Too Much to Ask?

Returning from a rally on our state capital on President’s Day, I wrote on my Facebook page: Americans join the worldwide struggle to push back again rich, corrupt government officials in the pockets of multinational corporations. We demand the right to free speech, the right to assemble and the right to fair compensation for our work. We stand for the right of every American to achieve the American Dream. We stand for our heritage and America's destiny. We are not afraid any more.

To my surprise, my Colorado cousin (a stock broker) responded: What tripe, public workers whose incomes come from taxes should not be unionized, much less have the ability to strike. That is what those of us in private industry are doing-striking against paying more to the public unions and being their ...hostages. Solidarity against public unionism!! And then a Texas cousin (a nurse) “liked” what he said.

I wrote to her: last I checked you are in a public sector field. If you don't want to earn a decent wage, that's your decision, but please don't deny us the right to earn one.

And she responded: No, maam  (that’s Texan for “kiss my grits”), not everything in the medical/nursing field is considered to be 'public sector' related; I am an independent contract nurse & I also have a no-brainer job @ ***--I am dependent on no one but me.....totally agree with (our cousin) here!!

Well I guess the saving grace is that she said “here” meaning she is not lock step behind him. But my cousin is a nurse who is apparently anti-working class people, who doesn’t recognize her ties to the public sector, and who doesn’t realize these folks in the rallies across this country are her peeps?

I got on my high horse and retorted: Well lucky you, I guess, if you think you got to where you are entirely on your own without any help. I kind of think you have forgotten all the people who support from the public sector along the way, maybe you are an island. 

So perhaps I am on a different side from my cousins in this current civil war. I am an educator by choice. I was in the private sector as a research scientist focused on the archaeology of Western North American and reconstructing historical landscapes using archaeological plant remains and historical records. But somewhere along the way I decided that educating the nation's next generation was more important than my scientific research about our past. The last 15 years of my career have been tied to idea that our country (and especially my state of Nevada) needs a quality educational system.

If memory serves me both of these cousins went to public schools most of their lives, just like most Americans do. None of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. We were all raised with Republicans in our homes some aspiring to be the upper elite. But I don’t think any of us quite made it there. Our generation is well educated; most of us have masters degrees. I believe I am the only one with a doctorate, but still, we are overall a professional bunch of people who live good lives. And I think all the next generation have made it to college or are college bound. So that makes us an exception for American families today. And in my home state of Nevada this is extraordinary. But regardless, all of us have struggled getting our educations or getting or keeping jobs because none of us have had an “easy in” like, say George W. Bush or Mitt Romney and today none of my cousins qualifies as rich, let alone uber rich.

Now if we Americans let the uber rich lead they will gut the public school system along with all our social systems. Why do they care? They don’t need a social safety net. If need be they can fly away to an island somewhere. They truly can be island. But our country's education system and economy will continue to be in free fall.

Do you have any idea how much money the Koch brothers have? Charles and David Koch are tied for 12th richest in the United States, 49th in the world. Each has 12 billion dollars which is based on what they inherited from their father who made his fortune in the oil industry. My cousins have nothing in common with them except our family was also tied to the oil industry. But somehow these two cousins acquired a disregard for the common American that I don’t understand.

When did my cousins become hegemonic in their support of the rich at the expense of the rest of us? I understand this is the culture of Wall Street and so I can fathom this mindset coming from my stock broker cousin, even though his sister has been liberal all of her life. But the Texas cousin that is a nurse…how did that happen? Family legend has it that she left home and took off with some hippies (aka gypsies) in a van and traveled the country as a young free spirit. How did she come to be an apologist for the uber rich and so anti-working class?

I am not denying that some teachers unions (and other unions) have at times made unreasonable demands. But it most cases their demands have been denied. And that is the nature of negotiation. Today most examples about out of control union workers are not about teachers or nurses or laborers. They are fire fighters or police. One thing I hear is complaints about fire fighters' pensions, but last I checked the same politicians complaining about this have some pretty healthy pensions themselves.

But back to education, should we go to a private school model so that only the rich can afford a decent education in the United States? I certainly could not have afforded my education. Could you? How quick my cousins forget their roots. Our family was never rich. What we inherited was a strong work ethic.

Our patriarchical grandfather was Republican and worked his way up the ranks in an oil company from mail room clerk to Vice President. He never went to college. He taught himself law and my grandmother quizzed him at night until he was able to pass the bar. And he was permitted to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter known in history books as the Tea Pot Dome scandal. But that’s another story. My memory is that he was more of a Goldwater conservative which meant fiscally conservative.

I doubt our grandfather would have endorsed the great giveaways for the uber rich any more than I do. I do know that he was a giver and that he cared a great deal about other people and the planet earth and he did a great deal of good things in his life. He was in touch with his roots and he danced with our Cherokee cousins in Oklahoma and he is now with our ancestors. He was not only in it for the money. He never got rich even by his time period standards. He lived in a decent middle class home with three bedrooms and one full bath and 2 half baths. He was a good provider for his family and he cared about his friends. He was well respected in his circle and he revered nature as my father did and my brother and I were taught to do.

Because of the downturn in the oil industry in the 1960s about the time the old man Koch died, my father moved our branch of the family to Nevada so that my father, a petroleum engineer could work at the Nevada Test Site as a drilling engineer. When the test site shut down a few years later we really struggled. My father, as a professional engineer, had great difficulty getting a job because there was downturn in oil, nuclear testing and the space research, the three major industries that employed engineers at that time. I watched fathers of my friends die from heart attacks and suicides as Southern Nevada’s economy slumped.

My father felt he could not apply for unemployment because many private sectors people would look down on him and possibly not hire him if he did. My mother, who had a BS in education who was a stay at home Mom, got a job as a temp secretary, and then another. My brother and I got jobs in high school and we got by. I went to college, first at UNLV, then at SJSU. I worked my way through and from my sophomore year I began to get jobs in archaeology and I took out student loans.

While my father was unemployed in the 1970s he learned that the government was developing regulations for the new field of geothermal energy and my father began writing pages and pages of single-spaced highly technical recommendations and sending them off to be incorporated into to the new regulations.

When the U.S.G.S. had an opening for a professional engineer to help oversee geothermal leases, my father applied, they remember his contributions to the regulations, and he was hired. He retired from that job perhaps 20 years later. With some struggle he began as the son of a successful oil executive and ended up a regulator in the public sector.

Now I live in the state of Nevada where my father’s career was transformed. Today Nevada has one of the worst education systems in the country; we rank 47th in funding. Our tax rate is one of the best for business and yet businesses won't come here because we lack a skilled workforce. We need to turn this around. We have been in the process of doing just that through accountability. But what does our governor want to do? He wants to give public sector employees another pay cut.

Teachers and college faculty members who are young enough or otherwise not invested in our state are fleeing. This will not help us. As the state cuts our health and retirement benefits, teachers, college faculty and other public sector employees near retirement are saying they cannot afford to retire. This will not help our state either.

Our situation in Nevada is not unique to our state, that’s why we stand up with working class people in Wisconsin and every else in the U.S. and the world. But in Nevada we are in an especially poor situation because for too long we have relied upon the kindness of strangers by depending upon gaming and tourism for revenues instead of creating a more sustainable revenue stream. Historically Nevada has had a Boom and Bust economy and right now we are busted.

Nevadans cannot expect to continue to cut pay and benefits for teachers and college faculty and expect to get out of this hole we have dug. We need to continue in making our education systems more accountable and to find a ways to emphasize the importance of having a good education to our young people. This will come by highlighting success stories, rewarding good teachers and innovators, not by demonizing us. I am a good teacher, perhaps not a great one, but I work very hard. And every semester I turn people’s lives around. They tell me this and I can see it is their skill level. I can see it in their achievements.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to take money away from me simply because I am an educator. Our economy is in disrepair, and as an educator I am working very hard to help fix our schools and to help improve our future. Why should anyone want to balance the budget on my back? A decent wage for a decent day’s work--is that too much to ask?

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