I’ve written for dozens of newspapers over 4 decades and there was only one time an editor told me I couldn’t report on an important story. The problem was that local teachers were on strike for higher benefits but while their salaries were legally public record, a decade earlier the paper had taken the terrible step of publishing names and pay.
The teacher’s union responded by dropping subscriptions and ads from relatives, probably in an effort to teach students about the importance of a free press.
Circulation was cut in half, the small paper almost folded, and we were never again permitted to write anything about teachers, not even in editorials or columns.
The problem, from the teacher’s standpoint was simple. In an area where the average yearly wage was $15,000 and a pretty good house cost $50,000, teachers on the picket line (it doesn’t get better if you pick it) were then averaging $43,000 plus benefits with several months off each year.
This was a few decades ago so $43,000 was comparable to the money some young doctors were making and considerably more than coal miners who were working overtime every week.
Also, around here at least, many teachers marry other teachers so where an average household income was about $20,000 the average for a teacher’s family was more than $100,000 including benefits.
The teachers went on strike “but it was all about the students.”
It wasn’t long after that the State decided it was a good idea to offer full retirement to teachers in their early 50’s. Soon after that it was announced that there was a severe teacher shortage.
Good teachers can be important. but only the good ones. In my high school days I had a science teacher who knew nothing about science and, in fact, I later heard left the same year I escaped to University (graduated) and went back to tending bar (that was the extent of his knowledge of chemistry). Our English teacher required seniors to write a pro WCTU (temperance) essay for students to get a grade above “D” – several of the students’ parents owned taverns and their money was going to put the students through college.
I also remember the only real fight I ever saw in any school. It was between a teacher and a student and it was a pretty serious fight which included a choke hold on the student. The student never threw a punch.
Now the student was a real jerk who I hear went on to be the area school superintendent someplace (and incidentally ended up in a hospital once for reportedly fooling around with another man’s wife) but I still felt the fight should have resulted in something other than a promotion for the teacher.
This wasn’t some inner city school where kids carried knives and there were fights at recess. That was the only fight I observed in 12 years. It was over a passed note between students.
Many years later in yet another school district a younger married teacher told me she didn’t have a computer at home because she couldn’t afford one even though many of her students had one.
At that time you could buy a new computer for $500 and, as a matter of public record her starting salary 5 years before had been $28,000. Her husband had a good job also and they both drove new cars but in the mid-90’s she was so concerned with her students that she didn’t feel she needed to learn how to use a computer.
I try hard not to let my knowledge of the facts prejudice me against the teacher’s union.
Around here the teachers still strike every couple years for higher salaries in an area where they are already in the top 10% of earners and get months off each year. Starting coal miners get one week’s vacation, the opening day of deer season, and their birthday off. (It’s an old tradition because it is considered bad luck to get killed on your birthday and coal mines are dangerous.)
Do I sympathize with the Tea Party?
Do I feel that since most of the Wisconsin teachers had medical slips saying they were too sick to work last week perhaps students shouldn’t be exposed to whatever serious disease they have?
Is it moral turpitude to claim you are too sick to work and should get sick pay while you are actually walking a picket line?
Just asking because I always thought the only moral position for someone conducting civil disobedience included taking responsibility for your actions.