Indentured Teaching

Teachers are in revolt. As they should be.

The walkouts and protests have so far affected only states around the bottom of the rankings for teacher pay and overall school funding, and some of the worst, most tight-fisted offenders—think Florida and Mississippi, Utah and South Dakota— have escaped unscathed for now. But the unrest is spreading as more and more bloated government budgets turn out to be swollen with commitments only to priorities other than education, as more and more public resources are sacrificed to tax cuts and boondoggles, and as more and more teachers reach their personal and professional breaking points.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the woman who should be the nation’s leading advocate for public education is saying things like, “I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”

And therein lies a clue to the attitudes she shares with others of similar privilege: in the Roman Empire, the task of educating the children was largely performed by private tutors, especially enslaved Greeks who were serving the nobles.

Things are admittedly a bit better in Arizona and Oklahoma: teachers are at least not literally enslaved.

But when Betsy DeVos speaks of the need to “serve the students,” she’s not contemplating the fiscal emancipation of additional funding and resources. On the contrary, she remains as committed as ever to siphoning public dollars out of our school systems and into private pockets. And the inevitable result, for men and women trying to pay off student loans on salaries that are declining, not growing, in real dollar value, is that teaching has to feel more like indentured servitude than the career they dreamed of.