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7/31/10 @ 01:29 pm   
Why I think a teacher is more valuable than a CEO
Current mood: relaxed
About a year and a half ago, I posted the following on a social networking website:

I wonder why giving money to schools is 'throwing money at the problem,' but giving it to millionaire CEOs is 'economic incentive'. That's fucked up.

This led to a conversation in which my friend Paul wondered,

"what exactly is your argument that attracting top CEOs should not be more than attracting top teachers? To me, it depends on how you define 'top', and what you mean by 'giving money' away."

To me, the answer was so obvious that I never found a way to put it into words. Today, my friend Elizabeth said something that made me remember it.

By the way, I would define 'top' as 'most successful in accomplishing the aims of their position' - what those aims are, I'll discuss below. As to 'giving money away', by which I think paul meant 'throwing money at the problem', that's a phrase used by those who criticize spending money on things they don't agree with, not a phrase I myself use, except in the very rare cases where unrestricted cash funding is used to avoid having to work on a solution to a problem, where a shortage of funding isn't what caused the problem to begin with.

So, my reply to Paul:

OK, it took a year and a half but... my friend Elizabeth just posted the following status update, which answers it well, if only in part:

' "Education is not just a process of acquiring knowledge, or reading more books. It is a lie and death situation. Without education, people are easily exploited for political means. That is how we get violence and conflict."
-Chris Mburu, who was sponsored for education as a Kenyan child, and now works for the UNHCR. '

I agree very strongly with that statement, and I believe ignorance and lack of ability to reason is not just the root of major societal problems in Africa, but very much here in the US right now as well. When you look the amount of faulty logic and pseudoscience that pervades so much of our national dialogue, I honestly don't see how you can disagree.

There's more to my opinion on it - like that a great teacher can make a positive lifelong difference in thousands of people's lives, and is, by the nature of the job, dedicated to giving. I'm not gonna say a great CEO can't make a positive difference in thousands maybe even millions, of people's lives, but the cost of multitudes of great teachers is so much less than the cost of a single average CEO at the companies receiving bailout money that the overall cost/benefit ratio doesn't justify the difference between calling the latter "economic incentive" and the former "throwing money at the problem". Personally, I think a single dedicated teacher is much more valuable to society than a single dedicated CEO, but for purposes of the discussion I'll go no further than saying that if paying CEOs well is a priority then paying teachers well should be at least an equal priority, not disparaged as "throwing money at the problem".

The positive ripple effect on society at large from a top teacher can be enormous, at a infinitesimal fraction of the cost of a top CEO. Sure, maybe a top CEO can have an enormous positive ripple effect on society at large, maybe - MAYBE - even greater than a top teacher's, in absolute terms. But does the cost/benefit ratio still hold up? I don't believe so.

And, personally, I just don't believe that even the most committed CEOs would be doing the same job if it didn't pay so astronomically high, and, in larger terms, let's face it... a CEO's primary job is to make a company as profitable as possible. So their fundamental motivation must be to take,not to give - to keep the net flow of value directed inwards, ultimately benefitting themselves and a select class. I'd guess that's true in most cases. Contrasting that with teachers, I think it's wiser to invest money in those whose jobs are fundamentally based on giving back to society than those whose job is fundamentally to create personal gain for themselves and/or for a limited private class.
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