Contempt for Those Damned Teachers

Reading through the Op/Ed section of the Los Angeles Times this morning, an article entitled “The contempt for teachers extends to Matt Damon” caught my interest.  I was intrigued as to why they were using celebrity actor Matt Damon to pique interest in the article, and I’ll admit that I’m a Matt Damon fan, but the issues put forth in the article went far beyond commonplace celebrity name-dropping to sell a few newspapers.

In the article, Matt Damon responds to some recent discussion about the rightful place of teachers and the supposed lack of appropriate evaluation to rid school districts of inefficient instructors.  Similar to so many other issues regarding public funding, there is a sizable chunk of the American public who is pretty upset about their tax dollars being spent – on, well, anything.

Damon is quoted saying “it’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure…teacher wants to teach,”but the Times Op/Ed staff tracked down an excerpt from radio talk show host Michael Graham that reads like this:

Modern economic theory is based on the premise of incentives. Damon’s position that incentives don’t affect behavior puts him in the fiscal Flat Earth Society. He’s the equivalent of an economic creationist.

Of course people work harder if they believe it will pay off. Naturally people slack off otherwise.

Nobody denies this is true of cabbies, car salesmen or newspaper columnists — why wouldn’t it be true of teachers?

Oh, that’’s right: “Teachers want to teach.” They’re above worldly concerns like pay and job security. Which some teachers are.

But isn’t it likely that others have more materialistic motivations? Like the fact that it’s a great way for underachievers to prosper?

“Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education,” reports Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS’s Moneywatch. “It’s easy to get ‘A’s’ if you’re an education major.”

Which is good news for education majors who, according to O’Shaughnessy, “enter college with the lowest average SAT scores.”

So if you’re a “slacker” who wants to earn more than your brother the accountant, the public schools have got a deal for you!

And once you’re in, you’re in. If you’ve seen “Waiting for Superman,” you know that while one of every 57 doctors loses his license and one out of 97 lawyers gets disbarred, just one out of 1,000 teachers gets fired from big-city school systems for performance issues.

Damon wants us to believe this all-but-guaranteed lifetime employment has no impact on performance? Nobody’s a good enough actor to sell that.

Before even addressing what Graham’s actually saying, his tone is noticeably striking.  There are so many implications buzzing around in this little excerpt that this could be an extremely long post.  Teachers are inherent slackers?  Because they might one day get a tenure-track position?  An education major might be slightly less difficult than say, a microbiology major, but Graham is sadly mistaken if he believes teachers perform less taxing work (and less work in general) than say, cabbies, car salesmen, and newspaper columnists, the jobs he listed.

If you ask any quality instructor, whether it’s a teacher in Middle School, High School, or the College/University system, you’ll quickly learn that teachers put in far more hours than they can legally claim.  A huge portion of their work is performed after hours, and at home.  If you have ever had the opportunity to know a teacher personally, you’ll be familiar with the long hours and the stacks of papers besides him or her while everyone else relaxes in front of the television after a long day.  To say that teachers are natural slackers is just ridiculous.

And then there’s the issue of tenure.  First of all, it’s very difficult (and even more so now) to get a tenure-track position.  And even when you do achieve tenure, it’s not guarantee that you’ll always keep your job.  Tenured teachers and professors can be fired, their tenure just assures that they’ll be treated fairly and not fired without due cause.

While these things are true, I don’t mean to claim that there are no poor quality, ineffective educators.  Of course there are.  We’ve all had one or two.  They’re out there.  But it’s irresponsible to cut down the tree to rid the world of a few bad apples.  As the Op/Ed staff at the Times seems to understand, quality education, and by direct extension, educators, are the cornerstone of a productive, free society.  To attack the institution as means of fixing the small problems represents a painful regression that could infringe upon the hard-won and low-paying jobs our educators possess.

You can read the Times article HERE.

Courtesy of Reason TV

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