Professions, Respect, and American Priorities

paparazzi

we love fame and glamour

I’ve been having trouble lately getting inspired to write. I’m trying to make writing more of a habit, but work and home often intervene and I usually end up just wanting to watch Criminal Minds episodes on Netflix. But yesterday I had a conversation with a student, similar to countless conversations I’ve had over the last 17 years. He mentioned wanting to be a pro basketball player or a pro football player when he grows up. I asked him what he might want to do if that didn’t happen. He said, “Probably a pro skateboarder.” It emphasized for me, not only the unrealistic expectations that some kids have for themselves (given that they think being a pro athlete is easy), but also on what we, as a society, emphasize as important, respectful, or glamorous.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a student who didn’t want to have more money as a grown-up than they have now.  In fact, many of my students want to be “rich.”  They see reality TV shows and believe that people get fame and fortune easily. They think being a professional athlete is easy because you just play a sport all day, even if you’ve never played a sport in your life.  They think they can go to a city and easily become a RAP artist or famous DJ.  They think that kind of glamour means they’ve achieved a certain status.  It’s not entirely their fault though.  They watch how professional athletes and famous people are treated like royalty and with respect, and they want that too. After seeing how certain professions are treated in the media, who would want to be a nurse, a teachera social worker, or any kind of public servant?

My daughter has thought about wanting to be a middle school language arts teacher when she grows up.  I love that she wants to enter such a noble profession, but it worries me at the same time.  American teachers don’t have the respect of the media.  We are poorly paid and told that we hardly work.  Our unions are under constant assault from corporations and union busters.  We are blamed for the ills of society.  Why would I want my daughter to do something that so many people demonize?

I saw an excellent post on Buzzfeed the other day which asked the question: “What would it be like if teachers were treated the way professional athletes are treated?”  An excellent question.  If you look at headlines and tabloids you will see where America’s priorities are, and it’s not on the education of their children.  So when my students say to me that they want to be professional athletes, what they are saying to me is that they want to be rich and respected.  It’s what Americans as a whole deem as important, and the message is not lost on the young.

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Paul Horton: Why the War on Tenure is an Attack on the Black Middle Class

This is important. I was born into white privilege, so the points in this blog post never occurred to me. This gives me even more reason to support unions and teachers.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Paul Horton continues to provide a historical context for issues of our time. In this post, he shows how the birth and growth of the black middle class was integrally related to the union movement and public sector employment.

Horton writes:

“The biggest lifeline that middle class blacks could grasp was public sector employment. The last thirty years have seen an increase in the employment of blacks in city, county, and state government. Teachers, firemen, police, water and sanitation workers make up the backbone of the black middle class today. It is not surprising, given the history cited above that blacks are very active in seeking the job protections offered by union membership.

“In fact, in a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year (“Union Members Summary”), “black workers were more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.” The average weekly earnings…

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