We pay for what we value

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By John Pawlak

Throughout our lives, there are those few special people who touch us in a way that sets them apart from all the others.

For me, it was Mr. Eberhardt, Doc Spooner and Col. Matheson.

These three helped shape my way of thinking, gave me insight on my life and the world around me and guided me toward adulthood.

I will always remember them as life mentors. All were teachers.

In the movie “Inherit the Wind,” Gene Kelly’s character is asked why he is working so hard to defend the schoolteacher indicted in the Monkey Trial. Kelly responds: “Because I know that the sunrise is an optical illusion.”

Then he flashes that million-dollar smile and says, “My teacher taught me that!”

We pay for what we value and sadly, today’s society does not value teachers.

Read Money Magazine’s “Top 50 Jobs in America,” CNN’s “35 Best Jobs in America,” Forbes “Best 40 Jobs,” College Recruiter’s “Best 50 Jobs in America.” Go ahead, pick any list and if it has the word “best” in it, it will not include the word “teacher.”

President Kennedy said: “Modern cynics and skeptics see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.”

Little has changed since that speech.

Let’s face it, society isn’t just saying that it doesn’t value teachers.

It’s yelling it.

A trillion dollars was spent on a foreign conflict fashioned to secure oil rights in the Middle East. People are ready (even eager) to spend tens of billions to build a wall along the Mexican border. Last year’s defense budget sucked away $664 billion and no one in Washington, D.C. even blinked when signing the check.

This year’s defense budget is slated at $721 billion.

Meanwhile, across the nation, educational cutbacks are the norm.

As oil companies enjoy billions of dollars in tax breaks, schools scrounge for pencils and chalk. Classrooms are crowded, teacher training is negligible, overall academic performance is dropping, student dropout rates are rising, teacher retention rates are dismal and politicians continue to preach the value of education even as fewer and fewer people can spell the word.

In Los Alamos, teachers took a pay cut last year rather than have some teachers lose their jobs. The money simply “wasn’t available” to retain both teachers and pay.

I would wager, however, that if a toilet in the administration building had a leak, the school board would spend whatever it took to fix it.

We pay for what we value.

I suppose toilets are more valued under NCLB (No Commode Left Blocked).

A friend of mine complained about the “sweet deals” enjoyed by educators. He said he was irritated when he saw “school administrators and superintendents driving around in Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Infinity and BMW vehicles while they complained about not having enough money for the kiddies.”  

Oh yeah, for sure. You can’t spit at our school without hitting a luxury car!

Now, I know that money is always hard to come by and even more so in today’s economy. But of all the possible strategies for fixing our problems, educational cutbacks are the most absurd.

The dilution of American schools has already reduced our student performance to Third World status.  

State and federal efforts to “maintain excellence in our schools” are little more than dog and pony shows. A few speeches, a handful of confetti, some photo ops with educational research teams, all followed by more educational cuts.

In 1955, U.S. historian and scholar Jacques Barzun warned: “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”

Barzun is still alive today (age 102) and I doubt he would be surprised at what’s happening in our country.

Bureaucrats rarely have the foresight to look beyond the next quarter (or even the next 15 cents).  

We pay for what we value.  

How often do you see the military having a bake sale to help pay its bills?