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.”