Monday, September 3, 2012

Five Thoughts About Labor Day and the First Day of School

1. Read about the history of Labor Day here. Remember that in the late 1800s, the average worker worked 12-hour days, 7 days a week.

2. In most public schools in Michigan, we have unionized teachers, custodians, secretaries and principals. If you think any of them are paid too much, get too much time off, have pensions or other benefits that are too high, just remember. . . they didn't negotiate those contracts by themselves. There was somebody. . . administrators and school board members, generally. . . on the other side of the negotiating table.

3. For a lot of schools, the first day of school is tomorrow, and in Michigan, that is going to be the first full day of kindergarten in many school districts, including Ann Arbor. Between the time that my oldest child started school and now, kindergarten has gotten much less play-ful and much more work-ful. Let's hope that full day kindergarten will still be fun for kindergartners.

4. That reminds me of a story:

When my (oldest) son was in first or second grade, he never seemed to want to read at home.
One day I said to him, "Why don't you want to read? Reading's fun!"
And he said to me, "Look mom. Maybe someday reading will be fun. But right now, it's work!"

School--it's a day of labor for both students and teachers. But that doesn't mean it can't also be fun.

5. Where I grew up, school always started the day after Labor Day. You might know that the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) also starts in September. As a Jewish kid, growing up, it never ever made sense to me that the "New Year" started in December. Clearly, the New Year started in September. I hope this new school year is a good one for you and for your kids. I foresee a lot of battles ahead. . . I hope to be writing more about testing. . . charter schools. . . arcane details of contracts. . . and more. But time presses, so we'll see how the blogging goes. I had told a friend of mine that when September starts I always feel like a Mack Truck has hit me. [She found that to be a helpful comment, because it validated her feeling. Maybe it will help you too.]

Mack AC-model flatbed delivery truck from the Petersen Automotive Museum


  1. I always loved Labor Day weekend. Usually the weather was good, and it was exciting to go back to school.
    I'm not anti-union, but I think sometimes it's the old adage, careful what you wish for, you might just get it. If teacher's unions keep negotiating for higher wages and more time off, well, that might not be in all their members best interest in the long run.

  2. You could be right about being careful what you wish for. But my dad (an organizational psychologist) often would say that corporations get the unions they deserve. He said that because companies that stayed ahead of the curve (paid well, gave good benefits and good working conditions) were generally not organizing targets. Their motivation, though, came from the unions at the other corporations. In other words, the non-union companies were/are benefiting from the unions--at least in sectors which are highly unionized. (It also happens that most union work stoppages are over working conditions, not pay.)

    Also, people talk about teachers getting highly paid, but I was looking at what incoming teachers are getting paid in some of our poorer local districts and starting salary works out to be about $17-$19/hour. It's not really all that impressive, in my opinion. I'm paying my babysitters $11/hour now.

  3. Yes, that is very true what your father said. That was my father's experience in the company he worked for, which was a non union shop,which paid very well and had good benefits etc in the midst of union companies.
    But, that reality doesn't exist anymore. There isn't widespread largesse and expansion occurring, but rather contraction and corner cutting. I think a union is often necessary, but they are self protecting,self serving entities by definition. A union never directly works to benefit a company, or say, kids, or to make a better car etc, but rather the forces in play are to get better conditions for their members and that indirectly will lead to better work situations and then better product( more well educated kids etc). But the forces that run a union aren't in play to directly improve about the product, which when you talk about that in the context of schools, would be kids doing well. And that reality is something we should all understand and reckon with.

  4. It's funny that I wrote that in the past tense, as in, "My dad would say," because my dad is still alive and healthy. I guess he still does say, but I haven't talked to him about it in a while.

  5. I don't think teachers make too much money. I think the retirement/health care situation is what is causing the problems. Funny thing is, if we had national health care for everyone, this would be removed from the equation. It seems that the same people who are anit union are also anti national health care. I can't figure that out.