Posted in poverty, Teaching Career, WomenInSociety

Devalued and Disrespected

A TRIP TO THE DENTIST

I went to the dentist this morning for my semiannual cleaning and check up. The dental hygienist cleaned my teeth and took x-rays. I reported to her that one of my teeth was giving me some trouble. It was extremely sensitive to both hot and cold.

The dentist, when he came in, was unable to find the cause of my sensitive tooth. He looked at the x-rays, but they were “inconclusive.” He tested it, but was unable to determine the cause of the sensitivity. So, unfortunately, I’ll have to wait to see what happens. Apparently there is nothing that can be done right now.

He also said that I had a tooth that needed to be repaired and that I would have to come back next week to have it fixed.

As I left the office it occurred to me that the reason I was willing to come back to have my tooth repaired, and the reason I was willing to wait and see what happened to my sensitive tooth, was that I trusted my dentist.

WHY TRUST A PROFESSIONAL?

I know that my dentist has had the training needed to practice dentistry. On the wall in his office he has framed and hanging a bachelors degree from Purdue University and a degree in dentistry from the Indiana University School of Dentistry. I know those two universities well since I have attended both and earned a certification from the former, and two degrees from the latter. They are well established state-supported universities and I trust them to provide a good education to the professionals I seek for my own care.

Even though he was unable to find the cause of my sensitive tooth, I trusted his professional judgement.

WE TRUST OTHER PROFESSIONALS

When we’re sick we trust doctors to help us heal. When our cars break down, we trust mechanics to repair them. When our pipes break, we trust plumbers to fix them. We trust attorneys with our legal problems. We trust accountants to do our taxes. We trust architects and engineers to plan and build our homes and offices.

And we trust dentists with our teeth.

Specialized training and government licensing is necessary and appropriate in many professions. We have given our leaders the right to evaluate the preparation of our society’s professionals and then let us know, through licensing, that they have completed the training needed to do the job. Once that’s done, we trust them to do the job they are paid to do.

THE DIFFERENCE WITH TEACHERS

Most teachers are trained in University-level Schools of Education. I received my education training from the same two universities (albeit in different locations) as my dentist attended. My degree in education is from Indiana University and my certification in Reading Recovery is from Purdue University.

Why, then, is my profession not afforded the same respect and trust as others?

[Of course, individual teachers are valued and respected by individual students and parents, but as a whole, teachers in America’s public schools are not given the recognition they deserve. Policy makers rarely listen to teachers even when making educational decisions. Instead, policy makers listen to billionaires with no education experience.]

Here are two reasons (among many).

THE FALSE NARRATIVE OF FAILING SCHOOLS

Reason 1: “Reformers” have perpetuated the myth that America’s public schools are failing

The general consensus promoted by the media, “reformers,” and politicians from both of the main political parties is that America’s public education system is failing.

This is demonstrably untrue.

What is true is that some schools struggle to help their students achieve. The main problem in the US is our high child poverty rate. Research is clear that poverty negatively affects student achievement. Stephen Krashen explains that our public schools are excellent [emphasis added],

In “Test scores may move, learning doesn’t” (July 12), Jo Craven McGinty says that there is “compelling evidence” that the US education system is inadequate, because American students “score below average in math and average in reading and science” when compared to other countries on international tests.

Not mentioned is the finding that when researchers control for the effect of poverty, American scores on international tests are at the top of the world.

Our overall scores are unspectacular because of our high rate of child poverty: The US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries (now over 23%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5.4%). In some big city public school districts, the poverty rate is over 80%.

Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these profoundly impact school performance.

The best instruction in the world cannot overcome the effects of poverty, and our high rate of child poverty brings down the average.

Politicians and policy makers are hesitant to promote this idea for several reasons. First, it’s unpleasant to admit that one’s policies have allowed the high rate of child poverty present in America. Second, some policy makers are convinced that schools can solve the problems of poverty. To do that, however, requires a much higher investment in our public schools than we, as a nation, seem willing to make.

In societies where education is more successful the child poverty rate is lower.

TEACHING AS “WOMEN’S WORK”

Reason 2: Teaching is still viewed as “Women’s Work” and still devalued and disrespected.

For the last hundred years public school teaching in the United States has been dominated by women. Even today, when fields traditionally dominated by men are open to women, more than 3/4 of all public school teachers in America are women. This is especially true in the primary grades where I suspect that the percentage of men teachers is even smaller.

In a field so dominated by women, it’s not surprising that, in our patriarchal society, teachers are devalued and disrespected. Women still earn less than men. Women still have trouble reaching the highest levels of societal status (outliers notwithstanding). And women are still objectified in popular culture.

Money and status are still the most reliable paths to respect in our culture. The relatively low pay of the teaching profession and the fact that women make up the majority of educators, tends to lower the status of other teaching when compared to other professions.

In societies where education is more successful teachers are paid more and afforded higher status.

THE FUTURE

Until our leaders and policy makers accept responsibility for the level of child poverty in the United States our average national academic achievement will remain low. We continue to squander nearly 1/4 of our most important national resource. Until the devaluing and disrespecting of women ends, teaching will continue to be devalued and disrespected.

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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.