Back to School Supplies

It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that America’s education system has significantly fallen off from where it once was. In the 1950s and 60s it was among the best in the world, and nowadays our students are mediocre in pretty much every subject. Top 20, maybe top 15 at the best.

The reasons for this are vast, complicated, and systemic. I cannot possibly address all of them in one post, but there is an issue I’d like to focus on specifically. Simply put, our teachers across America are not paid enough. There are a bunch of other reasons why our education system isn’t doing as well, but for me this is a huge part of the problem. 

I’d like to do a case-study of one US state in particular: Nevada. I think NV is a good choice because it is a microcosm of the larger, nationwide problem with teacher salaries. I don’t want throw too many numbers into this, but some are necessary. The two biggest school districts in NV are Washoe County and Clark County, and when you look at the numbers it becomes clear right off the bat that teachers aren’t being paid enough. An entry level teacher with a bachelor’s degree (if he/she can find a teaching job with the County) will make $32,289/yr in Washoe his/her first year and $34,684/yr in Clark. To put it on a relative scale, some valet attendants at Vegas casinos make more than teachers.

It takes a bachelor’s degree to get those base salaries. The median student loan debt in 2014 is $33,000. How are you supposed to pay off $33K in debt on $32k a year? This isn’t the only profession that doesn’t keep up with student debt, but its an especially big problem for low-paid teachers. Keep in mind, this debt figure is an average. There are people with even more student debt. Of course teacher salaries increase gradually over time, but to get the bigger pay increases the teachers have to take more classes and spend more money. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. I know many teachers in Nevada in particular who have taken second jobs since becoming teachers, which they have freely admitted to me affects their lesson plan preparations for the next day. When the teacher can’t prepare, the quality of education suffers. 

It true that the state of Nevada’s cost of living is slightly less than the national average, but the teacher salaries are still not proportionate to the cost of living. What’s more is that there are often too many kids in a class and not enough books for everyone. What really sets me off though and what compelled me to write this post is that teachers in Nevada and throughout America for the most part have to buy their own school supplies! I’ve known this for a long time but it’s mystifying to me as to why the state or federal governments don’t give teachers some sort of subsidy or grant with which to buy supplies. How is a teacher already struggling with debt and cost of living expenses supposed to be able to spend several hundred dollars (sometimes into the thousands) per year on supplies they need to do their jobs? I’m sure there’s some sort of tax write-off at the end of the fiscal year, but it’s still difficult to initially come up with that much money on a tight budget. 

I’ve even seen charity drives to raise money for school supplies! While these efforts are definitely noble and needed, we shouldn’t need a charity drive for school supplies in the first place. 

The work that teachers at all levels do is far too important for them to be paid so relatively little. It’s not a 9 month, 8-3 job. The teachers I know work year-round, even when not dealing directly with students. It’s hard work.The perception of education and what teachers do needs to be changed not only in NV but also across America. Too many politicians at the state and federal levels see education as a burden on a budget and teachers as government moochers. This is the entirely wrong perception to have. Education must be viewed as an investment on the future, and it must be seen as the fundamental tenet of democracy that it is. The people our teachers educate today are the leaders and voters of tomorrow, and if we have uneducated people running our country some poor decisions will be inevitably made. 

In my personal opinion, teachers should be given whatever money they need to help educate their students. Teachers are some of the most dedicated people in the world, and none of them are in it for the money. They do it because they love to do it. They aren’t looking for six figure salaries, either. I’m talking about enabling them and empowering them to let them teach the best ways they know how, and if that costs a bit extra than what we’re spending now then so be it. They’re our children after all and we all want the best for them, right? I do not have children, but if I did I would feel much better about dropping them off at school every day knowing they were going to get the best education in the world, instead of the 15th-20th best education. 

Giving teachers some more financial peace of mind would allow them to focus on what they do best – teaching. If they do not have to worry about a second job, they can spend more time grading, preparing lesson plans, meeting with parents, and meeting with students. Also, working two jobs like some teachers do is exhausting. Here’s a simple fact: fatigued teachers are less-effective than rested teachers! 

If we increase teacher salary across the nation in tandem with a few other policies, I think the American education system can get back to where it was. I hope it does but given the current state of Congress I’m not optimistic. Perhaps the changes we need to make should start at the state level. A state legislature is much more likely to actually do something about this problem than Congress is right now, so if you feel as passionately about this as I do I encourage you to advocate and vote for a raise in teacher salaries whenever it is possible to do so. 

Camping is Dumb

How’s that for a clickbait title? lol. 

It’s not incorrect though. I get a lot of invites to go camping and I want to explain fully why I decline to go every single time. The looks of incredulity I get when I tell people I don’t like camping drive me crazy. It’s as if people simply can’t comprehend why I think camping is terrible.

Let’s start with the very basics. I reject the very premise of camping right off the bat. Its the idea of removing yourself from the comforts of the 21st century, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why anyone would voluntarily do that. I’ve heard all sorts of reasons of course, but no real satisfying explanations.

Think about this way: it has taken humans 50,000 years to get to where we are now. We had to figure out how to hunt, gather, rule ourselves, and basically survive in a rather unforgiving environment in that alotted time. We also had to learn how to make fire and hide in caves from predators, and caves were likely our first real shelters that we lived in. We’ve done well since then, given the fact that air conditioning, showers, and down pillows exist now. Our lives have truly never been more comfortable, at least here in the Western world.

I basically see no desire to spend even one second of my life living as my ancestors did. Why would I reject modern advancements in comfort? Why would I want to be outside for several days at a time? Why would I want to subject myself to heat, cold, wind, or rain when I don’t have to? Camping to me is spitting in the face of every modern inventor and innovator. It’s like we’re collectively saying, “Fuck your lightbulbs, air conditioning, soft bed, and gas stove. We’re going camping for a week!”

I don’t want to reconnect with nature by going to live in it. That’s overkill. If I wanted to do that I could go to a park. The best thing about that is after I have soaked up some sun and fresh air at said park, I get to go home and not be outside anymore. Also, in no way is camping relaxing. I’ve heard people describe it that way and that is utterly befuddling to me. In order to go camping, you need to get a permit, pack your car to the brim with supplies, get lost on the way to the campsite, pitch the tents, set up a fire (if you are allowed to), and then unpack everything else. That sounds like the antithesis of relaxing. That sounds like a lot of work. 

Camping isn’t even really “camping” anymore either. It’s what I like to call shitty camping. I’ll only cosign to your camping trip if you actually try to “reconnect” with nature. That means no tents, no supplies, and no technology at all. Just you and your bare hands. You have to make your own shelter, fashion your own weapons for hunting, start a fire, and then actually go hunt and look for water. That’s roughin’ it. Anyone who brings a tent and their own food is not really reconnecting with nature in the purest sense, are they? If you go full-on Bear Grylls when you go camping then to me that’s more acceptable than cheat-camping. Don’t even get me started on people who bring RVs for camping. That’s not “camping” at all. That’s just taking your house and moving it to a rural area. It’s not camping if the water comes out of a fucking tap and you have a flushing toilet. 

Of course, no one wants to do any of the Survivorman stuff. They don’t want to do any of that because it sucks. This is what I’m on about. Campers want to have their cake, and eat it too. They want to reconnect with nature, but they want to do it with the comforts of the 21st century. It’s almost hypocritical, really. 

If all that wasn’t enough, the natural hazards of camping are by themselves enough reason to not go. When you remove yourself to a rural area a whole host of dangers present themselves. I have no desire to go live among bears, mountain lions, or anything of the sort. I do not wish to encounter snakes and asshole insects. I do not wish to be three hours by helicopter from the nearest hospital when I trip over an asshole plant and break my leg. I also do not want to accidentally wander through poison ivy and spend the next 4-5 days in itching hell. 

I’ve done a lot of bitching about camping so far but here’s a legitimate complaint: camping is a by-product of our entitled nature here in the Western world. There are people in developing nations who live in camping-like conditions on a daily basis, and to me people in the West going camping is essentially saying, “Your terrible life is something we do for fun.” People look back on camping trips with fond memories most of the time, but to think fondly of camping just shows how privileged and ignorant we are of the problems of the larger world. No running water is a temporary inconvenience for campers and something to laugh about, but it’s a way of life for many people. 

And I’ve been camping. I’m not talking out of my ass, here. I’ve gone camping three times with three entirely different sets of people in three entirely different locations and I detested it all three times. It’s simply not fun for me. If I want to get away from technology or relax then I can think of at least 15 ways to achieve both of those things without having to even leave my neighborhood.

Anyone who asks why I don’t like camping will be automatically referred to this post. I appreciate the camping invites and it’s very nice of you to think of me, but I’m not going. I don’t even really have a problem with you going, just don’t expect me to join you. 

/rant