Saturday, January 24, 2009
The status of schoolteaching as an occupation is lower in this country than elsewhere, and it is far lower than that of the professions in the United States. Characteristically, as Myron Lieberman remarks, teachers are recruited "from the top of the lower half of the population." Upper and upper-middle class persons almost universally reject teaching as a vocation. Teachers frequently resort, during the school year or their summer "vacations," to low-status jobs to supplement their teaching incomes; they work as waitresses, bartenders, housekeepers, janitors, farm hands, checkroom attendants, milkmen, common laborers, and the like. They come from culturally constricted lower- or middle-class homes, where the Saturday Evening Post or the Reader's Digest is likely to be the characteristic reading matter. For most teachers, their jobs, inadequate though they are, represent some improvement over the economic position of their parents, and they will, in turn, do still better by their children, who will be better educated than they are. ...
The unenviable situation of the teacher can be traced back to the earliest days of our history. The educational enthusiasm of the American people was never keen enough to dispose them to support their teachers very well. ... In any case, the market in qualified labor was always a problem here, and early American communities had intense difficulties in finding and keeping suitable schoolmasters. In colonial times there was a limited supply of educated men, and they were blessed with too many opportunities to be content to settle for what the average community was willing to pay a schoolmaster. ...
[C]olonial communities sometimes had to resort to indentured servants for teachers. A Delaware minister observed, around 1725, that "'when a ship arrives in the river, it is a common expression with those who stand in need of an instructor for their children, let us go and buy a school master." In 1776 the Maryland Journal advertised that a ship had just arrived at Baltimore from Belfast and Cork, and enumerated among its products for sale "various Irish commodities, among which are school masters, beef, pork, and potatoes."
- Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life
Labels: Hofstadter Anti-intellectualism