Diamonds and Water
Imagine: a young man fresh out of college paces back and forth in the locker room, reliving over and over again the conversation he just had with his coach. “Son, make me proud,” the old man said with a gleam in his eye, patting the young kid on the back. It would be the first game he ever participated in for the major leagues. This wasn’t an amateur high school team anymore. No, this was when it got serious. This was when everyone would have their eyes glued on him, anxiously anticipating his moment of greatness. The rookie took a deep breath, made the sign of the cross over his chest, and entered the stadium. All was silent as he delicately made his way to home plate. Children ceased their incessant cries for hot dogs and cracker jacks and not even a peanut dared be crunched at such a telling instant. The baseball was hurled at ninety miles per hour right towards the player’s chest, but he reacted quickly and slammed the flying saucer away in the opposite direction, simultaneously destroying the narrow wooden bat. The ball sky-rocketed across the entire field, landing squarely in the hand of a very happy fan on the far side of the stadium. The stands came to life again as the multitude of observers jumped up out of their seats, cheering uncontrollably for the novice who had just single-handedly sent their team to the play-offs.
Meanwhile, a woman arrives in her classroom at the local elementary school early in the morning, before the sun has fully risen. The small room is cramped with tall bookshelves and a sea of messy desks, each littered with mountains of forgotten homework and last week’s leftovers from lunch. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with posters on every subject imaginable, from George Washington and the Founding Fathers to the rain cycle and rules for long-division. She has been following the same curriculum for twenty-five years now, only with a different set of thirty students each year. Each day consists of instructing the young children in spelling, reading, writing, math, social studies, and science, not to mention playground duty, bus duty, faculty meetings, lesson planning, and parent conferences. Besides the many roles that her job description entails, the teacher must also deal with child discipline, the development of more efficient teaching methods, and making sure that each student’s individual needs are taken into consideration. Despite her long day, the woman finally leaves for home late in the afternoon, comforted by the thought that perhaps she made a difference in someone’s life that day.
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Now let me ask you a question. Which of these people do you suspect earns a higher salary? Is it the young man fresh at the start of his career as a professional baseball player or is it the middle-aged teacher who has been performing the same vocation for over two decades? The answer to this question is the professional athlete. This answer may not surprise you all that much, but it should at least raise your awareness of the value Americans place on entertainment over education and how flawed our current criteria is for setting fair salary policies among the many different employment opportunities available to the workforce. This large discrepancy that exists between the quality of work performed and the amount of money earned raises the extremely important question of what constitutes a fair salary.
The professional baseball player mentioned earlier represents a very important part of the American culture. Millions of people attend sporting events across the country each day, whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or any other similar sport. Going to these events offers a rare opportunity to sit back, eat a bag of popcorn, and enjoy a stress-free game in the company of family, friends, or coworkers. Sure, it’s a great feeling when your favorite player hits a home run or scores a touchdown, but do these physical feats really justify such a large salary? Tiger Woods has ranked as the top earning professional athlete for the last five consecutive years. His average salary and winnings amount to a staggering $22,902,706. Including endorsements he receives, his total yearly earnings increase to $127,902,706. Continuing on this path, Woods is set to become the first billion-dollar athlete within the next two years, and he is only 32 years old (Freedman). Compare this with the average ending salary for a teacher who has worked for 25 years, which is only $67,000—less than half of what the average basketball player makes in one game (Egger). Even though the world of sports may contribute greatly to the entertainment world and to American culture, it does not provide any vital service to society. Unlike teachers, police officers, and firefighters, athletes are not a necessary component of our everyday lives. It is the people who are willing to perform the arduous jobs that may not be as glamorous, but are extremely crucial to society, who really deserve the higher pay.
Teachers play a major role in the advancement of society, and they are the people at the center of America’s ability to dominate in the global sphere. It is teachers who bestow knowledge among students starting at a very early age. These students grow up to become the nation’s most prominent leaders in business, government, and medicine. America would not receive the benefits of these highly skilled, intelligent individuals if it was not for the teachers’ hard work, determination, and dedication. Rhena Jasey, who is an active member of the Teacher Salary Project, a program which hopes to raise the salary and perceptions of the teaching profession, notes that “the skill set required to be a teacher is at least as complex, if not more complex” than that of lawyers or doctors (Egger). If teachers are the ones who educate our future doctors and lawyers, they should at least be paid on a similar level.
If not for teachers, America would lack its collection of superior employees across all spectrums of the workforce. The problem is, this may become a reality quicker than may be expected. Neal Conan of the National Public Radio conducted a survey in 2007 and found that half of all teachers quit teaching within their first five years on the job and of those that continued teaching, 62% had to get a second job just to make ends meet. When Conan interviewed Rhena Jasey on the subject, she stated that “salary absolutely impacts the strain and drain of the job.” These findings are quite disturbing, because data from a survey conducted in 1992 by the United States Department of Commerce shows that individuals can, on average, earn $50,000 more per year if they attend college than if they don’t. With more teachers quitting their profession and others being discouraged from entering the profession in the first place, students will not benefit from the effects of having quality teachers from which to learn. If teachers are not given an incentive to do their job, they will either lose the desire to teach to their fullest ability or choose not to teach at all. Without hardworking, dedicated teachers, our students will suffer, and thus, our advancement as a society will dwindle.
The controversy over fair salaries is commonly referred to as the “diamond-water paradox.” Water is crucial for human survival; however, it is considered far less worthy than a diamond, which really has no important significance. The reason for this is because water is much more abundant than diamonds (Anderson). Like water, teachers are much more common than very skilled professional athletes. Granted, there are maybe two people who can do what Michael Jordan can do with a basketball; however, even though teachers are more abundant than athletes does not mean they are less important. Teachers provide the foundation for America’s entire workforce. Recently, the sports industry has tried to tackle the problem of excessive salaries by initiating salary caps, but even these attempts bore little help to alleviate the situation. In his novel Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps: How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in History, Mark Yost commented that “teams routinely find creative ways to stretch the salary cap” and even with salary caps, NFL teams were still able to spend nearly $100 million on its team members. And by attending sporting events, the American people are only increasing the amount paid to athletes, who are paid directly in conjunction with how much revenue the team makes—revenue which largely comes from fans (Yost). The debate over the definition of a fair salary is one with no clear answer. The gap between the salaries of teachers and professional athletes has continued to grow over the last two decades, indicating that Americans may have their priorities wrong (Yost). If education is truly a more valued commodity than entertainment, the salaries of teachers and professional athletes would be reversed. The fact that they are not shows that many Americans regard special talents at a higher level than extensive knowledge. A fair salary means ranking the earnings of individuals based on how they benefit and improve society, not by impressive skills that, although entertaining, do not aid society’s overall advancement for the future. By giving intellectuals an incentive to teach, such as a higher salary, society will foster a rejuvenated, performance-focused profession that will beckon much needed hard-working and passionate students.
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Freedman, Jonah. “The 50 Highest-Earning American Athletes.” Sports Illustrated 2008. Web.
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United States. United States Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration.
Statistical Brief: More Education Means Higher Career Earnings. Washington: Aug. 2004
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In History. Chicago, Oct. 2006. Access World News. Web. 17 Oct. 2011