Nevermore Perched Outside My Chamber Door



By 01/02/2011

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When it comes to education, teacher unions—and their left-leaning allies—are never wrong, no, never, nevermore.  Any assiduous reader of the New York Times (NYT)—if only that and nothing more—would so conclude.

In “bleak December,” I resolved to prove that dreary proposition wrong.  In an age of talk radio croaks, our country’s great paper of record is “a sainted maiden, a rare and radiant maiden” that “discourse[s] so plainly” it perpetuates the standards of balanced, objective journalism undermined by the internet.

“Beguiling all my sad soul into smiling” when I glanced at the paper outside my chamber door on the second day of the new year was the headline “Public Workers Facing Outrage as Budget Crises Grow.”  NYT was about to provide good and just reasons for taxpayer wrath, leavened, of course, by responses from those representing teacher and other public sector unions.  “Dreaming dreams no mortal dared to dream before,” I rejoiced over the ease with which I would fulfill my New Year’s resolution.

But soon “I pondered weak and weary” over “many a quaint and curious” passage.  An attractive New Jersey art teacher, known for her confrontation with Governor Chris Christie at a town meeting where she had “pleaded the case for struggling teachers,” was being called “horrible names” by “people I don’t even know.”

Oh, no. Not that same old, hopefully forgotten lore about poor teachers abused by the mighty and powerful.  Still, I rejected that weary thought:  Just an opening gambit to get attention, just a “visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door. That it is, and nothing more.”

Soon the balance will be tapping, gently rapping, in paragraphs to come. Parents will complain about poor schools. The rising costs of education will be documented. Alas, the best I can find is a quotation from an historian at the Manhattan Institute, carefully defined as “conservative leaning,” making the claim that public-sector unions give “public officials support and get good contracts back.”

Immediately, I am told the historian is flat out wrong. “A raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers.”  Even that conservative Manhattan Institute “concluded that [New Jersey] teachers earned wages roughly comparable to people in the private sector with a similar education.”

As respected economist Michael Podgursky has shown (in “Fringe Benefits: There Is More to Compensation than a Teacher’s Salary”), teacher salaries resemble those in the private sector only if you ignore their tenure privileges, their 2-3 month summer break, their shortened work day, and their lengthy vacations in bleak December and verdant spring alike.

Apparently, the NYT fact-checker is unfamiliar with the Podgursky study—and the fact that school begins in September and ends in early June. On that topic, nothing further is then uttered, not a feather to be fluttered, not a mention can be muttered.

Instead, we learn from a study by the Economic Policy Institute (its financial dependence on labor unions is never uttered), that even though teachers are struggling, blue collar workers in the public sector are better paid than their private counterparts.  Such differentials are needed, we are told, to avoid “a race to the bottom” in which private salaries chase public ones downward.

At the very end of the story, a New Jersey card dealer (for whom it was hard for my weary soul to work up much sympathy) is quoted as saying “my hours are cut, and my taxes are killing me.” But that view is generously offset by the words of a “white-haired, retired, undercover police officer” (each adjective warming my heart): “I understand pulling in belts, but you talking about janitors and cops, or the free-loading freeholder?”

A taxpaying freeholder transformed a free-loader!??!

“By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore

Tell this soul with sorrow laden,”

Tell me, tell me that such opinion has no basis in fact. Freeholders own their property, to be sure, but only if they pay their taxes!

Quoth the reporter (sub-silento): “Nevermore.”

“But, with mien of lord or lady, perched [outside] my chamber door -
Perched upon a [bench] just [outside] my chamber door” – lies the paper evermore.

My New Year’s resolution shall yet be lifted.  Stay tuned.




Comment on this article
  • Anne Clark says:

    Freeholders in NJ are county legislators.

  • paul peterson says:

    But the dictionary definition that conveys meaning to the general public (which the NYT presumably serves) freeholder means “legal ownership of a property”

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