FLINT - Why are teachers even a part of the national debate on how to save money?
States everywhere are cutting because the federal government is cutting. OK, fine. Budgets need to be balanced. But why involve teachers? And why are commentators on Fox suddenly talking about how overpaid teachers are in Wisconsin if they get $50,000 in salary and $20,000 in benefits? That's not exactly a lot.
Even if it were, I've never met a good teacher who was overpaid. I think if people were paid according to their value to society, good teachers would rank in the top five along with doctors, cops, soldiers and plumbers who don't charge an arm and a leg for emergency weekend work. (Don't bother sending me snarky notes describing where smart alecky columnists would rank. You won't get an argument from me.)
Most people agree with me. Teachers are usually thought of as guiding lights, architects of dreams, imparters of wisdom, and so on. We rhapsodize about teachers more than any other segment of society other than cops, emergency workers and soldiers.
But our dollars don't match our rhetoric. I know life isn't fair and people don't always get paid what they're worth. But as a society we should either close the gap between what we say and what we do or close the gap between our upper lips and bottom lips. If teachers, cops, emergency workers and soldiers are worth so darned much to society and if everyone loves and respects them so much, then their pay ought to reflect it.
At the very least - just out of respect - we ought not run them down when budgets get tight and call them greedy for trying to hold onto what they get in pay and benefits.
You'll notice that few do that when the subject is CEOs, Wall Street bankers and such. When it comes to them, the prevailing attitude seems to be they're worth whatever they can get.
Jon Stewart, the TV pundit, noticed that curious inconsistency the other day. When the subject was banks bailed out by the government, we were told they needed to continue paying CEOs big bonuses and salaries to avoid a brain drain.
"Absolutely, we have got to pay those bailed-out firm CEOs top dollar," Stewart said. "Otherwise, those companies could wind up being run by a couple of (jerks) who (screw) things up so royally it torpedoes the entire global economy."
And when it came to tax cuts for the rich, we were told that $250,000 isn't rich at all and is in fact next to poverty for a family of four, but that teachers in Wisconsin earning $50,000 are overpaid, in part because they only work nine months of the year.
"See the difference?" Stewart said. "Regardless of the greed-based, almost slightly sociopathic job bankers did wrecking our economy, (they) were there every single day, 12 months a year. Not that nine month (baloney)!"
To be fair to Wall Street bankers, though, wrecking the economy was a big, important job. Teachers are only molding the brains of tomorrow.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.