Monday, June 20, 2005

Flash - Kansas Teachers Are Required to Take a Vow of Poverty

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (New Living Translation)

26 “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world's eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. 27Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, 29so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

The Kansas Legislature has been called into special session to attempt to find a hundred and forty three million dollars to fix the state’s education “problems.” Some Kansas lawmakers are threatening to defy the state Supreme Court order that set this frantic search in motion. The Kansas City Star’s editorial page today described the defiance this way:

“Kansas watchers now wait breathlessly to see if the Legislature will set another off-the-wall precedent by defying the state Supreme Court’s order to put more money in the schools.”

“They might fine and imprison legislators, but I’m willing to ‘do the time’ to protect our constitutional separation of powers,” Rep.Jim Morrison, a
Colby Republican, wrote in a letter published by the Hays Daily News.”

While I’m not a big fan of the Supreme Court’s plan, I think that defying a court order under these circumstances would be foolhardy. It’s one thing to throw money at education problems. That’s counter-productive enough. But refusing the court’s order would send a terrible message. It would in a sense be telling all of us that we don’t have to obey laws or follow rules that we don’t like. While there are times when I could see this kind of civil disobedience as viable, this is not one of those times.

While I fail to see the principle of the legislators who are threatening to defy the court, I also fail to see that a hundred and forty three million dollars is going to solve the education problem in Kansas.

This is all making great editorial fodder for Patrick Kelley at the Gazette. In this weekend’s edition he penned an editorial titled “Representative Honors” in which he made a not too subtle plea for increases in teachers’ salaries. The piece really should have spent more time honoring the five inductees to the National Teachers Hall of Fame than he did on giving the City of Emporia his bi-weekly shakedown.

This is what he had to say about the honorees:

“So tonight, as the five 2005 inductees are honored by the National Teachers Hall of Fame, take it as a given that each of them is there as a representative of thousands of other teachers who, every year, give their best to the children of America.”

Now how could anyone argue with that? I’m grateful for good teachers and so are the good people of Emporia. I even think that our legislators appreciate the work teachers do in the classroom.

But that wasn’t what Patrick Kelley was writing about. I’ve learned in my six years it’s never that simple with him. He had money on his mind, pure and simple:

“Teaching has never been an easy job, if it’s done right, and it becomes more difficult every year.”

“For all the trust we place in teachers and all the power we give them over the next generation, we don’t pay them very well at all.”

“Think teachers’ pay is fair? How much does a good teacher earn in the Emporia public schools? How much does a good plumber earn in this city?”

“That’s not a slam at plumbers, who are worth every penny they are paid. But good teachers are worth much more than they are paid.”

“It’s a wonder that so many students choose to spend four or five years in college – an expensive choice – so they can take a vow of poverty and become teachers after graduation.”

Well, upon reading the first few lines of his plea, I found my sympathies aligned with his. He almost had me. But then he couldn’t resist being the snake oil salesman. I got to the words “so they can take a vow of poverty” and my jaws clenched shut. I was absolutely mortified. I did not realize that we were literally starving our teachers to death. After a few minutes of reflection, though, I came to my senses. In that spirit of sanity I fired a letter back to Mssr. Kelley and his gang down at the Gazette:

“I was actually feeling quite sympathetic until I checked some statistical data. According to the United States ranks fifth world-wide in terms of teachers’ salaries. While it’s not on par with professional baseball players, it’s a bit more than most of the good folks of Emporia who work at Wal-Mart, Montana Mike’s or Tyson Foods.”

“By the way Mr. Kelley, I wasn’t aware that teachers had to take a vow of poverty. How did that get by the watchful eye of the NEA? I must have missed something in my education because I thought vows like that were reserved for folks like Mother Theresa who worked with the poor and dying in Calcutta.”

By now most teachers who have read this far think that I’m an insensitive brute. I’m not. I think that teachers should be well compensated for what they do. I also think that policemen and women should. And, like Mr. Kelley, I think that plumbers are worth their weight in lucre. I also have the same feelings about electricians, carpenters, cabinet makers, doctors, lawyers, sales clerks, waiters, waitresses, and the pastor of my church. Just ask those I’ve interacted with and they’ll confirm that I’m a pretty generous soul. But when someone like Patrick Kelley abused hyperbole like he did this past Saturday my suspicions went into high gear. “What was his real point?” I now ask myself. With the benefit of two days worth of hindsight it’s all coming into focus. In ascribing to teachers the virtues of a saint he’s attempting to not only get them more money, but more power in our children’s lives.

It all comes down to a couple of things for me. No teacher I know is a Mother Theresa. Not one! Not even the best of them.

A bit of Mother Theresa’s biography follows. It’s done so that you, the reader, can draw some comparisons. In doing so I’m not trying to denigrate the teaching profession. It’s being done to compare the good work that teachers do with the high, noble calling of this great woman:

“Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia, she was the youngest of three children. In her teens, Agnes became a member of a youth group in her local parish called Sodality. Through her involvement with their activities guided by a Jesuit priest, Agnes became interested in missionaries. At age 17, she responded to her first call of a vocation as a Catholic missionary nun. She joined an Irish order, the Sisters of Loretto, a community known for their missionary work in India. When she took her vows as a Sister of Loretto, she chose the name Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.”

“In Calcutta, Sister Teresa taught geography and cathechism at St. Mary's High School. In 1944, she became the principal of St. Mary's. Soon Sister Teresa contracted tuberculosis, was unable to continue teaching and was sent to Darjeeling for rest and recuperation. It was on the train to Darjeeling that she received her second call – “the call within the call” Mother Teresa recalled later, “I was to leave the convent and work with the poor, living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged but I did not know how to get there.”

“In 1948, the Vatican granted Sister Teresa permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and pursue her calling under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta.”

“Mother Teresa started with a school in the slums to teach the children of the poor. She also learned basic medicine and went into the homes of the sick to treat them. In 1949, some of her former pupils joined her. They found men, women, and children dying on the streets who were rejected by local hospitals. The group rented a room so they could care for helpless people otherwise condemned to die in the gutter. In 1950, the group was established by the Church as a Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta Diocese. It was known as the Missionaries of Charity.”

There are many good teachers, but there are very, very few Mother Theresa’s who pass our way.

There’s also something else Patrick Kelley missed when he alluded to vows of poverty. People like Mother Theresa, who actually live these vows, wouldn’t be allowed to teach in our public schools today. If she came through the doors of an American public school right now and said what she said in 1994 she’d be shown the door as quickly as you could say “Teach your children well:”

“But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.”

“And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.”

“By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.”

“And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.”

“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

“Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today - abortion which brings people to such blindness.”

I think we all know what would happen if she said something like that in a public school. The ACLU would have a battery of lawyers filing lawsuits aimed at protecting our children from religious fanatics like her and her ilk and the NEA would be rhetorically ripping this noble saint to shreds.

In the end I think I really do believe that I’ve figured out why Patrick Kelley wanted more money for teachers. It is, as I said earlier, simply to give them more money and then we’ll have to give them more power over our kids. His words reveal what the heart of the matter is to him - “For all the trust we place in teachers and all the power we give them over the next generation, we don’t pay them very well at all.” That’s it! More money! More power! And that’s the real crux of the problem here in Kansas.

I think of what’s happening to Kansas school kids today and ask myself, “Where are the Mother Theresas today when you need them?” “At the ACLU?” “At the NEA?” “At the Gazette?” I think, regrettably, we know the answers to those questions.


Dr Mac said...

I have some serious mixed emotions on the subject of today. Upon review, it is best that I speak little and make my points known, and let the dust settle. As for Mr Kelly, I believe he is getting to be more like John Kerry every day. (Speaking of Mr. Kerry - if he speaks the messages he was taught, his teachers were overpaid.)

Regarding the defiance of the Court, I am of the opinion the Court does not have the authority to order the legislature to perform this task.

Secondly, as a 3A37ANG military retiree, school teachers in general make much more than those who defend our country.

dog1net said...

The Flint Hills in Kansas are awe inspiring, and bring back many memorable times when I was a graduate student at Wichita State. I enjoyed reading your commentary, especially in regard to this subject. Well-balanced, poised and thought out, you make a good observation with what happens sometimes when we are too easily persuaded by our emotions.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The great issue here is not whether to pay teachers more or less. No teacher I ever knew became a teacher 'for the money.'

It is the perversion of State (and Federal) Constitutions, by inventive judges who usurp the authority of executive and legislative branches of government, and are guilty of lack of respect for Law as written! Such was the great fear of our Founders.

The source of our Constitutional power rests with the People, and their elected, law-making representatives, - not with the robed and politically-appointed judiciary, perched on whited grape-stained pedestals.

Gone Away said...

The political stuff I stay away from but I do have an opinion on teachers' salaries. As usual, I seem to end up in a minority of one - I think that teachers are paid too much these days and that this accounts for the low standard of teaching. I won't go into the argument here but I wrote an article on it some time ago which you can read if you're interested.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

I am reminded of a story oft repeated at certain gatherings regarding 'teacher pay.'

It seems that in an ancient country, the leaders were pleased with early progress in their nation and sought to discover ways to maintain its solid progress - and even to improve on it.

They determined that the surest element in the effort was through the educational process and learning experiences of the young.

They decided that the best way to gather educators dedicated to the students - to their character and growing minds - was an appeal to an educator's sense of appreciation, respect, and dedication.

This decision led them to cut the teachers' pay in expectation that only committed teachers would be hired and remain to teach the future adults of the society.

As a result, that ancient nation produced what is known today as The Golden Age of Greece.


Gone Away said...

Hmmm, maybe I'm not in a minority of one after all... ;)