Ahhhhh, autumn! This is the season of cool weather, colorful leaves, Octoberfest beers, and striking teachers.
Each fall, teachers' unions here in the Philly area and all around the country find themselves negotiating their contacts and, all too often, going on strike.
And, each fall, I find myself wondering why teachers are paid so little that they have to go on strike over nickels and dimes.
Consider the following:
Movie star Brad Pitt gets $17 million per film.
Basketball star Allen Iverson makes over $16 million per season.
Hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs scored $3 million just to endorse a brand of spot cream.
And - get this - Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen are each worth more than $150 million.
We are paying these people millions of dollars to entertain our kids.
Meanwhile, according to the American Federation of Teachers, public school teachers (elementary and secondary) make an average of $44,367 per year. Their parochial school counterparts usually earn considerably less. These teachers, who dedicate their lives to educating our young people and teaching them the skills they'll need to be productive and successful adults, often have to seek out temporary jobs during their summer breaks just to make ends meet.
And it gets worse. Many teachers are forced to teach from outdated textbooks, and some must use their own modest salaries to pay for needed classroom supplies.
What has happened to our priorities as a society? Why do we freely spend so much more on our children's entertainment than we do on their education? And why must teachers go on strike to get a fair benefits package?
Perhaps this is just another example of a broader "dumbing down" of America, the assault on the intellect and the fostering of a fear-based groupthink that leads red-state citizens to vote blindly against their own best interests.
And perhaps this is a symptom of America's programmed preference for "faith" over science.
Knowledge is dangerous when it conflicts with the agenda of the ruling class.
That is why we have a movement all across the country to teach religion - just one particular brand of religion - in science class, rather than in a philosophy class or comparative religions class, where it belongs.
That is why it is called murder to perform life-saving research on a blob of pre-sentient cells that would otherwise be thrown away.
That is why widely accepted scientific data regarding climate change, pollution, resource endangerment, and mercury poisoning are ignored or covered up in favor of reduced regulations for corporate campaign donors.
And that is why, with the so-called No Child Left Behind Act, teachers have to teach to a test instead of teaching young minds how to think for themselves.
You don't need much of an education to merely do and say and think as you're told. Besides, the more you know, the less likely you'll be to march in lockstep for the status quo.
But now it's time to wake up, and it's time to think. To be a true democracy, to move this country forward, reduce crime, and reignite the American dream, we need an educated populace. And, for that, we need teachers who get the kind of pay and respect that they deserve.
It certainly seems a much better use of our tax dollars than the billions we're wasting in Iraq.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.