Opinion

When did civil discourse take a wrong turn? | Bob Roegner

I read about 20 newspapers a week, plus a few magazines. I truly enjoy listening to the politicians and pundits at all levels debate the major issues of the day in hopes of either persuading, or in some cases confusing, the electorate that a particular public position is correct.

But what used to pass for civil discourse has taken a whole new direction, as “cranky” seems to have replaced “civil.” I must admit I am confused by what I hear and read. Maybe it’s just me? I hope some of our more astute readers can help me understand.

Apparently to some, financial handouts for Wall Street are considered a good thing, while handouts for children and poor people are considered a bad thing. Retaining tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year is a good thing, and school teachers earning more than $50,000 is a bad thing. That is, of course, if the teachers aren’t the ones making more than $250,000. I guess that would be OK, wouldn’t it?

Despite the financial calamity that Wall Street wrought on the country and many investors, brokers were allowed to keep their bonuses because they had a contract. They might leave the industry if their contracts aren’t fulfilled, thus depriving us of the best and brightest to look out for our life savings. But teachers have contracts and were asked to take pay cuts anyway. Apparently, keeping or attracting the best and brightest isn’t a big concern when it comes to teaching children.

Some are angry that public employees get “significant” benefits. Others counter that some of those benefits are given instead of pay raises. To not get pay raises, and then have the substituted benefits attacked, is unfair. One elected official called teachers greedy. I know my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t recall ever hearing any teachers say they were motivated to teach because of the big salary. Working on Wall Street maybe, but teaching?

Another debate had many people expressing concern about the impact our national debt would have on our children’s future. Their solution was to cut K-12 and grants for students to attend community colleges, technical schools and universities. Others said depriving our children of a basic quality  education, a job skill or a college degree seems an odd way to protect their future. One suggested that Pell grants, which help low-income students, would be a good place to reduce the budget. Others think that cutting the budget so deeply that only the rich can afford to send their children to a college or university not only creates class distinction, but diminishes our future competitive talent pool in the international marketplace.

Another person wanted to lay off all those greedy overpaid public employees. Others wondered which ones were the greedy ones. Was it the prison guards? Or the state patrol? Maybe the greedy ones were the people who care for the disabled or the seniors, or who work at one of those cushy jobs trying to handle mental patients at Western State Hospital. Or could it be college instructors? Or is it those teachers again?

If asked “who had the most influence on your life when you were growing up,” who do you think many of the people on both sides of these debates would list? A parent? Maybe a minister or a coach? But what do you think the chances are that a teacher or a college professor is in there somewhere?

I guess I’m not as confused as I thought I was. How about you?

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