Friday, March 18, 2011

Mexicans didn't steal my job and education didn't bankrupt the state

I have a friend who is an English teacher, who is convinced that illegal Mexican immigrants are out to "steal his job". I told him, Jim (not his real name), you're an ENGLISH teacher. How is a mexican worker, who doesn't even speak ENGLISH, going to steal YOUR job as an ENGLISH teacher? Of course, the delusional often have answers. Jim thinks that they will do it through "bilingual education", which he insists is not BI-lingual at all, but just an attempt to replace English with Spanish as our official language. I must not have noticed how, according to him, we are being prohibited from speaking English in this country and instead being forced to speak Spanish for all official transactions.

Perhaps he should be more worried about the right-wing assault on teacher pay and attempts to do away with all job security for teachers, where they can be fired instantly, without due process, and seniority will count for nothing. These are the people trying to steal jobs from teachers and trying to take money out of their paychecks, and their pensions to boot.

Some argue that the state has the right to cut teacher pay and take money away from their pensions because those jobs are paid for by taxpayers. Well teachers are taxpayers too, so they have as much interest as any other taxpayer in whether the government uses the money wisely. However, the law says that students have to attend school and the wages they pay to teachers in public schools are less than the wages that most private schools pay. Therefore, if anything, the taxpayers are getting a bargain.

Furthermore, the fact that taxpayers are paying for something doesn't mean that the government is entitled to cheat the person doing the work. If the government contracts with a person to build a bridge and then politicians get together an vote that they only want to pay the contractor half of already agreed upon price, then they can't justify this on the grounds that "the taxpayers are paying for it", or even that "taxes are too high already". It may be that taxpayers are cash strapped, but the bridge still needs to be built and the materials still cost what they cost. You can't vote to repeal either one of these facts.

The same applies to education. It still costs a certain amount to train a person who is willing to endure day-long abuse by teachers, administrators, parents, etc while delivering all the most up-to-date educational material and following all the rules required of them (by the government/taxpayers). You passed laws which demanded that we teach the way we teach. You passed laws that said we had to have certain amounts of training. You spelled out in minute detail every single area you wanted us to cover in the educational standards. You asked for it and we gave it to you at a price we already agreed upon. You can't now turn around and say that you didn't really want all those things and you don't want to pay us for the work we did because you think taxes are too high.

It's not the fault of teachers that taxes are too high, and this wouldn't be an excuse to cheat us out of our salaries and pensions anyway. Sure, the government spent money on our salaries and pensions, just like they spent money on lots of other things. However, that doesn't prove that teachers are the ones to blame for the governments financial woes.

Some people say, but education is a huge part of the state budget, and this is true. But that doesn't prove that we created the mess. If you lower taxes and have other economic mismanagement, reducing revenues, education will still be a large chunk of the budget. However, the reason for the reduction in revenues is not because of education spending. It's because of those other things, like cutting taxes in the middle of a recession, and investing state funds poorly. I understand that other taxpayers are also hurting in a recession. But that doesn't entitle them to get together and vote to raid my bank account so that they can all have a nice vacation. That's money that I saved out of my paycheck, which I already noted is a smaller paycheck than many private schools pay out.

Likewise, the money that I put into pension funds is largely my money, even if my employer made some contributions too. I dare say that I have put far more of my money into my teacher pension, as both a teacher and taxpayer, than the average taxpayer is. These same people who begrudge me my pension, despite the fact that I serve the public and educate their children, get pensions of their own. If the government had no pension then it is unlikely that they would be able to attract teachers in the first place. We would instead work for private companies who offered these pensions. So the government has to offer comparable benefits to get us to work for them.

This all part of the social contract which so-called conservatives want to abruptly rip to shreds after decades and even centuries of agreement about what constituted a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. That doesn't sound very "conservative" to me. It sounds like an untested scheme that is likely to fail along with many other gimmicks and quick fixes that often get proposed as shortcuts to dealing with difficult problems.

Jim's brother hates government too, even though Jim's brother Bruce worked as a police officer for 20 years before retiring on a state pension. He too thinks that the government is trying to pick his pocket and that immigrants are here to take the part time job that he still has to work as an emergency dispatcher to make ends meet.

I asked Bruce, if you want to prevent immigrants from taking your jobs, how do you propose to shut down all the internet and telephone communications in the country. Bruce wasn't sure what I meant, but I pointed out to him that he works in the telecommunications industry and there are plenty of people in India and elsewhere in the world who are also being hired by US firms to handle call center traffic. We call this outsourcing.

If Bruce is worried about all the immigrants trying to take his job, what about the "digital immigrants" who can work from half a world away for less than half of what they pay Bruce? Furthermore, how will the US government collect tax revenues on the digital immigrants living in India. They won't of course, because they are Indian citizens, not American citizens. But these jobs used to be done by American workers whom they could tax. Even illegal immigrants who were here physically, often ended up paying taxes, albeit into a social security account that was not actually their own. These illegal immigrants in the flesh often had tax deductions taken out of their paychecks, but they know that they cannot attempt to collect them, because then the government might discover that they are undocumented workers and send them back. So the government gets money from them, but never has to give them refunds or social security benefits.

This isn't true of digital workers. In fact, I have also heard people make the modest proposal that we could save a lot of money if we just hired people from India to teach in our public schools, via the internet. The only question I have for these people, aside from the one's raised above, is how they expect Mister Depak to maintain order in the classroom and keep the kids on task and not killing each other from half a world away? When Johnny isn't learning and says he doesn't understand what Mr. Deepak from Bangalore is trying to teach him, what are we going to do then? Call in Mr. Chang from Bejing perhaps?

Maybe a better idea would be to try to ditch the silly schemes to nickel and dime teachers in this country, stop all the constant interference, and let us do our jobs. I know that virtually every person who is not a teacher thinks that he or she can teach better than the people who actually are the teachers, but I don't come to McDonalds and tell you you're flipping burgers wrong, so why don't you stop coming to school and giving me bad advice on how to teach.

And stop worrying about Mexicans trying to take your job. They prefer tacos, not burgers, and fast food isn't much of a job to steal in the first place. Neither is making beds in a hotel or picking cotton. Even hundreds of years ago Americans didn't want to do that, which is why they imported slaves to do it for them. Now the (wage) slaves are coming here voluntarily, and we say the (wage) slaves are stealing our job. Sorry, I don't want a slave job. If that's the kind of job they are stealing then I feel sorry for the (wage) slave, but I certainly don't lament the fact that an American no longer has to work it. I wish the (wage) slave didn't have to work it either.

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