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Blame the Teachers

Five months ago, Daily Kos published I Don’t Want to be a Teacher Any More, a diary entry by “thalli1” that received a lot of attention at the time. I managed to miss it, but was led to it it a few weeks ago thanks to a Facebook friend’s reference. If you missed it too, I recommend it as a primer on the consequences of choosing not to invest in public education. No “money quotes.” thalli1’s piece, though not long, is too densely detailed. You need to read it in full to get the proper effect.

Well, okay, I’ll quote a paragraph early on and two near the end, not because they are typical but because they focus on the issue of government cutbacks.

Things started to change in education in Oregon about ten or fifteen years ago with a number of tax measures that created huge budget cuts. I noticed programs such a band, art, and drug-abuse prevention being cut for lack of funds along with enrichment programs, swimming class, and all kinds of little things that we used to offer that could no longer be afforded. Class sizes began to grow, and my class size averages went from the low to high twenties and then eventually into the thirties.


Maybe it’s the fact that I lost a third of my retirement when they reformed our Public Employee Retirement System a few years back and now I keep reading about how they want to slash it even more because of the greedy teacher unions and how this is the main reason for the budget problems in our state.

Maybe it’s that I haven’t gotten a real raise in a really really long time, or that we had to cut eight days again this year to solve our state’s budget problems. So I’m taking a big hit again, and nobody seems to notice or care.

As I read the piece, I felt a strangely detached sense of relief, knowing that my kids are long out of school and that my university teaching career is far closer to its end than its beginning. I comforted myself with the realization that my exposure to the effects of our underfunded K-12 educational system will be limited. An outrageously narrow response, but it was my initial one.

Once I got past my focus on myself, my thoughts led me back to our president (this was weeks ago, before the debt ceiling crisis had reached its current climax) and my complete bafflement at his eagerness to cut spending in the name of compromise.

States have cut spending drastically, thanks to declining revenue, the unthinkability of increasing taxes, and the requirement of balanced budgets. (At least that’s the story here in Washington State.) State budget cuts have contributed significantly to continuing high unemployment, the resulting shortfall in demand, and an approaching second-dip recession. The race to cut the federal budget notwithstanding, federal support to states is the only way to soften the blow, as happened in the 2009 stimulus. I can’t help but believe that some federal support along this line is a must in order to deal with this country’s economic crisis. The debt is not the most urgent issue. Unemployment and lack of demand are. A return to a healthier economy and the resulting increase in tax revenues will be the biggest contribution to reducing the deficit.

I know. I’m not an economist. But many economists have said as much. I’m feeling on safe ground here. Yet, there’s Obama, smarter than the rest of us, busily appeasing the far right, who are perfectly happy to let the economy’s stall continue, or to allow the economy to collapse altogether, so they can blame him.

As for public education, it offers the one talking point on which everyone agrees: a healthy educational system is essential for the country’s future economic vitality. I suppose there’s a second point of agreement too, that first-rate public education is a prerequisite to the great American myth of equal opportunity for all. But government isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is on this.

It’s all the fault of those darn teachers. They lack the necessary skills, they get paid too much, they don’t work hard enough, their benefits are unthinkably generous. If we freeze salaries, cut benefits, increase class size, and judge job performance thoughtlessly on student scores in standardized tests, we’ll attract better ones. And decrease government spending.

Makes sense to me.

Categories: Education, Politics
  1. August 11, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    Why Blame the teachers. Why Become A Teacher? This makes you want to pull your hair out.

    Eric Bloom

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