For over two weeks now I have been reading about the unprecedented peaceful protests in Wisconsin over their governor's efforts to bust public employee unions, particularly teacher unions, and to cut teacher compensation. What I find most distressing about this is that to achieve the goal of busting public employee unions in states across the U.S., nationwide there has been in the media the demonization of teachers as lazy, incompetent, greedy, overpaid thugs. I remember Mrs. Hale from 4rd grade and she was none of these – neither were Mrs. Jones, Mr. Baker, and so many other teachers I had, whose names slip my mind. Now granted, at the time I thought some of them were mean for always assigning lots of homework, but how many kids prefer homework to playing?
For a multitude of complicated reasons that I won't go into I moved very often growing up and as a result went to many schools. I'd estimated that I attended over a dozen different schools from kindergarten through college and as a result I've had too many teachers to count. What I remember from the blur of childhood is how kind, caring, and dedicated the vast majority of these teachers were. What I also remember were the simple well worn cars that so many of my teachers drove. Very often the teacher's parking lot could have passed for one of those bad credit used car lots we have all seen.
Growing up I attended all kinds of schools, both public and private, in so many parts of this country. I even attended Little Wound School in Kyle South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which still stands out as one of my favorite schools. From all of the schools I attended and all the teachers who taught me, I can safely say that teachers don't teach for the money. They teach because they love children and want to dedicate their lives towards helping build a brighter, better educated future.
I am not in a union, never have been and probably never will be; rather I am self employed. Like so many American's, my family struggles to stay in the middle class. I pay self-employment taxes, state and federal income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and I probably pay taxes on my taxes. Guess what, I don't mind paying my taxes because I want the things those taxes pay for. I want well trained and dedicated fire fighters and police officers protecting my town. I want good roads that get plowed after every Maine snow. I want environmental laws and regulations that are enforced to protect the water I drink and the air I breathe. If a disaster strikes my community, I want to know there will be someone there to help us recover. Most importantly, even though I do not have kids, I want the children in my community to get the best possible education.
Quite simply, I want quality dedicated public employees. Yet if we keep denigrating working in the public sector and cutting their benefits, we will not attract and retain the talent we need to provide the services we want. I've never known a wealthy teacher, fire fighter or police officer. I've never seen a teacher driven to work by their own chauffeur. It wasn't public employees who made the credit default swaps and other financial schemes that caused our financial crisis. Public employees are our friends and neighbors; they face the same struggles the rest of the ever shrinking Middle Class face. We need to stand up for our neighbors and their right to collectively bargain and we need to stand up against the corporate greed and tax dodging that got us into the current economic mess. Fire fighters and police officers protect what we have, public works employees maintain our infrastructure, and teachers are an investment in our future.