The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 30, 2012

Pedestal topples and relationship falters

Star Beacon

—  Have you ever wondered how teachers and the public became polarized from each other.

Yes, there are times though when a esprit de corps exists between the two groups. But a lot of the time a  wall exists.

The reason I am bringing this subject up now is this wall tends to get a little higher during election times and campaigns to pass school money issues. One is only six weeks away.

So here is my take on the situation: Teachers and the public became polarized when teachers joined the rest of us, and we did not want them to be like us. We wanted them on a pedestal, so we could worship them.

Being a teacher meant being something extra special to most of us. They were to be respected not only for the intelligence and the way they conveyed knowledge to us, but also the way they treated us. They were great positive role models.

Think about it. From day one of civilization it has been the teachers we remember the most. Jesus was a rabbi, which is a teacher. Buddha was a teacher,  Socrates was a teacher. Hillel was a teacher.  

Now how many doctors dating back 2,000 or more years can we even begin to recall. Or, for that matter how many farmers, engineers, garbage collectors, auditors, sales people can we recall. It is true we remember some scientists and philosophers, but they are not nearly as endeared to us as the ones mention previously. The ones that may come close probably were teachers.

 OK, we do remember kings, queens, soldiers, artists and authors, but aside from royalty, we always have looked up to  teachers.

Why? Because great teachers have endowed us with a sense of who we are.

Teachers have had the most profound effects on civilization, and most particularly on our morality and how we turn out as individuals.

 At the start of the 2011-12 school year, I wrote a column about the high level we have placed teachers on throughout the ages. Then I mentioned the Hebrew word for teacher is  “morah,” which  is one letter different from the most sacred Jewish text, the “Torah.” It is only a matter of an “M” from a “T.”

In other words, we endowed our teachers with a divine sense. The Torah, like all religious bibles, is a teacher.

When you talk to people, aside from parents, it usually is a teacher they point to  who has done the most to shape their lives in a positive way.

 So you can see why we put teachers on pedestals. The problem is  pedestals eventually topple, and it happened in this case. Teachers began landing on our plane  when they unionized to seek livable wages and benefits.

Teachers grew weary of having only the benefits of being on a pedestal and told they work for the love of it only.

They got tired of living in poverty. They got tired of working long hours  on measly wages. They got tired of freely giving of themselves so students could enjoy extracurricular activities.

And in some schools, teachers got tired of dealing with students whose parents failed to instill a sense of respect for the teacher  and learning institution.

So to overcome this negative situation, teachers began to form unions and associations.

 The most notable group is the National Education Association, which began with a group of 43 teachers in Philadelphia in 1857.  Until the 1950s and 60s its main concern was uplifting the quality of public education and to aid in the integration of schools.

In 1966 it merged with the American Teachers Association to become a much more powerful force that sought to uplift its membership in terms of wages, benefits and working condition.

 It would later form a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers.

In a nutshell, since the 1960s, the NEA has more  or less been a full-fledged union, seeking collective-bargaining rights with states and school districts. That meant sometimes going on strike.

Teacher strikes were pretty common  throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The public’s resentment grew incrementally as strikes continued, teachers’ conditions improved and taxes grew.

The public particularly resented seeing their once revered (under paid) teachers on picket lines carrying signs and keeping  education at a standstill, until agreements were reached.

Going on at about the same time was an increase in government mandates, such as special education, and a desire by communities to offer more in their schools. That meant more teachers were needed.

In answer to this, universities became factories that churned out lots of teachers. Some of these teachers were good... very good. Some of these teachers were bad... very bad. That can happen in a factory geared toward mass production at a low cost.

These better salaries, conditions and expanded education have come at a financial price. That price was paid out of the pockets of the people.

There are a lot of people who grow very pained at having to give up a bigger chunk  of their money to people who at one time worked mostly for the great pleasure of teaching others, and for  (some) being kept on a pedestal.

Right or wrong, the public concentrates on the bad teachers instead of the good teachers when viewing schools today.

So there are a lot of cracks in the relationship between teachers and public. Can it be repaired? We can hope for society’s sake.

Frieder is editor of the Star Beacon and can be reached at