to Mars; a female doctor, a male pilot and me
the clown. Ah, the glory of market value.
Teachers for decades in America have been whining en masse about being underpaid based on the
service they provide. When it is pointed out that America’s tests scores and academic achievements
have been falling precipitously for those same decades, we’re told that the nation that spends more
money on education than all other countries on earth combined, needs to spend more money on
education. This argument always reminds me of those employees who would ask me for a raise. When I
would demand that they tell me why they deserved a raise, they would say “if you paid me more I would
work harder.” I escorted them out of my office trying to explain the folly of their thinking, all the while
knowing that I needed to find their replacement as soon as possible.
We do not pay teachers in America because they do an important job. We pay all people in America
because of their market value. You are worth what the market will pay you; it’s that simple. If you have
a specialized skill that is expensive or hard to teach, and/or one few people are capable or willing to do,
then you are worth more. If, however, you choose to do something that millions of other people line
up to do everyday, regardless of how altruistic and important the task it, then you are not as valuable.
You are, quite literally, a dime a dozen. Ask our military service members how that works. To argue
that anyone in America does a “more important” job than someone willing to strap on a firearm and
defend our very freedom is rather laughable. Yet we pay our military but a pittance compared to most
of society. Why? That’s what the market bears.
Someone called in to that point and said “okay, what about cops, firefighters and corrections officers?
Why do we pay them so much and give them such large pensions…how can we afford that?”
“We can’t,” I said. “It is simply unsustainable to pay sheriff’s deputies an average of $85,000 per year
with full pensions after 20 years of service. We can’t do it. We don’t have the money and we never will.”
No one listened. No one cared. And now we know how right I was. The money doesn’t exist.
Last week in Wisconsin, the state began the same task that faces every state in the nation; getting out of
mountains of debt. To do so, states’ are going to have to dramatically cut back on what they spend and
the number one thing they spend on are public services like teachers, firefighters, cops….you get the
You see, there is no money tree. States and Federal governments cannot simply water the sapling in
the backyard and create more money to make everyone happy. The promises that have been made to
teachers in Wisconsin cannot be met. There is no money. And so what did these fine public servants do
in light of this horribly devastating, yet inevitable news? The teachers of Wisconsin, who have told us all
for years how much they were worth based solely on the fact that they had our children’s best interest
at hearts, walked out of school, created a 21st century lynch mob, and stormed the capitol. For days,
school has been cancelled while teachers chant, scream, yell, threaten and carry signs proclaiming the
governor to be “Hitler.” Very inspiring and respectful. What a lesson to our kids. When the going gets
tough, the tough get to vandalizing and intimidating. How New Orleans of you.
If the governor of Wisconsin has any true political will and courage, he will order the teachers back to
the classrooms or risk being terminated. If they refused, and he actually did fire them, do you know
what he would find? A long line of people willing to teach children. There is no shortage of people in
America willing to do great things, and that is why most who do, get paid in a fairly average ways; supply
and demand. America remains the greatest nation on earth because of its people; a group of individuals
constantly willing to do whatever it takes to better their nation.
Which is why the Wisconsin teachers have so badly miscalculated. Parents are furious; not at the state
for mishandling the money and promising salaries and benefits to teachers they can now not deliver,
but rather, for the promise broken by the teachers. By walking out of class, the teachers have shown
themselves to be who they really are; self-centered, selfish, narcissists who don’t truly care first for
the children. They have viewed their existence as one of martyrdom; I will toil through my 20 years of
education, hating most of it, because there is a big fat pension waiting on the other side. The moment
that pension was threatened, the truth became apparent; it isn’t, and never has been, about the kids.
How this ultimately plays out in Wisconsin is a very small chapter of a very large tome to be written
across this nation over the next many months. Nearly every state will see similar standoffs, perhaps
including other lines of work. And as more people make the decision to turn their backs on their
commitments to educate our kids, and keep our cities clean and safe, larger groups of Americans will
become fed up. We’ve all had to grow up quite a bit this decade. Most American households have
realized that the money tree they planted in the backyard never blossomed. While some cretins
among us have chosen to walk away from their homes or knowingly and willingly eschew their financial
obligations, the overwhelming majority of us have made hard choices and worked harder. Seeing people
walk away from their jobs to picket for money that doesn’t exist is not going to sit well.
The gamble of teachers is as follows; if parents see their kids not being taught (as a result of our walk
outs) they will side with us. I submit to you that age is over. If garbage workers revolted and refused
to pick up garbage, we would suddenly see their “value.” But that does not also define how we would
respond as a society. Given the choice between doubling or tripling our taxes to pay the garbage
collectors, would we choose that or would we all grab a shovel and pick up truck?
Government jobs were never what they were advertised to be. For decades I have cautioned people
against the great lie of the security of government work. Without the people in America, there is no
government, and in a nation where seemingly everyone has sacrificed financially in the last few years,
the tolerance glass has run empty. Parents will not side with teachers who fail to teach in the name of
protesting. Parents will pick up a textbook and say good riddance. America will burn this summer; if not
literally than figuratively as the nations’ mishandling of its bounty comes due. All must pay, all must
contribute and all, sadly on some level, must suffer.