Kris an’ Murphy: Teach Your Children? Well …

Tea Chair needs an appleK: “Is it after 5 yet, Murphy?”

M: “It is someplace, Kris. Shall we?”

K: “The usual table, on the patio overlooking the fountain?”

M: “I think by now the staff know enough to hold it for us.”

K: “As indeed they have. Phew! One less hassle.”

M: “Tough day already? Classes haven’t even started yet.”

K: “Never mind me. The public schools started last Monday. It’s hardly been a week and already my wife’s at her wit’s end. All the chaos, all the whining and sniping and temper tantrums, all the work not getting done. And then there’s the kids. I swear, I don’t know why all the teachers in the country don’t just walk out.”

M: “Because they like to eat?

K: “With what they make, you think they’re eating now? Especially when you factor in the cost of the college degrees they had to get to become teachers.”

M: “Careful there, Kris. You know at least as well as I do what those college degrees are worth.”

K: “Yeah. A cool 100 grand, maybe more, and a job flipping hamburgers at the end. Which might actually pay more than teaching. Did you know that, in this school district, teacher pay is lagging about $5K a year below the rate of inflation over the past 15 years?”

M: “Yes. Just like the pay of just about every other class of wage-earner in America. Teachers won’t get any sympathy from the jokers who are sweating bullets every day to avoid getting fired and pay their rents and taxes. To a guy who might get a week off a year if he’s lucky (any more time off means he’s not getting paid and is going hungry, and we won’t talk about the bill collectors), those three months paid vacation look pretty damned good.”

K: “Three months paid vacation might cover the 18-hour days teachers put in during the school year!”

M: “But those extra hours are invisible, Kris. All Joe Construction sees is Teacher sitting back in July and August while he’s digging foundations in 100 degree heat. Meanwhile, school costs are sending his property taxes through the roof, and his son still can’t read.”

K: “Maybe if Sonny spent more of his time reading instead of playing games on his cell …”

M: “And maybe if teachers were actually smart enough to figure out ways to get him to read …”

K: “And how do you propose that teachers accomplish that figuring, when practically everything they try brings parents down on their heads for actually making their poor darlings work? I tell you, between the bureaucrats beating on teachers because their standards are too low, and the parents beating on teachers because their standards are too high, and the regulators beating on teachers because, whatever their standards are, they only have about three tools available to teach to those standards, because anything else either pisses off the accountants or the lawyers, I don’t understand how come there are any teachers at all!

M: “Because they love kids …?”

K:Damn you, Murphy …!!”

M: “OK, OK, sorry Kris, they like kids. You do get, don’t you, that this country was built on people volunteering their time? Place wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for people willing to work for less than they’re worth.”

K: “So you’re going to let a few wahoos willing to work for peanuts because they can afford to – like they’ve got other money coming in, an inheritance, a spouse with a real job, something – set the pay scale for everyone else? And then you’re going to assume that the people who are dumb enough to accept this economic extortion are going to be genius enough to cram knowledge into a pack of cranky children using chewing gum and baling wire, and with the entire community working against them?!?”

M: “Seems to be working. The schools keep cranking out teachers.”

K: “Who last on average maybe five years before they flame out.”

M: “And they storm the gates of whatever school district is actually hiring.”

K: “Right. And the day they get handed out uniforms of unbleached muslin as their only pay for their trouble is just around the corner, unless they act! And I don’t see any action that will work except a general strike!

M: “Led by the drama teachers, I assume. OK, let’s do it your way. I assume your demands are better pay …”

K: “Doubling teacher salaries might possibly bring compensation level with, say, teachers in Europe, and perhaps be enough to attract some of the best and brightest you seem to think they all should be.”

M: “… and working conditions.”

K: “Getting the bureaucratic and parental monkeys off their backs.”

M: “So you’re bound and determined to ensure that only the wealthy in this country will have access to education for their kids.”

K: “You mean that isn’t already happening, with most of them sending their kids to private schools?”

M: “In which the teachers make way less than their public-school counterparts? It will just happen faster. Your strike demands have just priced public schools out of the market for most school districts, especially the economically-stressed ones.”

K: “They can rearrange their budgets …”

M: “Not. No one else at the trough is taking cuts either. Nor are people going to stand for higher taxes, they’re already too high at all levels of government. Or people are convinced that they are, which is all that really matters. Your strike will simply fold lots of local school districts, and make the rest your enemies permanently.”

K: “Well, then, spread the load. Nationalize the school districts and give each one equal resources.”

M: “Like in Hawaii? Where all the public schools have sunk to their lowest common denominator, the bureaucracy is stifling and terminally corrupt, and everybody who is anybody – just ask any employer who’s offering work above minimum wage – has fled to the private schools? Including our current President? No sale.”

K: “You’re so encouraging. How do you propose to get this situation fixed?”

M: “I don’t. To get it fixed, people first have to learn about the problem. You realize, of course, that most people reading this conversation gave up on it about 100 lines ago, because it’s got too much text? They weren’t going to bother to read 50 lines about the Syria situation, they aren’t going to bother to read about the teaching situation either, especially since most of them have a soundbite in their minds that ‘is all they need to know’ about it.

“Then they have to do something. That means either everybody agrees on a course of action, or everybody fights until somebody ‘wins’. You’re not likely to win agreement if everybody’s fighting under their own ‘soundbite banner’, and nobody’s willing to take the time to find out about, never mind resolve, all the issues. And with all sides about evenly matched, once the shooting starts, it’s going to last a really long time. Like the 15-year civil war they’re forecasting for Syria. Like the twenty-year civil war they’ve had in Lebanon. Like the fifteen years of chaos in France after their revolution in 1789, and then they won Napoleon. I don’t see your teachers winning in any of those scenarios.”

K: “So there’s nothing we can do.”

M: “Sure there is. Your glass is empty …”

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