The Teachers’ Example

Winslow Homer, The Noon Recess (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Today, children enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools are learning to do without their teachers.  The teachers are not in the schools today because they, as union members, decided to teach us all a lesson by not showing up to do their jobs.  Instead of teaching, they chose today, April Fools Day, to stage what they ironically refer to as a Day of Action.  Yes, this day, when they do not show up to do their jobs.

No doubt the teachers have legitimate grievances, but so do taxpayers.  The teachers want the school district and the state government to bend heaven and earth to give them an agreeable contract.  The school district is teetering on bankruptcy.  Teachers’ unfunded pensions are an underlying cause.  The teachers deserve pensions and rightly fault the politicians for failing to invest in and protect the pension funds, as obligated.  But the funds that should be there simply aren’t.

Taxation is increasing to help cover ballooning pension obligations.   Meanwhile, the school budget is being cut.  Education in the present is being sacrificed to preserve the benefits of retired and retiring teachers.  The teachers’ union doesn’t speak to this issue.  Yet, to all appearances, Peter is being robbed in order to pay Paul.  The teachers are going to squeeze Peter and everyone around him, hoping that enough money can miraculously be conjured to go around.

The Day of Action is a farce, because it does not solve the problem.  It doesn’t bring antagonistic parties any closer to agreeing on what to do about a desperate lack of money.  Instead it diminishes the public’s sympathy and respect for teachers and the difficult work they do.  How not to behave: this is all Chicago teachers have taught on this April Fools.

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Sisterhood on ice

A circle of girls and young women on the ice.
As ice-skating became a leading pastime in the 1860s, pictures of ice-skating and ice-skaters proliferated in the popular press, recording its impact on society.  Looking at such pictures, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that skating represented something special in the lives of women, while also violating existing norms.  If skating let women escape a certain social confinement, it rendered them more vulnerable, too.  Ice-skating, though fun and bold, exposed women to certain perils, among them a mixing of classes and sexes that nineteenth-century society was set up to avoid.

This print by Winslow Homer (1836-1910) encapsulates such strains.  Continue reading