By Katherine Yaremko
Imagine, if you can, how your life would appear up to this point if you had not attended school or received any formal education. While almost all of us grimaced when it came time to fill out pages of multiple-choice questions and write extraneous essays throughout middle and high school, it was worth the knowledge we gained and the honor we bestowed upon our minds.
In the continuing attempt to repair our economy, particularly following the Wisconsin protests over unions' collective bargaining rights, scapegoating teachers has grown increasingly common.
Political commentators paint public teachers as immensely selfish, greedy individuals looking to leech the system of more income and benefits. It is horrendous that individuals who provide such an invaluable contribution to society are portrayed in such a demeaning way.
Some of the rhetoric against these individuals is incredibly derisive. There are complaints that teachers work only a part-time job, while having unlimited free time during their summers away from school. While the average teacher only brings in a paycheck of just over $50,000 in Wisconsin, excluding benefits, for some, this sum is simply too lavish to continue justifying such a high-end salary.
Meanwhile, if we want to set ourselves on the path toward resolving our enormous debt, it seems more sensible to propose, as many have already done, increasing the federal taxes slightly on those with an income greater than $200,000.
According to the New York Times, the Bush-era tax cuts, while extended at the end of last year, will only hold until 2012, at which point further action will be decided.
Yet many of the same political commentators so angrily opposed to teachers' greed seem reluctant to place the same obligations on the wealthiest Wall Street employees. Many argue that CEOs must receive the extravagant paychecks they do, otherwise they are left without an incentive to remain in this country. They are esteemed for the innovation and talent they bring to our economy. The unspoken implication is that what those on Wall Street do is far more valuable than the work and service educators perform for our youth.
We live in a society in which contribution and compassion are frequently becoming labeled as financial punishment and class warfare. Instead of seeing higher taxes as a matter of pragmatics – those who are wealthier can afford to pay slightly more without feeling the impact as significantly – those opposed fight tenaciously to avoid contributing to the country's overall welfare. Such a comment does not reflect a socialist interpretation of governance; it means recognizing the injustice of allowing the gap between the wealthy and impoverished to grow unchecked, while our country sinks further under the weight of its debt.
If we want healthy, well-functioning individuals, as well as a flourishing society, then we need to provide educators with the respect they more than deserve. To blame all the flaws of the education system on a single group of individuals with comparatively little power is to misrepresent the educational issue facing us and leave ourselves unprepared to deal with the future of further generations.