Posted on July 18, 2012
I attended Boyscout Camp for the first time in sixth grade. It was a week long affair hosted at Camp Crooked Creek–a scout camp located near Bernheim Forest in Kentucky. If you’ve had the chance to watch Wes Anderson’s newest film, Moonrise Kingdom, you’ll have a fairly good idea of several experiences Camp Crooked Creek did not offer. It was not a sunny little enclave full of yellow bandanas and precariously high tree houses. Rather, it was a fairly standard collection of rustic campsites surrounding a lake. At meal times, the scouts convened in a mess hall perched atop a hill, eating what can be kindly described as substandard fare and drinking severely diluted Tang. It was not staffed by avuncular Edward Norton clones who had a passion for punctuality and essentially good hearts. It was, in contrast, run by a motley crew of middle-aged bankers dressed in knee-high socks, and college students on summer break. More often than not these college students were employed as the camp’s lifeguards, and achieved some perverse pleasure at forcing body-conscious middle school boys to take a swim test immediately upon arriving at the camp.
Contrary to my rather drear representation of Boyscout Camp, I had a fairly good time there (at least according to my nostalgia-riddled brain). I got to shoot a shotgun, explore a really cool shale quarry, and earn the wood carving merit badge for whittling away at a pre-shaped duck block. I even learned how to go an entire week without taking a shower (don’t try this at home). My hygiene hijinks were so extreme that, come the end of the week, my skin literally hurt from the crusty sauce of BO, sunscreen, insect repellent, sweat, and lake water covering it.
Perhaps the best things about Boyscout Camp, however, were the friends I made there. That first year, I shared a tent with an older scout who was into Dungeons and Dragons and acne warfare. We got along fine, but it was during my second year at camp that I made my first true scout friend. Graham was unusually tall for his age, had a precociously SNL style sense of humor, and came equipped with several copies of The Onion in his duffle bag. I remember first leafing through a copy of The Onion (at this time The Onion was published in book format as compendiums of several news stories) and being impressed with its hilarity. Its strange stew of sarcasm, current events, and faux-seriousness was like mana to a middle school boy such as myself with delusions of coolness. Graham and I went on to share many other comedic moments (we once did a presidential debate comedy sketch where I played Al Gore and he played George W. Bush), but nothing really topped my initial introduction to The Onion.
Luckily for everyone, The Onion is still alive and kicking. Its website is updated on a daily basis with humorous content, and although their news stories are sometimes irreverent, crude, and bawdy, there are always some gems to be found among them. A fine example of one such story can be found Here. It takes the form of a Point/Counterpoint Op-Ed piece in which two sides of an issue are given equal attention. The “Point” portion of the story sounds like the stereotypical privileged do-gooder fresh out of college, describing her “life-changing” year she spent as a volunteer teaching disadvantaged kids. It’s filled with statements like,
“In some ways, it’s almost like I was more than just a teacher to those children. I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.”
The “Counterpoint” portion of the article is where the funny enters. It’s supposedly written by a disenchanted fourth grade boy who’s wondering why he always gets stuck with young (and inept) teachers. He writes,
“I fully understand that our nation is currently facing an extreme shortage of teachers and that we all have to make do with what we can get. But does that really mean we have to be stuck with some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr?”
Though playful in a whimsical manner (who knew fourth graders could be so articulate?), the story nevertheless brings up an important argument. While I do not intend to talk poorly of programs like Teach for America (they’re actually, in my opinion, one of the best ideas ever), they set a precedent that could be harmful for education in the long run. When teaching is seen as an activity that is best handled by young, idealistic kids, and not thought of as a lifelong vocation for passionate educators, we have a problem. When schools can hire young people willing to work for the minimum teacher pay scale on two-year terminating contracts instead of more expensive and more experienced educators who’ve chosen teaching as a career path, we have a problem. I am not, when it comes down to it, attacking the idea of injecting failing schools with youthful talent and enthusiasm. I think that’s great. What I have a problem with is the implicit message communicated by the overuse of such a model. That message says teachers are contract laborers, not professionals–that they are greedy when it comes to things like benefits and compensation–and that they need to get with the times or get out of the business.
Dian Rehm had an author on her show the other day who had written a book titled, The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class. On the show, the author–Jeff Faux–forecasted a future in which the majority of American citizens, regardless of education, will be forced into menial labor jobs with no hope for upward social mobility. This is a trend that’s already becoming apparent (how many graduate degrees are working at your local Apple store?).
I don’t fear that teaching will become the exclusive province of idealistic youth; I consider myself a youthful idealist, so that would be kind of dumb. Rather, I fear that teachers–along with members of many other professions–will be increasingly treated as the servant class. Along those lines, let’s all pledge to never speak to a teacher like Chris Christie does Here.