Washington State Rep. Liz Pike (R-Camas) sparked controversy last month when she posted an open letter to teachers on her Facebook page. In the letter, she thanked teachers for their service and congratulated them on their impending summer vacation, then criticized those who complain about their compensation.
"If I had the opportunity to choose my career all over," Pike wrote, "I would have opted to get the necessary degree and teaching certificate so that I too could enjoy summertime off with my children, spring break vacations, Christmas break vacations, paid holidays, a generous pension and health insurance benefits."
"Instead," she said, "I chose to work a career in private sector business so that I could be one of those tax payers who funds your salaries and benefits as a state employee in a local school district."
Later in the letter, Pike said that "teachers who are dissatisfied with their pay and benefits should look for work elsewhere so that someone who is inspired to greatness can take their place in the classroom."
Not surprisingly, reaction to the letter was heated. "I think this letter is rude, ignorant, and unappreciative of our teachers," said one reader. "It is a shame that this comes from one of our elected representatives. Our teachers cannot be compensated enough for the work they do."
"If I were choosing my career today I'd be a legislator," quipped another reader. "No education required."
Other readers defended Pike. "We have got to stop allocating endless resources to public education," wrote one reader. "Thank you, Representative Pike, for having the courage to point this issue out before the state goes bankrupt."
To me, arguments about whether or not teachers deserve a cost-of-living adjustment, or whether we ought to have teachers unions, seem beneath us. Pike's letter underscores how we need a national conversation about the role of teachers, schools, and education in 21st century America.
After all, we no longer live in a world of blackboards and one-room schoolhouses, in which Americans are competing against each other for manufacturing jobs. We're operating in a global, digital economy in which traditional barriers and competitive advantages are being erased.
Having trained, talented, dedicated, and, yes, well compensated teachers--working in a dynamic, nimble learning environment--seems absolutely critical to the future of our kids and our country. Perhaps teachers unions will need to change. Technology and early childhood education will almost certainly play a greater part. But this needs to become a national priority.
Where is Pike's letter about that?
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