With all the right-wing attacks against him of late, President Obama has more than enough cause to complain about his job. I’m not saying that he has been whining, I’m just saying that he certainly has had enough mud slung his way to warrant complaint. Naturally, most of us don’t feel terribly sorry for the President, considering the great lengths he pursued in order to acquire such a public job. The same would go for just about anyone in politics, or entertainment, or professional sports. These people face a severe level of public criticism not just as individuals, but as professions in general. Such criticism and constant scrutiny, though, is to be expected in these professions. But what about the people whose career paths are consistently bad-mouthed by society at large, and who never sought publicity and fame? More disrespected than personal injury lawyers and NBA officials combined, these people are public school educators, otherwise known as the most maligned group of trained professionals is the United States.
When, in 1903, poet George Bernard Shaw coined the saying “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” as a maxim for revolutionists in Man & Superman, the first figurative shot was fired in the unspoken ideological war against those who educate our young. Everyone, it seems, thinks they would do a better job of teaching their kids the three R’s than the kids’ teacher, if only they didn’t have to spend so much time at their real jobs. That’s why it’s so important, they say, that we hold teachers accountable with constant supervision and numerous standardized tests that will allow the public to know whether the teachers are doing the “peon work” they’ve been hired (at a pittance) to do. But this popular attitude begs the question; what would happen if other professionals with highly specialized training in their respective fields were to be treated in a manner such as what is currently endured by our nation’s teachers? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Let’s try an experiment. The next time you have a pressing medical need (kidney stones, for example, or a broken bone) walk into your doctor’s office, demand that the problem be fixed right away using only the medical practices you have designed during your coffee breaks at the office. Insist that the physician’s degree is just a worthless piece of paper required by a massively oppressive socialist union to keep out the really qualified MD’s, and that you are certainly as well qualified to heal yourself as any doctor because of all the “real-world-experience” you have amassed. You know exactly what treatment is needed, it is the doctor’s job to make your chosen treatment work, regardless of what his training and expertise tell him. While you’re at it, inform the doctor that the American Medical Association is the single biggest obstacle to medical science, since they exist solely to exclude quality innovators and protect the incompetent. After all, you’ve taught a whole bunch pf people at your job why it is of the utmost importance to keep their desks locked and protect proprietary documents. That experience alone should qualify you to provide our nation’s future leaders with virtually everything they will ever know about representative democracy, or the doctors of tomorrow with the basis of all their knowledge about biological chemistry, right?
Just to be fair, I should mention that these people are a close second in my book when it comes to the most maligned professionals in America. The two things that keep lawyers behind teachers on that list, though, is that they are much better compensated and few people think that watching an episode of Law & Order qualifies them for the job. That said, if lawyers were treated like teachers in our society, that is precisely what would happen. Prosecutors’ jobs would be very interesting, indeed, because any time they charged someone with a crime, the governor would demand that the charges be dropped for fear that the defendant’s family might sue. Just because no one else on the planet could have committed the crime and the evidence is absolute and concrete, they would say, the defendant has to be released because his mom and dad didn’t see the crime happen and the defendant swears to innocence. Prosecution of a known criminal would be deemed to be “picking on him,” and maintaining the defendant’s feelings of self-worth would trump any and all evidence against him.
Time for another experiment. The next time you go to a dentist for a checkup, blame the tooth decay that shows up on the x-rays on the fact that the dentist didn’t prepare you sufficiently for your teeth to be checked. Providing you with an explanation of the importance of brushing and flossing was not enough, and giving you a free toothbrush and floss with which you could prevent your cavities was insufficient. Tell your dentist that he should have called your house every day to make sure you were accomplishing those tasks, and provided you with multiple hard copies of a brushing and flossing schedule so as to remind you that it needed to be done. Demand that they use a new format for developing the x-rays so that it will show your teeth to be in excellent health, and insist that the frequency with which those x-rays are given be doubled until your teeth show no signs of decay from one appointment to the next. Naturally, the dentists must be required to work those appointments around your schedule, because you have a real job and can’t be bothered to go to his office during regular business hours. Make sure the dentist knows that under no circumstances is he to blame your cavities on the forty pounds of hard candy you suck and crunch on every day, because he is not allowed to criticise your eating habits or ask you to change your routine. He is the dentist. It is his job to make sure your teeth are perfectly straight and clean, not yours. Let’s not forget, too, that if too many of your checkups show tooth decay, gum disease, or cavities, your dentist will lose his job and his office will be closed. Finally, as with the above professions, make sure your dentist understands that as far as you are concerned, he is nothing more than an inconvenient person doing a know-nothing job that could easily be replaced by any idiot off the street. This is why, of course, even though he has years of specific training that he must continue throughout his career, he is one of those people who is so incompetent that dentistry is the only profession that would have him.
I’ll be perfectly honest here. I was once one of those who made such arguments about teachers as have been listed above. I had a real job, producing something of value, and I was living outside of the educational “bubble,” in the “real world.” These formally educated snobs were only trying to justify their own unimportant existence, as far as I was concerned. Frankly, there are some (but few) who fit that stereotype. However, since I have entered the realm of education, I have had the opportunity to view that argument from both sides, and I can say with all candor that I was wrong. There is a reason most teachers quit within the first five years of entering the profession. People often go into teaching with the attitude that any body can do the job, and leave only a couple of short years later, having realized that it was they to whom the phrase “he who cannot” applies. Until people are ready to start blaming the plumber for the broken disposal full of glue and coconut shells from the last theme party, they should really consider the fact that there are those who cannot teach, and there are those who can. It is a difficult and rewarding profession, requiring years of training and continual refinement, and should be afforded the level of respect enjoyed by virtually all other trained professionals in American society.