Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Teacher Pay

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader analyzes Sioux Falls teacher pay and the Madville Times adds to the analysis. The Argus quotes Kim Maass, a 16 year educator, who claims she is "usually optimistic each year that the Legislature will do something significant for teacher salaries," but "[s]ometimes, I'm disappointed."

Kim is a better human being than I am, but I'm never disappointed by the legislature. Of course, I'm never optimistic about getting a raise either.

In fact, I firmly believe that the legislature doesn't want to raise teacher pay at all. The most vocal of their constituents believe teachers work 8:15 to 3:30 Monday to Friday for only 9 months a year. These constituents will admit that teachers need a college education so they probably need to be paid more than minimum wage, but not too much. These views fit with the whole "we don't need no stinkin' taxes" outlook that goes with the "just the facts" and "we work hard and don't need no foo-fooey frillies around here, so why don't you just shut up" mind-set that permeates South Dakota.

A quick view of the Argus comments section gives several examples.

There's the direct statement with the implied "Shut up!": "Thats alot of money for someone that only works 9 months out of the year."

Then there's a basic analytic statement combined with the implied "Shut up!": "Compare the teacher's salary to the rest of the state. I wish I could make what they do."

Of course there's the more advanced analytical statement with the polite "Shut up!": "teacher turnover is also non-existent, meaning that teachers are paid good enough to stay at their job for a very long time. quit your complaining, you make much more than a "living wage."

Then there's the "I'm sick of you" with the implied "Shut up!": "I keep coming back to (1) if teachers think they're underpaid, then do something else,. . . ."

But I'm most impressed with the "It's you're fault" with a direct "Shut up!!" combined with I know you never will" and an implied "you greedy morons" classic: "When you go to college and choose a profession you generally know what you are getting into. Teachers have to know that their pay is going to be sub-par when they choose their profession. Do they magically think it is going to change once they are teaching? How much money is enough to shut you up? No matter what job you’re in you’re always going to demand more."

In the past, I've felt guilty about telling some of my best students not to teach. After looking at these comments, I am pretty sure that none of South Dakota's best and brightest need the scorn that comes with the teaching profession.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Of Harry Potter and Stereotypes

It's fairly obvious that Harry Potter, Ron. Hermione, Malfoy, Voldemort and the entirety of Hogwarts are open to interpretations that are in the eye of the beholder. Harry is or is not Jesus. Dolores Umbridge is an example of the worst elements of No Child Left Behind, and of course the whole series is emblematic of a racist society.

There is one stereotype that I wish Harry Potter would foster: the secondary school teacher as public intellectual. In Potterworld, Dumbledore is a leading public intellectual. He's taken seriously by a government ministry and has been asked to head a key department. I can't think of any teacher who would be treated like Dumbledore. (Rod Paige--the Harriet Meyers of education--doesn't count.) I don't know any teacher who will get a 900 page hit piece written about him/her. It's not just Dumbledore; Professor McGonegal also has earned a certain level of public acclaim.

Teachers are supposed to do many things and the list is getting longer, but apparently being an intellectual isn't one of the tasks. Maybe, it's teachers' fault. We allow people who claim that they work harder in the summer than they do during the school year to keep teaching. We allow people who confuse pushing play on a video player with actual teaching to keep their jobs. Still, it would be refreshing to see some of the bright talented people in the profession to be recognized for their intellectual gifts.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why Being an English Teacher Is Scary: An Introductory Rough Draft

First, it's always scary to be an English teacher and blog. One always rushes and dozens of embarrassing errors will be made and caught.

More importantly, it's getting tougher to deal with the belligerence behind the question "When will I need this junk?"

In a round-about way, that's the question that some of the folks on The American Scene are dealing with when they hashing over a couple of David Brooks NYT column here and here and here. (This primer on the Pew Categories might be helpful.)

While Reihan Salam seems to support the Upbeats' notions, Daniel Larison and James Poulos are more skeptical. Larison proudly describes himself as a "Downbeat," and Poulos writes,

Money, of course, ties it all together, and if someone or some group of people is unwilling to turn some possession of theirs over to money, or strongly prejudiced against doing so, Upbeat Warning Signals flash. It isn't that Upbeats care nothing, as a matter of public record, for tradition or the beautiful or their own children. Some Upbeats are the fiercest protectors of these things, . . . . But Upbeats reject protectionism and parochialism as a rule, because they see unnatural and often irrational impediments to market meritocracy. Upbeats do not like the idea that money is not really what life is all about -- not so much because they believe that it is, but because they believe that a good person who works hard to make as much money as they are able is therefore able to acquire the ingredients of the good life. . . . But the most upbeat ideal of the Upbeat is that any uprooted individual, an enterprising social atom with the right attitude and a few ethics in his or her pocket, can earn, on the open market, the pride and the money that comes with the right kind of brains.

This description of the Upbeats dovetails nicely with Wendell Berry's description of higher education. Berry asserts,

. . . the great and the would-be-great “research universities”. . . . no longer make even the pretense of preparing their students for responsible membership in a family, a community, or a polity. They have repudiated their old obligation to pass on to students at least something of their cultural inheritance. The ideal graduate no longer is to have a mind well-equipped to serve others, or to judge competently the purposes for which it may be used. Now, according to those institutions of the “cutting edge,” the purpose of education is unabashedly utilitarian. Their interest is almost exclusively centered in the technical courses called, with typical ostentation of corporate jargon, STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The American civilization so ardently promoted by these institutions is to be a civilization entirely determined by technology, and not encumbered by any thought of what is good or worthy or neighborly or humane.

Berry's critique holds true for secondary education as well, and that fact brings about a few rather frightening thoughts. First, the humanities classes will soon become extinct. After all, knowing Shakespeare won't teach some high school grad to read a tech manual. Second, the Upbeat or materialistic mindset will continue prevail because Upbeats control the linguistic levers to extend their reach. Upbeats seem to be practitioners of framing that would do George Lakoff or even Frank Luntz proud. Poulos writes,

Opt out, and you are a protectionist, one of the fearful; opt out deliberately, as a matter of policy, and you are probably a fearmonger, too. Those with contempt for the trivial glory of worldly materialism, or disdain for consistent, hard work on behalf of not particularly desperate strangers, or an overpowering interest in their own families -- all have the onus of learning to live with, and finally live in, the world continually created and expanded and recreated by the Upbeats.

Somehow, it's tough to feel upbeat about the future if I'm supposed to turn every student into a tool that exists only to make others money.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Two Simple Questions

Michael Vick is rightly being vilified for his alleged role in dog fighting. If convicted, he deserves swift and full punishment. I wonder what the people who support torture at Guantanamo Bay or outsourcing torture to other countries think about Vick and dog fighting. They don't seem to care about cruelty to humans. Do they care about his alleged cruelty to dogs? If they are shocked and sickened by dog fighting, why do they condone aggressively mistreating another human being?