Are Teachers Underpaid?

  • Posted: December 12, 2022
  • Category: Blog
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Nearly two centuries past, one of those benighted Victorian racists, Alfred Tennyson, wrote poetry achieving a rare double, popular with the masses as well as esteemed by the better sorts. Taught in schools over those two centuries, his memorable words expressing a complex reality in a pithy phrase achieved a permanent place in our culture, an immortality of sorts.

Alas, that supposed immortality achieved by the efforts of literature teachers over generations proved mortal, swept away by the Tsunami of the Woke. The rich depth of our cultural heritage has been swept away by neurotic mask wearing children, making mud pies amid the empty cathedrals bequeathed them. Sic transit gloria mundi.

One of Longfellow’s poems, In Memoriam, lamented the death of a good friend, pondering the meaning of life in a world created by a loving God yet filled with tragedy and decay. One might call In Memoriam an Englishman’s commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes.

From that poem came the phrase – “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, a once common idiom for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. While said theory has become Holy Scripture in Adorable America, the essence of its meaning has become obscure in that same world. Perhaps this is the fate of all scripture, its truth and power falling prey to the undemanding banalities of Joel Osteen or the Disney Channel.

For it is the Disney Channel that has curated nature for us, removing the reality of “red claw and teeth” to a maintenance closet in a musty basement hall. Faced with the need for an acceptable substitute, Disney chose to replace our present nature’s reality with a perversion of that which is to come with Christ’s return – as voiced by the prophet Isaiah:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together”

Cosseted within the hives of urban apartments or comfortable suburban enclaves, our experience of nature is of a fragile flower, requiring those anointed in the Temples of Education to stand guard over her, shielding her from the evil ignorance of their less noble fellows.

But while oblivious to Nature’s true nature, the American worker would recognize the truth of Longfellow’s words if recast – “Management, red in tooth and claw”. Living within the smothering coils of the organization, the American worker recognizes the Darwinian world of business, or its more fashionable sibling, the non-profit. As the deer raises its head in alarm at the movement of reeds at the watering hole’s edge, the cube dweller anxiously rereads the email from his boss – “See me”.

There are those who prowl the corridors imagining themselves predator rather than prey, fighting their way up the corporate ladder. But most who toil are simply people with lives outside the workplace seeking to earn their daily bread and live comfortable, peaceful lives.

This great majority, powerless before the power of the organization and dependent on it for their livelihood, needs a big brother. A big brother that protects and preserves. In the parlance of Economists, Labor is always at a disadvantage to Capital.

Labor unions, in many guises and of various names, are the age old counter to the power of Money, Labor’s shield against the sword of Capital. One might think of Moses negotiating with Pharoah in the Book of Exodus, or the medieval guilds protecting the interests of weavers and stone masons from the nobility or the clergy.

Our own American history is a landscape more shaped by the roiling currents within Labor and Capital than anything else. Though originally the party of States Rights and slavery/Jim Crow, the Democratic Party has evolved into the party of the unionized “working man”, beginning with William Jennings Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech at their 1896 National Convention.

In America of the 21st Century, the Democratic Party resembles a platypus, led by an elitist aristocracy, its culture and interests those of the over-educated, but its power in the voting booth very clearly resting on the broad backs of union labor.

Once Democratic politicians hewed to the interests of unionized labor in industrial America. Men such as George Meany, Jimmy Hoffa and Walter Reuther once strode across the headlines, the leaders of working men in craft unions and confidantes of Presidents. But the day of these giants has passed. Endemic corruption, “Right to Work” laws and world trade have decimated their membership, ending their outsized influence.

But though leaders of industrial unions have faded into an uncomfortable and precarious obscurity, a new generation of labor leaders controls the teleprompters feeding words to Joe Biden et alia. Names like Randi Weingarten, Becky Pringle, Mary Kay Henry now have pride of place on the appointment calendars of Democratic politicians.

Teacher’s union delegates make up by far the largest block of delegates at any Democratic National Convention of recent times. Education interests, a euphemism for teachers’ unions, always rank near the top, nationally, state or local, when government lobbying expenditures are ranked. It would be difficult to underestimate the influence of teachers’ unions in any political arena.

The interests of union members, the “working man” whether assembly line worker or kindergarten teacher, seldom extend beyond the doors of the workplace. The interests of actual rank and file union members are overwhelmingly “local” interests. A man who would know of politics, the bete noire of 20th mid-century Republicans and long-time Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, had this to say;

“All politics is local”

“All politics is local” indeed! And make no mistake, this is the sweet spot of teachers’ unions. At the local level, teachers’ unions resemble the fabled Spartan phalanx when viewed from the mayor’s office, statehouse or Capital Hill. Armed with substantial war chests, their lobbyists and leaders, free to pursue their passions as they speak for a quiescent membership, reign supreme.

In the American model of Labor vs. Capital, the interest of Labor as represented by the unions is counterbalanced by management representing the interests of Capital. The management of schools, designed to counterbalance the teachers’ union, is the school board. The school board is there to represent the interests of taxpayers, assuring the efficient and proper management of the schools. The members of the school board are elected by the voters in the school’s area.

However, a brief inspection during any school board election notes that the overwhelming majority, the truly overwhelming majority, of elected school board members are those endorsed by, funded by and supported by doorbell ringing volunteers from the teachers’ union. It is not that the mice will play when the cat is away, the cat is in fact employed by the mice.

It is against this backdrop that we consider the circumstances of working teachers. In the same manner that 21st Century culture enshrines those worthy individuals who adopt “shelter pets”, we honor those in the teaching profession. Both those walking their “rescue dogs” in the park and those working at the local elementary school are presumed to be secular saints, irrespective of individual merit or character.

Divorced from public esteem and freed from urban mythos, the question is – “Are teachers underpaid”? With few exceptions outside of those dark corners dominated by the curmudgeonly disciples of Adam Smith or Ayn Rand, the answer from the public would have to be an overwhelming “Yes”. It is the common sense of both Adorable and Deplorable, Blue Stater and Red Stater, that teachers are in fact – underpaid!

Rather than inflame the passions of the choleric or bruise the sensibilities of the dyspeptic with a dispassionate inquiry into the equity of educators’ renumeration, the real question is – “If teachers are underpaid, how come?” Given the undisputable political power of their union, given that most school boards are filled with individuals both selected and financed by that same union, why would teachers be underpaid? Who is there to say nay to the teachers?

Having been a “band parent” as well as endlessly dunned by a long line of grandchildren and neighborhood urchins selling school sponsored merchandise with the proceeds to be used for “essential school amenities”, I have absorbed a fundamental truth of American life – “The schools need money”! Ipso facto, the answer lies in plain sight! Teachers are underpaid because the schools are starved for money. Duh!!

And yet . . . Fully aware that statistics are the tool of the devil, the garden of the grifter, they may serve to outline vague shapes in the fog of reality. In the United States during my high school years over fifty years ago, there were some 50 million children in elementary and high school with 2.2 million “instructional staff”. Today there are some 50 million children in those grades, surprisingly little change. But the “instructional staff” has doubled, to 4.2 million.

Adjusted for inflation, the salaries of the folks fifty years ago are about the same as today. However there are twice as many of them, good union members all. One suspects that the definition of “instructional staff” has undergone an evolution of sorts.

Over the years, I have often mentioned my great admiration for Robert E. Lee. Acknowledged as a tactical genius, perhaps his greatest skill was to see the battlefield through his opponent’s eyes. One might emulate him and try to see teachers’ salaries through the eyes of a union official.

If you are Randi Weingarten, head of the uber-militant American Federation of Teachers (AFT), would you rather have 2.2 million well paid members, comfortable with their place in society, or 4.2 million members of an oppressed class, supported and sympathized with by a very broad swath of the public.?

Ms. Weingarten and her confederates are not stupid people. In fact they are well versed in the truths of Darwin and “nature, red in tooth and claw”. As a self described deeply religious Jew, congregant of Beit Simchat Torah synagogue, Ms. Weingarten, as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, et alia, is another example of a common East Coast political leader, ostentatiously robed in the Judeo-Christian spiritual faith while living and acting in conscious contradiction to the tenets of that faith.

Ms. Weingarten and those like her realize that their ambitions require not conflict but cooption. The successful parasite does not kill their host, at least quickly. As the frog in a slowly heating pan of water, taxpayers will accept much higher burdens, but only if added slowly. While the union’s members remain sedated by sound bites of their union officials demanding more money, the actual negotiations around the bargaining table are very likely of a different character.

Of course, only God knows the thoughts of those around the table, but the optics certainly suggest that the most school board members to be a bought and paid for subsidiary of the union. That budgets will be increased is a given, but to the greatest extent possible, these additional monies will be earmarked for hiring new union members.

To the extent that present union members need to see benefit for themselves in order to remain quiescent, they can be pacified to the greatest extent possible by cost free benefits. These future benefits, such as pension increases and additional time off, are credited to the union leaders today but paid for by future taxpayers or by marginal decreases in educational quality, preserving the health of the parasites host – at least for today. And given the political power of the union, in that future when the promises come due, both State and Federal treasuries can be counted on to underpin any future shortfalls.

Whether or not teachers are underpaid, one can see why that might be the case. The parties actually at the bargaining table come away satisfied. The political interests of the union’s leadership are very clearly being served while the health of their host is only modestly impaired.

The need for additional “instructional staff” will have been acknowledged, even mandated. Present costs are contained as they are backloaded onto future taxpayers. Decreases in education quality are difficult to measure and most pronounced in schools unlikely to cause trouble. Those schools whose parents are most likely to notice and protest such degradation have long since resorted to extraordinary extracurricular means to maintain the quality of their childrens’ education, financed by the parents either privately or in the endless rounds of fundraisers common to such schools.

The two parties imagining themselves at the bargaining table do not fare so well. Supposing themselves represented by their union, the actual teachers, victims of a long running Three Card Monte, continue to trust in their “big brother”, even though continually shortchanged.

Imagining themselves represented by their school board, taxpayers are tranquilized in the manner of all frogs in boiling water, while future taxpayers are the ultimate “fall guy”. However it is another party not represented faring worst of all, the children.


One Response to “Are Teachers Underpaid?”

  1. Jeffrey Esbenshade says:

    As a former teacher you will never see teachers or unions state the cost of the benefits. Colorado teachers’ pension is called PERA. The taxpayers puts 22% of the
    gross wages in the fund. A job that pays $50,000 a year cost the taxpayer $11,000.
    The employee puts 11% of their wages into fund. Colorado did not join social security in 1935. To compare teachers to private sector employee’s their true cost of PERA to teacher is 4.8% as they do not pay 6.2% social security tax.
    The teacher receives a health plan that cost taxpayers $800 to $1000 per month.
    The true value of the employee contact is $73,000.

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