I grew up in the Northern Great Plains many years ago. During those formative years, the culture I encountered valued certain professions above others: doctors and nurses, police, firefighters and teachers. Those were considered the noble professions — individuals who had chosen a career of service to others.

My respect for those chosen careers has not waned. Oh, I’ve been made aware of some of the abuses: redundant medical procedures, strikes and union overreaching. But, a society void of committed people to these professions would impoverish us all.

Today, the unfortunate debates in Wisconsin have thrust the teaching profession into focus. And, when it comes to the excesses of the teachers’ union, mark me down as an opponent. Their “seniority” policies have made it difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers; their work rules are often inflexible; and. their insufficient personal contribution to their own benefit plans are all out of touch with our workforce economy.

BUT, public school teachers are not overpaid! On the contrary, given their supreme importance to our youth and the nation’s future, they are dramatically underpaid. And, that is why some of the arguments I have heard coming out of Wisconsin (and, other States) are beyond disturbing. “Teachers have easy lives because they only work a 6-7 hour day and get a three-month vacation each year!” and “Teachers make too much money!” — are beyond disparaging. They are ignorant, myopic and harmful. Those comments even place the nation’s future in harm’s way.

Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the New York Times last week, offered an understanding that puts this issue into much better perspective. In a column entitled, “Pay Teachers More,” Kristof wrote, “If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession. . . . In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher . . . When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.”

Modify the union work rules and require greater contribution to pension and health plans, if you choose — but, stop dumping on the profession. Doctors and nurses, police, firefighters and teachers remain members of the noble professions. We need more of our best young people to choose these careers and we need to pay them higher wages in the process.

More on Thursday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning