“Socialist teachers unions!” A mythical man at the coffee shop grumbled to himself last week. “Suing the government over student loans. Teachers should consider themselves lucky to have loans to pay back and lucky to have jobs!”
He teetered off-balance, and turned toward me. “Those who can’t do, teach!”
The man who flippantly expressed this inaccurate belief looked like he was heading to work. He also looked like he worked hard his whole life—with his hands, his back and his head, to make ends meet and carve out a life for himself. A respectable man.
He concluded, “They’re socialists and don’t even know it.”
My filters don’t kick in until after my coffee.
“Kind of like anyone serving in the military, right?” I asked. “Neither teaching nor military service are entrepreneurial adventures in the free market because both occupations are dependent on the thievery of taxation. Teachers and staff sergeants suck money from the real movers and shakers of the economy, free enterprise guys like you who work for a living.”
The man picked up his coffee and sneered, “What do you know?”
“I know our president issued an executive order forgiving student loan debt of permanently disabled veterans. I support him on that. Why not forgive student debt of all veterans?
The man teetered again, raised his coffee cup and toasted himself as if he won a great victory.
“And,” I continued. “While he’s in such a forgiving mood, why not forgive student loan debt of all teachers that stay in the field more than five years?”
The man looked at the white hair pulled back behind my head and said two words, “Ponytail socialist.”
“Ponytail socialist” sounds cool, but “unintentional socialist” seems to capture the spirit of Labor Day and describes many Americans. The United States is the land of the unintentional socialist. We rail against evils of socialism while we benefit from its programs. Teachers, police, municipal employees and other occupations have benefited from collective bargaining agreements negotiated by “socialist” unions, and all are being paid at least in part by taxes of entrepreneurs, stockbrokers and bankers. We undoubtedly benefit from a reasonably free market, but anyone who has participated in public education, received unemployment or disability, Social Security, Medicare, used public utilities, or has taken public transportation has benefited from socialist programs also.
We seem to do better when socialist and capitalist voices are blended in harmony.
Our upcoming three-day weekend celebrates the hard-fought social and economic progress achieved by the vibrant so-called socialist labor movement of earlier eras. Union membership peaked in 1945 when a third of Americans were in unions. Unions were considered a vital part of the democratic process and capitalist economy. As of 2017, only 10% of Americans are in unions, as unions are demonized unnecessary, evil and socialist.
As we head into Labor Day—and a new school year—it seems fitting the American Federation of Teachers should file suit against Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education for mismanaging loan forgiveness programs for teachers. U.S. teachers rank somewhere in the middle of the pack for earnings globally. Yet, it’s unclear whether the statistics include the staggering amount of student debt of most college graduates, or the skyrocketing costs of the American for-profit healthcare system. Most everyone wants their first-grader to be taught by a healthy, highly skilled teacher—perhaps an inspiring classroom presence with a newly minted Chapel Hill or Duke degree. One-year tuition at Duke is $55,000 and the average New Hanover County teacher salary is $35,000. It seems out of balance, but it’s not going to change if every teacher negotiates his or her own salary and incentives.
On paper teachers do earn more straight salary than early career-enlisted military. Our military also earn housing allowances, lifetime health insurance, and years of post-military educational funding. We rightfully honor the public service of our military and are willing to put at least a little bit of money behind “thank you for your service.” (We should probably do more.) Still, why do we continue to dismiss the service of many other public service professions, including teachers?
I grabbed my coffee, clicked on classic rock in time to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young conclude at Woodstock, “Teach your children well.”
Such well-balanced harmonies.