It’s Wisconsin: If you don’t like the political climate, just wait

“Everything changes, nothing remains without change.”
The Buddha

“We’re the New Kids on the Block and we’re here to stay.”
Donnie Wahlberg

Earlier this week, I noticed a picture one of my friends had posted on Facebook in which she was shown posing with some of her pals prior to a high school dance, ’80s hair blazing, shoulder pads lurching toward the future like epaulets on Elton John, as if to signal a permanent shift in the culture away from staid Moral Majority nattiness toward a world that’s been repeatedly napalmed with lip gloss and Aqua Net.

Those were the days. But styles change.

In the wake of Scott Walker’s victory last Tuesday, there’s been no end of right-wing gloating and liberal wailing, and right now, both sides appear to think that the culture is inexorably vaulting into a bleaker or brighter (depending on which way you swing) future.

But those who are currently inconsolable over the Walker rout (and make no mistake about it, it was a rout) can find solace in the Buddha’s words. Despair not. Everything changes. Especially here. After all, this is Wisconsin – one of the most reliably purple states in the union.

Perhaps I’m being philosophical about this simply because I’m not a teacher, and am not affected as much by Walker’s policies as other workers in our state. Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough now to have seen the political pendulum swing a few times, and getting too emotionally invested in a loss or win seems a bit foolish. Perhaps it’s because I’m less likely than some to worry about or get caught up in the zeitgeist. (Unlike some people, no pictures of me in a big ’80s mullet exist. That’s not bragging. I’ve had basically the same haircut since I was 8, and it’s pretty much always looked like a dying sea otter that was hastily stitched to my head by arthritic yetis.)

But I don’t think the current assault on teachers can be sustained forever. Call me Pollyannaish, but I don’t think people will long stand for a world in which teaching is denigrated as a profession and teachers are scapegoated as the cause of all our financial woes. (It’s still astounding to me that Walker and his supporters were able to keep the voters’ gaze fixed on teachers and other public workers all this time, even though the financial disaster that led to our budgetary woes was caused by Wall Street greedheads, and teachers early on agreed to temporary pay and benefit concessions to ameliorate the crisis that they had no hand in creating. Well played, Mr. Walker.)

The truth is, the conservative position is at its root unsustainable. It basically invites people to say, “Let’s ensure that the workers who mentor and watch over our children eight hours a day are as poorly paid as possible.”

Sure, there are some bad teachers out there. If you want more, keep scapegoating all teachers and slashing their wages. (It might be a fun sport to continue pointing out how much more workers in the private sector contribute toward their benefits, but any way you slice it, the budget repair bill included huge cuts in total compensation for public workers.)

These days, conservatives seem to want to hold to two contradictory assertions:

  1. Today’s teachers are dangerously unqualified.
  2. We need to fix this problem by offering less money to young people who might be interested in teaching. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to insinuate as often as possible that the profession is for losers who can’t find a real job.

I can’t imagine a business owner proposing that we address a skills gap in the private sector by lowering wages and telling workers that they’re the source of all our problems.

That said, education is not the same as other industries. In the free market, if you want fancy coffee, you go to Starbucks and pay for it. If not, you buy Taster’s Choice and make it on your stove. And that’s as it should be. But there’s no room for such individual preference and cheapskate behavior in education. If we fail to attract quality teachers – or do our best to drive the good ones away – we all suffer. If you don’t care whether your child gets a good education – and thus feel it’s okay to pay teachers less and less and less until they’re ultimately on a par with day care workers – you and your child aren’t the only ones who get hurt. Our economy as a whole takes a hit.

But that, apparently, is an argument for another time. Progressives are still reeling from last week’s election results, and it may be awhile before we can win the day. But the world will change. It always does. And people will always delude themselves into thinking that what’s happening right now is more enduring than it really is.

Everything passes away, and nothing lasts – not even your most treasured hopes and dreams.

That’s not depressing – just the prelude to the next great thing.

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