Complacency is something that as Hopkins students we are mostly unaware of. Each of us was admitted into this university because of our desire to be better, to work harder. Hopkins has a reputation as a sweatshop of academics, where the classes are punishing and the hours, long. But these complaints are mostly from outsiders. To the insiders — the students — those long hours and extra classes are in pursuit of something bigger. That drive, the ambitious pursuit of our own future, is what makes Hopkins such a powerful university. But as insiders it is easy to get lost within the pull of Hopkins, surrounded by peers of similar charisma and discipline. What happens if you go outside of the university? To other schools? Does the same disciplined drive that we cherish at Hopkins also thrive in our nation as a whole? Or has complacency sunk its generous weight onto the back of our national ambitions?
The teacher’s strike in the Chicago Public School System (CPS) is the first since 1987. 350,000 teachers walked off the job in Chicago after their labor contract expired. The teachers went on strike for a host of reasons, a principle one of which was teachers salary increases. According to the Washington Post, the average teacher within the CPS has fourteen years worth of experience and holds a masters degree or higher. For this they are compensated somewhere between $93,000 to $108,000 annually. But what does this salary buy for a student within the CPS?
In 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that only 6 percent of CPS freshman would earn a bachelors degree before age 25. That number dropped to 3 percent for African-Americans and Latinos.
The idea that such mind-numbingly low markers of educational excellence can coexist with such large financial benefits for the teachers and the union is, to me, insane. I believe the reasons for such insanity can be found in the infection of complacency. On one level blame can be laid at the feet of the teachers union, who prioritize keeping teachers salaries and job security — the likes of which can be found only in government — over helping their students.
But that would be a simplistic view. It is also the fault of the city council and the mayor’s office, both of which allowed the education budget to spiral out of control to avoid a confrontation with the unions. The end result of this two-sided complacency in which teachers and their union, along with the city council, stood by and did nothing is a billion dollar education deficit for next year, and a pension “fund” that lacks the funds needed for teacher retirements. This lack of backbone needed to make the hard decisions when a system fails to perform ensures a persistent dismal future for CPS students.
In the end, the root cause of all these problems is complacency: Teachers who routinely see their students fail in vast swathes, and yet demand their pay raises and job security. City government officials who see the same financial numbers as the teachers, and the same pathetic measurements of school performance, fail to face the problem and instead sign off on another spending increase. The failure to confront hard decisions based on facts is a sure path to national decline.
James Cameron is a freshman International Studies major from Boston, Mass.