Friday, April 25, 2008

Buckle Up

It's a funny country we live in. The President is firmly anti-abortion, dedicated to protecting fetuses worldwide. Once the beloved children are born, to help them get on their feet, he denies them health insurance. It's too expensive. After all, we're already borrowing 3 billion a week to fight the Iraq war, which is much more important than keeping our children healthy, apparently.

Conspicuously absent from the NY Times today is the story about British teachers and other civil servants walking out today, in a one-day job action. Working people taking a stand for themselves appears to be of no consequence whatsoever to the United States of America. But the British feel differently:

"We're tired of inflation going up and our salaries not meeting that rise," said Leanne Hahn, a primary school teacher from north London, one of the several thousand who marched through the capital's streets waving placards saying "No to paycuts" and "No extra unpaid hours."

"We're struggling to get mortgages and to get onto the housing ladder. We just can't afford to live," she said.

However, Councillor Ivan Ould, chairman of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers, said children and their parents would suffer as a result of the strike.

"Children so close to their exams will lose out on invaluable study time and parents will lose out as they are forced to take unnecessary holiday to look after them," he said.

I'm always touched by the arguments about the children. Apparently they're the British government's first concern. When they grow up, and their real salaries have declined, and they can't afford the same standard of living as their parents, well, then they can go to hell, I suppose. The government will be worried about their children then. With luck they'll have learned to sit down and shut up, much as American workers do.

Here, there's little worry about strikes, or even one-day job actions by teachers, since there are so few unions. For those that somehow remain (like us), penalties for strikes can be draconian. In the United States, the concept of working people standing up for themselves is just pure evil. In fact, George Will seems to feel that teachers negotiating contracts represents the end of civilization as we know it:

After 1962, when New York City signed the nation's first collective bargaining contract with teachers, teachers began changing from members of a respected profession into just another muscular faction fighting for more government money.

It's always illuminating to be lectured to about money by prominent pundits who make many times what we do. Apparently, it sets a bad example for the multitudes when working people stand up and say they need to be paid a living wage. If such trends were to continue, perhaps everyone would demand a living wage. And that, of course, would be bad for the children. The ones we love. The ones we teach toughness by denying them health insurance.

Not only that, but what have we got to show for all this collective bargaining?

...shopworn panaceas -- larger teacher salaries, smaller class sizes -- were pursued as colleges were reduced to offering remediation to freshmen.

Well, we've got larger salaries. But we've also got a larger workload, and with energy prices having quadrupled (not to mention prices of everything else), those larger salaries lag well behind cost of living. And here in New York City, despite all the talk, we've made no progress whatsoever on class size (not that this concerns Mr. Will).

Mr. Will believes, aside from the perfidy of teachers, that families are to blame:

No reform can enable schools to cope with the 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children today born out of wedlock, which means, among many other things, a continually renewed cohort of unruly adolescent males.

It's refreshing that Mr. Will rejects "reforms." It's odd, though, that he blatantly rejects collective bargaining for working people. You'd think a better standard of living might make people's lives a little more stable, and might even result in their behavior becoming more stable as well. It's tough to live the pristine lifestyle Mr. Will might prescribe when you have mortgage payments and crushing medical bills.

It's even tougher when you can't get debt relief for catastrophic medical emergencies, the no. 1 cause of bankruptcy in these United States. In Canada, where there's a social safety net, I've seen people place locks like those on my bathroom doors right on their front doors. I don't know anyone in New York who'd do such a thing.

And as long as the likes of George Will, George Bush, or, yes, John McCain are dictating social norms in this country, you'd better get a good strong lock for your front door. Consider barring your windows as well.

You can't be too careful these days.

Thanks to reality-based educator, Greg, and Abigail
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