Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (generational divides)

I could empathize with a part of the article when Dr. Slaughter wrote:

“I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”). “ 

Dr. Slaughter is older than me, so she is referencing women who were on the front lines of breaking the gender divide in professional ranks.  I too have some experience in such circles, albeit less prestigious ones. 

I too have noted such negative attitudes from older professional women.  I don’t condone such attitudes, but I can understand them to some degree.  Admittedly, such women had it REALLY tough.  They were not welcomed into the professional world, they were sometimes harassed and demeaned.   And I’m not talking only about explicit sexual harassment.  I’ve heard anecdotes from co-workers of nonsexual practical jokes and sabotaging of meetings where the “girls” had to present their work product or coordinate a team’s activities. 

And then there were demeaning circumstances unrelated to co-workers.  When you work in an environment where all the men are lawyers and the few women are typically all support staff, it ain’t easy being a female lawyer.  It is common to be mistaken for an administrative assistant.  I have great admiration for administrative assistants, but it is pretty embarrassing to be the one lawyer that guests always go to when they need to find a restroom or want a cup of coffee.   They never seemed to ask my male colleagues, not even the junior ones. 

And I was once yelled at for not knowing the details of my boss’s travel arrangements while he was on a business trip.  I was gracious to the yeller, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand why anyone would think I’d have his flight information or know the hotel where he was staying.  I just couldn’t fathom why I’d be blamed for such a lack of information.  Not until later did I realize the yeller had thought I was my boss’s administrative assistant, not one of his attorneys.

If I got mistaken for administrative assistants in the twenty-first century, I can only imagine how much worse things were a few decades before when "lady lawyers" were an even rarer novelty.  Back then you didn't even have the more recent pop culture icons that make the gender of an attorney a less noticeable thing.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the media images of attorneys were exclusively male (e.g., Perry Mason, Atticus Finch).

When I practiced in Houston, there was a popular club for businessmen and professionals in the dominant local industry.  That club restricted its membership to men for many years such that the first wave of female lawyers, accountants, engineers and executives couldn’t even network there unless they were the guest of a colleague or client.  Not until a major economic collapse in the industry (and a resulting loss of dues paying members) did the club opt to allow women to join.   Dire financial problems were ultimately responsible for opening up membership to women, not a concern for diversity or equality.

The bottom line is that women entering the professional and business world in the 1960s and 1970s were the first wave, and they were not embraced with open arms.  My hat’s off to them for even sticking around.  Understandably, many of their female peers did not.

But so often, I’ve been disappointed that the intelligent, strong women who did stick around have not been more supportive or even understanding about work-life balance issues facing more junior women in the workplace.  In my observation, those women in the first wave had to make a lot of sacrifices on the family front if they stayed active professionally.  However, I’ve witnessed that they don’t like to admit they had to make such sacrifices.  They’ve had so much judgment from others as they’ve raised their kids.  So they often put a brave face on, brag at their kids’ successes and gloss over their family failures.  My sense is that deep down such women really resent the family sacrifices they had to make.  As a result, they seem unsympathetic to those younger women who are not willing to make the same sacrifices.   Perhaps it seems unfair to women in the first wave that the next generation might have it easier in some ways.

I appreciated Dr. Slaughter’s honesty in saying that she had often been on the other side of the coin, looking down on women who decided to “take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family.”  She wrote about the “dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession.”  She seems to be referencing the female brain drain among professionals when the workplace is overly demanding and inflexible, leaving no time to raise a family.  I wrote about that brain drain last year in an article that is going to be published this fall.  (See http://works.bepress.com/claudine_pease-wingenter/7/.)

I appreciated the part of the article when Dr. Slaughter wrote: “I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot). “  I think those lines say it all.  Women today are expected to do everything and be everything.  It is just not possible, but our culture makes it sound like it is our fault as women if we don’t live up to the impossible bar that has been set.

Dr. Slaughter described giving a speech on work-life balance to a young group:  “Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.”  Again, Dr. Slaughter is not clear what she means in this passage.  But later she talked about work circumstances that are “typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be.”  In that vein, she also quoted Mary Matalin: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” Dr. Slaughter’s thesis is that we can “have it all,” but “not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”  I’ll explore the repercussions of this thesis in later blog posts.

Ephesians 6:4

Parents, don’t be hard on your children. Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (References to Feminism)

I was fascinated by a line in Dr. Slaughter’s article:

“…for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.  I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved.” 

Dr. Slaughter doesn’t really elaborate on what “feminist beliefs” she is referencing.  If you think about it, that omission is kind of insightful in and of itself.  She apparently assumes all readers are on the same page and everyone is versant in feminist theory.   From my perspective, that is rather a fascinating assumption.

Dr. Slaughter has spent a lot of time in Blue jurisdictions, e.g., the District of Columbia and New Jersey.  So, I suppose she may not realize that in the Red States (where I’ve spent my adulthood) plenty of folks would have absolutely no idea what she is referencing when she writes of her “feminist beliefs.”  Perhaps even worse, many folks may think they understand what she means, but in reality it may be a very skewed, stereotypical notion that Dr. Slaughter may not actually intend. 

As a result of this issue of jargon, people from a different cultural or ideological background may misunderstand Dr. Slaughter’s words or may be immediately turned off to her ideas.  In my opinion, she has imprudently relied on a loaded term and not adequately explained herself.  That omission is to the detriment of the ideas she actually espouses.  There are people who might have been open to her ideas, but would be alienated by her embrace of the term “feminist.”

Feminism is sort of a fascinating topic for me.  I was raised in the post-feminist era.  I’m a native Texan and now live in Arizona.  Not exactly hotbeds of the women’s movement.  In my culture and in the circles I’ve frequented, feminism has been a four letter word at worst and just plain irrelevant at best.  To many, the term “feminist” conjures up notions of communist, atheistic, anti-fetus, anti-male, un-American subversives.  If you are from Dr. Slaughter’s culture, such notions may make you laugh and/or roll your eyes.  But if you have lived in Red States like me, you are likely nodding your head in agreement.

Despite my background, in recent years—particularly as I’ve become a mom—I’ve become more interested in feminism.   I’m fascinated by the concept of “red state feminism.”  (See the post on this topic from last spring:  http://christianityandthelawblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/red-state-feminists.html)

As I’ve come to understand, at root, the core value of “feminism” is simply equality to men.  To me, that seems like a pretty modest goal.  However, I sense Dr. Slaughter means much more than just that.  But I’m not clear what the term “feminism” means to her.  She seems to assume that readers understand that term.  But I think that is an indication of how out of touch she is with the 99%.  The “F” word is not one to be tossed around so lightly.  Jerry Falwell and others famously blamed 9/11 in part on feminists.   That is an indication of how toxic that term is in some circles. 

I’d love to know in greater detail what Dr. Slaughter means when referring to the term.  Frankly, I’m disappointed that someone of her above average intelligence couldn’t write in a manner that is more digestible to a broader cross section of our nation.  Presumably, Dr. Slaughter’s goal was not simply to engage fellow Blue State liberals.  To effect change, one needs to do more than just preach to the choir.  One must persuade people from other perspectives to work for the same goals you advocate.

However, intellectuals can’t engage the wider society if they use terms unfamiliar or misunderstood by a large segment of the population.   I always remind my law students that as attorneys we cannot persuade an audience who doesn’t understand what the heck we’re telling them.  An elite educator like Dr. Slaughter should know better.

Psalm 49:3

My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the utterance from my heart will give understanding.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Professional Elites)

Great timing.  I’ve been writing about women in the workplace, and the conflicts between work and family.  Then Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter writes an article for The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  The article is available at the link below:

I think Dr. Slaughter had a lot of interesting points, which I’ll be discussing in the next few blog posts.  I’m certainly glad that Dr. Slaughter wrote this piece, and it has received a lot of attention.  It has been discussed on-line, on the radio and on television a lot in the last couple of weeks.  That is good because this topic is one that typically gets overlooked for a variety of reasons.  I’m glad it is getting some attention.

There are several aspects of her article on which I’d like to focus. 

First, as many have pointed out, Dr. Slaughter is really in an ├╝ber-elite place professionally.  She is a tenured professor at an Ivy League college, who while on leave from that prestigious institution, was serving in a high-level position at the State Department and reporting to Secretary Hillary Clinton.   In the modern vernacular, Dr. Slaughter is in the 1%.  Perhaps she is not in the 1% in earnings; professors and public servants aren’t typically impoverished, but they don’t exactly rake in the dough.  But in terms of professional prestige and power, Dr. Slaughter is certainly in an extremely fortunate place.  She isn’t schlepping on the bus to a minimum wage job.  She isn’t an accountant or lawyer working at-will on a contract basis with no job security or benefits.  She isn’t a Ph.D. supporting herself as an adjunct at the local community college.  Dr. Slaughter has tenure at one of the most prestigious and most stable institutions of higher learning in our country.  She had the opportunity to work for a time in a high-level government post without losing her job security at Princeton.  She is in an extremely enviable position professionally.  If she is the one getting attention for complaining that women have it tough, then people should be exploring what life is like for the 99% of her gender.

It should also be noted that Dr. Slaughter also has a husband who by her own words had “always done everything possible to support [her] career” and took care of their sons solo for two years while she worked in D.C. for the State Department.  Again, she is in a rarified position that most women I know do not share. 

I have a friend through work who (like me) is a mom to young children.  She and I talk about work-family issues, and we have shared that to some degree we both feel uncomfortable as role models for aspiring female lawyers who want to “have it all.”   Both while I was in practice and now that I’m an academic, I have had occasion to mentor younger women.   It has not been uncommon for such women to look to me as evidence that they can be professionals and have a family too.  But my friend and I are very cognizant that we are both in a very rarified position; our husbands have put their own careers on hold so that their wives could continue to pursue demanding careers.  With our husbands, my friend and I figured out fairly early that having two demanding careers in the family was not going to work for our respective clans.  The reason my friend and I are both uncomfortable being role models is that so few men are willing to make such sacrifices for their wives’ career.  I’ve seen different statistics, but typically it is estimated that only 1-4% of stay-at-home parents are male. 

It is not uncommon for men to have a stay-at-home spouse who liberates them from most housework, but it is extremely rare for women to have that kind of support.  Further, there are all kinds of empirical data indicating that women still do a disproportionate amount of the household work within families.   In essence, most women today are doing the work that their grandfathers did outside the home, as well as the work their grandmothers did inside the home—in an era when both grandparents did those jobs full-time.  One way to look at it is that women today essentially are handling what took two people to do full-time several decades ago.  That is just nuts.  No wonder women are exhausted, obese, medicated and/or disproportionately leave the workplace when it is financially feasible.  No wonder people shake their heads at kids today and feel they are lazy and rude.  No wonder kids today are obese and medicated.  We are not spending much time raising them; there are only so many hours in the day and there are too many other demands on our waking hours.  Something has got to give.  The status quo is just not working.

Much has been made by others of Dr. Slaughter’s position of privilege.  A lot of it had a tone of envy.  We love to denigrate those who are more fortunate than us.  My reason for flagging Dr. Slaughter’s relative privilege is not because I envy her.  (I actually feel badly for her in some ways, but that is a topic for another blog.)  In considering the policy implications of her article, I think it is important to note Dr. Slaughter’s privilege to realize that if she thinks things are so tough for the 1%, then we definitely need some voices to tell the story of the 99%, who have it even more difficult.  To some of us, Dr. Slaughter’s article comes off a bit Marie Antoinettesque.  She determines that having an elite position in the State Department is not family friendly, so she’ll have to settle for just being a tenured scholar at an extremely prestigious university.   At least she enjoys her work and has choices.  The mom slinging hash or scrubbing toilets for minimum wage likely can’t say the same. 

Job 24:21
They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow they show no kindness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mayor Mia Love and Congressional Salary

I recently saw the article below about a female congressional candidate.  Her comments about congressional pay were pertinent to themes in recent blog posts.

Mia Love is currently the mayor of a town in Utah, but is running for congress.  If she wins, she would make $175,000 annually.  But don’t cry for her, Argentina.  She has “no problem with having a pay cut.” 

Factually, this statement apparently makes no sense because she is making much less than that in her current mayoral job.  And of course the press loves to pick up on this rather insensitive comment.  $175,000 would be a HUGE salary to most American families--even if we weren’t all still suffering through a painfully sluggish economy.

But what really got my attention was her explanation as to why she would be fine with a “pay cut.”  Mayor Love explained, “The pay means nothing to me.  My husband provides a great living for all of us and you know I’m obviously not doing this because I need a job.”


A couple things disturb me about this comment.

First, it perpetuates the assumption that men’s wages put food on the table and women’s wages are simply “pin money.”  My hat is off to Mayor Love’s husband.  Great for him that he apparently earns such a comfortable living.  But Mayor Love’s statement simply fuels existing assumptions that are used to justify paying women less.  Not every woman is in Mayor Love’s privileged place that she could work for free.  Most women would not agree that their “pay means nothing.” Most women I’ve known in the work place need the money they earn.  Their own sustenance is dependent on it.  Often they have a family to support as well.

The second concerning aspect of Mayor Love’s comment is actually something I hear from a lot of politicians.  It is popular to say one is against raises or for pay cuts for those in elected office.  It sounds to many voters like a fiscally conservative thing to say.  Trim the government budget by paying politicians less.  I myself am a pretty thrifty person. Fiscal conservatism appeals to me.  But mindlessly cutting costs without thinking through the structural repercussions is not wise.

Although congressional pay seems high to the average Joe or Josephine, it is important to recognize that members of Congress have costs that most of us do not have.  Unless they represent a state neighboring the District of Columbia, they typically must incur duplicative housing costs.  They have to have a home in their district, but they need a place to live near the Capitol.  Even when they are thrifty and rent a small apartment, that can be pricey.  D.C. real estate is very costly.  And if a member of Congress wants his/her family around, they need a larger home in the nation’s capital.  That can really be expensive.  Then there are additional travel costs to go between Washington and one’s home district.  Members of Congress need to be in touch with their constituents.  It is like having a job with two work sites. 

Although at first blush it may sound noble to not need one’s paycheck when one is a representative of the People in Washington, think about what that really means.  It means that one is independently wealthy or one has a spouse whose earnings can support the member of Congress.  The latter possibility is pretty rare.  Less than 18% of the current Congress is composed of women.  Men rarely have a spouse who is the primary or sole breadwinner. 

So, most members of Congress who do not have a financial need for the paychecks that they earn are rich.  I have nothing against rich folk.  But having a Congress filled predominantly with people, who have the rare luxury of giving away their time for free, is not necessarily a good thing.  Such individuals are not representative of the vast majority of Americans.  They do not have life experiences that their constituents have, which might be critical in understanding the policy repercussions of various types of bills.

Mayor Love’s comments disturb me.  I don’t see anything inherently praiseworthy or noble about  being a person of independent means.  Good for you if that is your situation, but that does not reflect anything more than extreme good fortune. 

Moreover, I see absolutely nothing shameful about needing to work for a living.  I find it praiseworthy and noble to work hard to bring home the bacon to support oneself and one’s family.  There is certainly nothing to be embarrassed about in such a situation.

1 Thessalonians 2:9

Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.

2 Thessalonians 3:8

We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you.

1 Corinthians 9:12
If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gendered Assumptions about Work

I have written recently about subtle assumptions many in our culture have that men work to provide for their families while women’s paychecks are not necessary.  The common, often unspoken assumption is that women’s paychecks simply provide additional luxuries beyond what someone else (i.e., the primary breadwinner) provides. 

Previously I mentioned that I have particularly noticed that such assumptions are harbored by men who are the primary or sole breadwinner of their own families.  I lamented that such individuals tend to hold higher rank in organizations such that they have disproportionate input in decisions about employee compensation. 

I think that is an accurate description of my own experiences in the workplace.  However, I did not intend in any way to let everyone else off the hook.  Many of us who are not male and/or not the primary/sole breadwinner of a family harbor similar assumptions.  I include myself in that same boat; I am guilty of the same erroneous thinking as others. 

Further, such assumptions can be so subtle that we don’t even recognize we are making them.  However, the danger is that when we don’t recognize our assumptions, we don’t realize the judgments we make that are underpinned by such incorrect premises.  It is important to be cognizant of our assumptions so that we can avoid that trap for the unwary. 

I had a recent experience that will hopefully shed light on how such assumptions can easily arise.

A family we know recently had a birthday party for their twins at a local pool.  Kindly they invited us.  We had not seen them in a while, so it was great to get to visit and catch up. 

My husband and I each shadowed one of our kids to make sure they were safe in the water.  I was with my younger child who is still learning to swim; my husband took our older child who participated in a competitive game of keep-away with a beach ball.  Several parents and I were in the shallow end of the pool with our kids—keeping them safe and trying to chit-chat with each other. 

The hosting father introduced me to another dad because we shared a professional commonality: we were both lawyers.  The lawyer-dad and I talked about our respective work while our kids bobbed and splashed us. 

Later on, I was visiting with the wife of the lawyer-dad.  She had a one-year old who really kept her on her toes.  The woman and I had a pretty long, very pleasant chat.  Turns out I know her father professionally.  He is a lawyer too. 

She was just a lovely woman.  At one point, my younger child was a bit fussy and tired.  It was too early to leave, but my child was too tired to swim anymore and just wanted to be cuddled in my arms.  This kind mom tried to distract my child by inviting her to play a game with her one-year old.

Towards the end of the pool party, the hosting mother mentioned to me in passing that this mom with whom I had been visiting was a lawyer in a particular governmental agency.  I was really shocked.  I had visited with her more than anyone else at the party.  But the whole time we chatted, I assumed she was a stay-at-home mom.  I was introduced to her husband because he was a lawyer.  No one mentioned she was one as well. 

The lawyer-dad was in his 30s and had two young children.  Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve known who fit that description.  The vast majority of male lawyers I’ve known who have children have spouses who are full-time caregivers.  Having a two lawyer family is somewhat unusual.  But it is extremely unusual to have two practicing lawyers with minor children.

I wrote an article last year about the underrepresentation of women in the legal profession.  In my research I came across a good deal of scholarship describing how the professional work place is based upon a set of assumptions created when most workers were men with full-time caregivers (i.e., their wives) at home to iron their clothes, pick up the kids from school and have a hot meal on the table when they got home.  The scholarship describes that because women almost never fit that ideal worker model, they struggle to meet the logistical demands of the American workplace.  The struggle is particularly dire when a woman has children and consequently more demands on her.  As a result, many women leave the workplace if it is financially feasible for them.  The article I wrote described this situation as one of the main reasons so many women leave the legal profession prematurely.

Because of my awareness of these trends and because of my own life experiences of knowing so few lawyer-parents with a dual career family, it just didn’t occur to me this particular mom at the pool party had a professional job outside the home.  During our conversation, she never alluded to one; we were talking about other topics. 

In retrospect, it is amazing that I assumed her husband was the primary breadwinner.  In reality her job is much more prestigious than his.  Her job is also likely more demanding than her husband’s.  Don’t get me wrong.  They both had good jobs.  But hers was in a particularly elite office.  She had a highly respected, very coveted position.  Clearly, she must be a very talented lawyer and spends a lot of time on her profession.

At the end of the pool party, when I realized my mistaken assumption, I was honest with this fellow lawyer-mom.  We had a good laugh.  She said she probably would have made the same error because she has had similar experiences.  She noted that she worked in a fairly large office, but she was the only female lawyer with kids.  We also compared notes and lamented the fact that so many of the women, with whom we went to law school, left the legal profession after becoming moms. 

The relative paucity of women supporting families in our profession is a real trend.  And it is tragic on a number of levels.  It can easily lead us to incorrect assumptions with horrendous consequences. 

In my experience, most female lawyers who are moms are either single parents.  Alternately, they are partnered and are the sole or primary breadwinner of their family.  Either way, their salary is not spent just on luxuries.  These women’s salaries are not merely an added bonus to household income.  Their salaries are critical sustenance for their dependents.  Assuming otherwise can lead to underpaying such women and disadvantaging their families.

Proverbs 8:12

"I am wisdom, and I have good judgment.
I also have knowledge and good sense.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

American Teacher (2011) (Attitudes Towards Teachers and Other Government Workers)

This documentary noted some of the bad media coverage of the teaching profession.  Despite the widespread concern explored in the film that teachers are asked to do too much for too little, there was a clip from Fox News Channel about teachers being greedy and just looking for financial gain.  Interesting.

In my observation, that sort of media vilification is not uncommon.  In our current culture, we’re always looking for people to blame.  It is the government.  It is the undocumented workers.  It is the lazy poor people who are leeches on society.  It is the Muslims, the Mormons, the liberals, the secularists and any other group the speaker/writer isn’t crazy about.  There is always someone to blame. 

To me, a very worrying trend is that these days Americans seem to really like scapegoats--though we don’t use that term a lot.  I guess it feels better to make someone the villain instead of looking more deeply at a complex problem.  But I find that approach to be emotionally immature and quite indulgent.  It is unproductive to sit around whining and venting angrily that someone is the reason we have certain problems.  It would be much more productive to instead find creative solutions to complex problems with many root causes.  Finding such solutions starts with trying to understand the complexity and various root causes.  But once a cause or two is identified, it does no one any good to just sit around griping.  Great nations are not composed of people who simply sit around pointing fingers and stewing in their own anger.  Great nations are composed of people who think deeply and creatively to understand complexities and find solutions. 

In the case of concerns about our educational system, I think teachers are an easy target for such scapegoating.  They are the most visible people in the failing system.  It is easy to pick on them instead of looking more deeply to figure out why kids are not learning and graduating.  Violence, hunger, family problems, drugs, financial instability, lack of classroom resources, crumbling school buildings.  These are very pressing issues that undermine our ability to educate our kids.  But they don’t have one easy source to blame.  They also don’t have a quick fix. 

Quite frankly, I think teachers are also an easy target due to gender.  As we saw last year when Governor Walker tried to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for employees of the state of Wisconsin, in the brutal economy most of us endure, there is not a lot of sympathy for public employees in the base case.  Teachers as a group seem to be particularly disliked.  But it seems interesting that we don’t seem to lump police and fire fighters in for such ill-will even though they are government workers too.  As a society, we tend to admire them.  They risk their lives for others.  (In truth, many teachers do the same these days.)  However, I don’t think it is any coincidence that we beat up on a profession comprised mostly of women, and we salute (sometimes literally) professions where men dominate. 

This disparate treatment has been most clear to me in times of crisis.  When there have been horrific school shootings, the media doesn’t focus that much on the heroism of the teachers who try to save their students’ lives.  Some of them have used their own bodies as shields to protect their students, but that doesn’t get a lot of attention.  Yet, there seems to be a lot more coverage when a police officer or firefighter does something heroic.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t praise the police and firefighters, but we need to have a less stifled, more expansive view of heroism.  We should be praising the teachers too.

During 9/11, I remember hearing about teachers at schools near Ground Zero in Manhattan where there was concern buildings might tumble and crush their campuses.  Those teachers apparently walked kids calmly to safety.  What bravery!  Many of us would have wanted to run for our lives, not keep a frantic group of kids together to get them to safety.  But in the days, weeks and even years afterwards, I never heard those stories again.  There was a lot of media coverage of the fire fighters and police however.  I certainly respect those fine individuals, but why didn’t we hear more about the brave teachers? 

My own belief is that it is rooted in our cultural beliefs about heroism and honor.  We admire it in men.  It is not as noteworthy in women.  The assumption is that women are supposed to sacrifice themselves for children.  They don’t get a lot of respect in the base case, it is easy to find fault in them, but not praise their heroism.

The following article is a recent example of the extreme disrespect one women in the school system had to endure.  I don’t think this was an aberrational incident.  But it went viral because someone on the bus thought to record what happened one day.

Luke 20:13

“‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’”

1 Thessalonians 5:13

Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

Friday, July 6, 2012

American Teacher (2011) (Breadwinners)

The second thing that struck me in watching this film involved the point about teaching as an underpaid profession.  I am convinced that the lack of respect for teaching and its consequential underpayment are tied to the gender of the people who predominate the field. 

It used to be more explicit, but I think there are still pervasive attitudes in the work place that women do not have as much financial need (and in good conscience can be paid less) than male counterparts.  Either the women are single and have no dependents.  Or they have families, but there is an assumption that a father is primarily providing for them such that women’s salaries are just for “extras.”  In other words, the assumption is that women’s wages are spent on luxuries, not necessities.  Such attitudes shock me.  I don’t understand them.  But I know they exist.  I’ve been stunned when I’ve encountered them. 

And I must say that at least in my own experience men who are sole or primary breadwinners for their families are especially likely to continue to harbor such attitudes.  I've witnessed this myself many times.  Unfortunately, such individuals predominate in the upper ranks of decision makers in most organizations such that they are often the folks primarily responsible for decision-making on employee compensation.  From what I’ve observed, such men seem to project their own experiences onto others. They are the primary breadwinners of their families.  In their own lives, they apparently have not encountered women as primary or sole breadwinners much if at all.  Such unspoken assumptions can be highly detrimental to women who work for them.

In our culture, there is a pecking order in terms of the respect we give different types of work.  People look down on hourly workers, domestic workers and those who do manual labor.  By contrast, we admire doctors and lawyers.  They are well-credentialed.  We believe them to be well-compensated and to wield power.  Men have historically predominated in the respected professions. 

By contrast, women were long excluded or marginalized from the work world.  As one expert in the American Teacher film noted, for a long time teaching was the only profession women could enter.  As a result, women who would have become doctors or lawyers were relegated to teaching.  As a result of this female professional ghettoization, I believe the entire teaching profession has suffered greatly.  It is my firm belief that if more men were teachers, we as a society would give the profession much more respect.  And as a consequence, we would pay teachers more. 

This gendered bias has got to end.  It defies logic.  As experts in the film noted, democracy requires an educated citizenry.  Moreover, the modern economy demands an educated work force.  As a result, the film noted that to maintain our quality of life and support our economy we need to educate people even more than they’ve ever been educated in the past.  That is why people like Bill and Melinda Gates have become so involved in education reform.  Our country is dependent on the success of our schools.  We have got to find a way to make them successful. 

The film notes the huge turnover of teachers.  People who loved teaching and were effective left the profession due to burnout and insufficient compensation.  We have to find a way to making teaching a sustainable career choice. 

Ruth 2:3, 5-7

So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”  And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi.  She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

American Teacher (2011) (Demands on Teachers)

A couple things occurred to me when watching American Teacher.

First, the demands on one’s time that teaching requires are not unlike the demands in other professions.  I’m a lawyer.  People in my profession work around the clock too.  My husband was an accountant for over a decade.  Unpaid “overtime” was a given.  That is what is expected of American professionals.  Everyone is expected to be a workaholic who is always on the clock and doesn’t have a life.

Such professional demands are not healthy for human beings for many reasons.  When adults are expected to work like that, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are a nation where obesity, substance abuse and stress-related health problems are serious issues.  When we have no time for personal lives, it shouldn’t be a surprise that divorce rates are high and our children have so many problems.  It was the confluence of two such demanding professions that led my husband and I to become a one-career family.  There were not enough hours left after all our professional demands to raise a family—or just cover the basics like feed us healthy meals or pick up the dry cleaning. 

There is something wrong with that economic model.  It is not sustainable and it is wasteful.  There will always be a brain drain if people are forced to choose between unsustainable, unconscionable professional demands and raising a family.  It really does take time to raise kids and maintain a household.  Human beings have to have time to do all that and still have a few hours to catch some shut-eye.  I have a very strong work ethic, but working round-the-clock is not sustainable.  And that cannot be the only model of professional excellence. 

Because of all this, I really resented the young, single teacher who expressed not having respect for the teachers who didn’t work around-the-clock.  One can be caring and committed without sacrificing one’s family to work round-the-clock.  But at this point in her life, she does not seem to have the life experience to realize it.  I’d like to hear her interviewed after she has her own family.  Indeed, had you spoken to me about this issue in my 20s, I probably had a similar attitude.  That changed when I became a parent and realized first-hand how demanding that role is.

Reform of our work culture is necessary to make our economic model sustainable and less wasteful.  We cannot look down on people who leave at 5 p.m. and spend the evening (and weekends) with their children.  We cannot expect everyone to forego having a family or to have a family but never spend time caring for them. 

Having a family and having a life outside of work are not sins or signs of slackerdom.  Having a family is hard work.  And raising productive, well-adjusted children benefits society immeasurably.  Perhaps not this year.  But when you get older, who do you think will take care of you?  When you are retired, who do you think will be in the work force paying taxes to keep the roads paved, the military armed and the firefighters on duty?

Proverbs 19:18

 Correct your children while there is still hope;
do not let them destroy themselves.