Have you ever seen the holiday film classic “A Christmas Story”? Set in 1940s Indiana, it’s the charming tale of young Ralphie, whose only wish for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. Poor Ralphie is constantly rebuffed by the adults in his life, who warn him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
During this shattered holiday season, with so many Connecticut families experiencing unimaginable loss, the movie is a reminder that guns have always been popular in the American imagination. It also gently reminded me, however, that previous generations were much more circumspect and cautious in their attitudes toward firearms.
I am delighted that President Obama, shocked to his senses by the carnage in Connecticut, has finally found the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and take steps toward more regulation of firearms. But I fear that won’t be enough.
Don’t get me wrong: I support a ban on assault-type weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and waiting periods for gun purchases. All of those are common-sense measures that should already be the law of the land.
But I don’t think those steps will be enough to change a culture steeped in gun lore and conditioned to believe that firearms hold some magical powers to keep the streets safe. Somehow, our crazed romance with guns — a dangerous and dysfunctional relationship — must end.
It hasn’t always been this way. My late father came of age in the 1930s and ’40s in deepest, reddest Alabama. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and hunting. Nothing made my father happier than awakening in the wee hours on a crisp morning in November to go out into the cold and stalk deer. Go figure.
I think he would have been amused — or perhaps puzzled — by the ad campaign that Bushmaster adopted to sell its AR-15 assault-type rifle, which was used by the Connecticut shooter. The campaign bestowed “manhood” on Bushmaster buyers. I don’t think my dad — who worked hard, supported his family and tried to teach his children right from wrong — ever thought his manhood was in question.
A veteran of combat in Korea, he was as strict about gun safety as the National Rifle Association is imprudent. He and his hunting buddies refused to hunt with rifles because the projectiles are too powerful and travel too far; they used shotguns instead. They banned hunters whom they deemed careless. Dick Cheney would not have been welcome.
As a young college graduate headed for the big city, I contemplated buying a firearm. My father wouldn’t hear of it, noting that I’d be more likely to be a victim of my own handgun than to ward off danger with it. He suggested that I stay out of dangerous places instead.
My dad was also a junior-high-school principal, and I think he would be horrified — simply horrified — by the irrational suggestion from some political leaders that the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers. He knew perfectly well that arming teachers would be a way to get more children killed.
As the term “friendly fire” connotes, soldiers and police officers, who undergo intense weapons training, frequently miss their targets or hit others by mistake. Last August, as just one example, New York City police officers killed a gunman outside the Empire State Building. Nine bystanders also ended up wounded, all by police gunfire or ricochets.
When did so many of our political leaders — governors, members of Congress, state legislators — lose their senses about guns? How did we come to have a culture in which public figures believe it is rational to advocate arming teachers to prevent school massacres?
Even as some of the loudest gun advocates have become more hysterical in their absolutism, the number of households with guns has actually decreased over the last few decades, according to polls and federal data. Unfortunately, the number of guns owned by a smaller portion of households has increased.
Meanwhile, reasonable, old-school outdoorsmen like my dad aren’t speaking up. They need to stand up and be counted.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 22, 2012
From the debates in Wisconsin and elsewhere about public sector unions, you might get the impression that we’re going bust because teachers are overpaid.
That’s a pernicious fallacy. A basic educational challenge is not that teachers are raking it in, but that they are underpaid. If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession.
Until a few decades ago, employment discrimination perversely strengthened our teaching force. Brilliant women became elementary school teachers, because better jobs weren’t open to them. It was profoundly unfair, but the discrimination did benefit America’s children.
These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.”
Changes in relative pay have reinforced the problem. In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.
We all understand intuitively the difference a great teacher makes. I think of Juanita Trantina, who left my fifth-grade class intoxicated with excitement for learning and fascinated by the current events she spoke about. You probably have a Miss Trantina in your own past.
One Los Angeles study found that having a teacher from the 25 percent most effective group of teachers for four years in a row would be enough to eliminate the black-white achievement gap.
Recent scholarship suggests that good teachers, even kindergarten teachers, increase their students’ earnings many years later. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (one a standard deviation better than average, or better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000. If there are 20 students in the class, that is an extra $400,000 generated, compared with a teacher who is merely average.
A teacher better than 93 percent of other teachers would add $640,000 to lifetime pay of a class of 20, the study found.
Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective.
But none of this means that teachers are overpaid. And if governments nibble away at pensions and reduce job security, then they must pay more in wages to stay even.
Moreover, part of compensation is public esteem. When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.
Consider three other countries renowned for their educational performance: Singapore, South Korea and Finland. In each country, teachers are drawn from the top third of their cohort, are hugely respected and are paid well (although that’s less true in Finland). In South Korea and Singapore, teachers on average earn more than lawyers and engineers, the McKinsey study found.
“We’re not going to get better teachers unless we pay them more,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an education reform organization. Likewise, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says, “We’re the first people to say, throw them $100,000, throw them whatever it takes.”
Both Ms. Wilkins and Ms. Allen add in the next breath that pay should be for performance, with more rigorous evaluation. That makes sense to me.
Starting teacher pay, which now averages $39,000, would have to rise to $65,000 to fill most new teaching positions in high-needs schools with graduates from the top third of their classes, the McKinsey study found. That would be a bargain.
Indeed, it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.
Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays poorly but has strong union protections and lockstep wage increases. It’s a factory model of compensation, and critics are right to fault it. But the bottom line is that we should pay teachers more, not less — and that politicians who falsely lambaste teachers as greedy are simply making it more difficult to attract the kind of above-average teachers our above-average children deserve.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 12, 2011
How appropriate that Washington’s most challenging budget crisis in decade coincides with the Republican Party’s centenary birthday celebration of Ronald Reagan, whose attacks on “welfare queens” and the social safety net in the name of deficit reduction caused indisputable collateral damage to middle class Americans. The Ronnie-like budget cuts that Republican leaders are proposing today—against unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing—all boast the potential to carry on the Reagan tradition of hurting the very middle class they aspire to help.
Why? Because the cuts to the programs the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives are targeting would increase poverty, and more poverty lowers property values, diminishes the quality of life, and drives up family taxes and expenses of middle class Americans.
Cuts to federal housing programs will increase homelessness. Combine increased homelessness with vacant public housing and you have a cancer that will spread, reducing property values in communities across our nation. Or consider cuts to unemployment and food stamps. These are likely to cause grocery stores in urban, suburban, and rural areas—many of which serve the middle class—to either close or lower the quality and selection of their wares, just to preserve profit margin.
A persistently high unemployment rate may well also translate into desperation and increased property and personal crimes. Not only will more crime lower our quality of life, it will drive up the cost of local policing. That could mean higher local taxes meet crime-fighting demands.
Public schools were once the first choice of middle class families; these schools are the first to fail as poverty rises. Where school was once free, poverty forces many middle class families today to shell out thousands of dollars to educate their children. These new costs are a fact of life for more and more middle class Americans as poverty spreads across the country. Sadly it’s at just the time they can least afford it.
Let’s be clear. No one rejoices at the prospect of spending billions of dollars for subsidized housing or food stamps or Medicaid. And Glenn Beck acolytes and progressives alike can agree that good paying jobs are better for families than a plethora of government subsidies. But the problem is that our economy and the policies that drive it are not creating enough decent paying jobs for all able-bodied Americans to cover their basic household expenses. Federal subsidies for basic needs make up for the shortcomings in our economy. And they help a surprising number of people.
To be sure, we can find ways to run these programs more effectively and more efficiently. And that’s where the hard work of budget cutting should concentrate. The ubiquity of technology, even in low-income communities, presents a huge opportunity to shed administrative costs. We should also find ways to better align these programs so that they enable workers and their families to more successfully move out of poverty. If we are serious about protecting and expanding the middle class, then the tough discussions on how to overhaul the delivery of these income-support programs need to commence.
But it’s simply not in the interest of most Americans to swing an ax at these programs amid a nascent economic recovery. Today, over 10 million Americans are collecting unemployment, and nearly that many citizens are in apartments with rents subsidized by the federal government. More than 40 million Americans put food on the table with the aid of food stamps. Fifty million Americans are able to go to the doctor or the hospital because of the Medicaid program. And fully one in six Americans is dependent on federal and state support for their basic necessities of life.
The consequences of reducing federal income supports will be devastating on the poorest among us. But the impact will not be contained to them. Remember: Ronald Reagan tried to convince us that wealth trickles down. His enduring legacy, however, is that poverty trickles up.
By: Donna Cooper, Senior Fellow-Center for American Progres, February 14, 2011