April 8, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES Watching all that money appear from nowhere because the market takes a hop now and then appears to have anesthetized a great many people to the salient fact of economics: real wealth consists of agricultural produce, manufactured goods, or human intelligence applied directly to the matter at hand, whether in medicine or law or accounting or engineering or police work or salesmanship or teaching, as opposed to the phoniness of “education.” When people call themselves educators as opposed to teachers, suspicions begin to curdle. No “education” whatsoever takes place outside the classroom, yet that is where most “educators” seem to want to be. They also seem to want the rest of us to pay for it. Most school administrators are fiscally honest, though some are not. The world may have long forgotten the business administrator who stole $1.7 million from his district by awarding contracts for work that was never done, and splitting the money with the contractor, but I’ll never forget it. Then there are the outrageous decisions. One administrator signed papers to cut down more than 100 trees so every high school senior could drive to school and park right outside the building. State and local were being violated as shade trees were cut down without a permit. The case ended with the planting of some new trees. People who live on the speedway that runs downhill from this same school used to come to meetings and complain that kids raced downhill at twice the speed limit, killed one family’s dog, and were disrespectful when neighbors yelled at them. I’m not the world’s best driver either, but I don’t speed in residential neighborhoods, and I have never yet hit a pedestrian, on two legs or four, and hope to give up driving as soon as possible before I do so. Who still cares? People who endorse every school budget and bond referendum because they think their own kids will benefit. I remember seeing a bunch of residents demonstrating so the teachers’ union could get the raise the board did not want them to have in tough times. The board gave the teachers the raise and, that year, the budget was defeated at the polls. I remember teachers demonstrating to save the job of a fellow teacher who got the pre-tenure chop because she could not speak English well enough to teach math. She could not speak Korean either, and she said white girls were stupid, which probably sealed her doom. The rest of us are tired of paying for four-year trips to fantasy land punctuated and terminated by an abrupt admission to a safety school subsidized by other people’s money. Majority rules at the polls, which is why everybody connected with public education hopes for thunder, lighting, wind, and rain on election day, since they think many senior citizens stay home when the weather is bad. This IV • Page 23 As I write this, kids all over Northwest Bergen are getting their hearts broken and their hopes dashed because their reach colleges and even their target colleges have turned them down. Another group is also suffering: seniors and singles who have sustained the kids’ now-shattered dreams by paying for over-priced high schools that many could not afford. Seen any for sale signs lately? Where I live, the property taxes on the average home are expected to increase about $800 this year. The police and emergency services, administration and parks have cost the taxpayers $68 of that money. The schools are responsible for most of that increase. I do not hate education per se. The day before I wrote this, my wife and I took a trip to Rutgers where I was invited to teach as a guest instructor. The students were respectful, asked intelligent questions, and gave me a round of applause that was heart-warming. Some of them came up afterwards with more questions, or simply told me how much they enjoyed the lecture. Parenthetically, the full professor who teaches this class on a regular basis, a nationally-known published author with a solid roster of academic credentials, makes about half as much money as the average superintendent of schools in Northwest Bergen County, and just a few thousand dollars a year more than public school teachers who rode out a 30 or 40-year career taking care of little kids or coaching sports when they weren’t teaching. What’s wrong with this picture? Academic ambition is endless among students who see school not as a preparation for life, but as a reason for life. My daughter, last heard from vacationing in Hawaii with her rich and handsome husband, told me about the aftermath of another catastrophe a decade ago. She roamed the campus of Princeton fighting back tears while encountering classmates who were sobbing because some of them had not qualified for Fulbright Scholarships. How can life be so cruel? Having capped four years at what was very often a private high school with four more years at one of the top Ivy League colleges, they were faced with the prospect of using the old-boy network to get a job for money they earned, instead of having it handed to them. What a fate! People who still think like that when they are in their 20s could be the same people who are running the United States and its banks and corporations when they are in their 40s and 50s and 60s, bailing out crooked bankers while they balk at a fair minimum wage for people, cannot stop illegal immigration, and will not touch the cigarette industry. Having spent the interim between graduation and maturation on endless vacations, they come into power, possibly through default, because somebody they knew in college who pulls strings behind the scenes discovers that the rich people need a Talking Head to be chair of something, or because they made enough money in the stock market to buy their way into the state house or the governor’s mansion. Then the real horror begins. Don’t help colleges finish off our country system should be changed. We need to get some grip on the idea that the schools belong to the entire taxpayer community, not just to Mom and Dad, who may move as soon as the last kid is in college. Here’s a tale of two students – same school, family friends, know and like one another. Student One got a 1600 on the old SATs and got into Harvard, and in fact, graduated. I met him at a library not in our mutual home town. He was on the computer looking for work. He got fired – I’m sure through no fault of his own. His brother, a graduate of one of the top non-Ivy schools, is also out of work. (True enough, I know kids who went to mediocre colleges or didn’t finish who have also been fired, but Ivy is supposed to be bullet-proof. It isn’t.) Student One’s family is paying $21,000 a year in property taxes and the sum and substance of his comments were that the taxes were much too high and the teachers received far too much money for the kind of work they did. Second student – scraped into Rutgers, finished in five years rather than four. Still in his 20s, lives in a six-bedroom house with a heated swimming pool, owns a four-bedroom house that rents at positive cash flow and builds up $50,000 a year in equity while it puts a couple of hundred a month into his pocket, drives a new company car and is having his MBA paid for by his employer – he was first in the region and fifth out of 200 in the nation at what he does. In his spare time, he supports a couple of impoverished children – Tejanos, Mexican-Americans who were born here – and belongs to the Big Brother program and, with the approval of his full-time girlfriend, takes a white kid from a troubled family to sports events and movies. He had to be talked out of joining the Marines after the World Trade Center attack, but he received a crash course in political reality from a Viet Nam-era veteran who still walks with a limp and he’s no longer eager to hire out his gun to corporate or foreign interests. “School’s a great place for girls and girlie-men, but I hated it, except for hanging out with my friends,” quoth he. “I learned about life in college but I never learned anything in class that was of any use to me in real life. If I was interested in the course I got an A-plus and if I wasn’t I got a C-minus because I did just enough work to keep from flunking out, but it was all a joke. The high school teachers are way overpaid for what little they do and that was a bigger joke than college. My money’s all blood money – I get out there and earn it, sometimes 12 hours a day. I don’t want anything handed to me. I would have been a millionaire when I was 30 if the crunch hadn’t hit, so now I guess I’ll just have to wait a few years.” Which one of these young men has what it takes to save what’s left of America? The one who depended on the schools or the one who learned to depend on himself? Mahwah Family Fun Night Lenape Meadows students, Kindergarten through third grade, recently enjoyed a Family Fun Night at Unbelieva-Bills in Waldwick. Pictured are owners of Unbelieva-Bills Bill and Beth Dubiel with Lenape Meadows students during Family Fun Night.