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September 18, 2012

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Don't forget that until 50 years ago, gender discrimination in the private employment market made teaching the epitome of professional accomplishment for half the population. The quality of teachers has been declining since, because the people who used to go into that profession are now becoming doctors and lawyers. And you can't pay them a pittance any longer, because of both unionization and the other opportunities they have.

Working for a union is dehumanizing. Working for the government is dehumanizing. Both combined? Let's just say elites looking to self actualize don't become teachers.

Half Sigma, you forgot about the low standardized test scores of education majors. BTW, how correlated are standardized tests scores to occupational prestige? And what are the other factors behind test scores that are also related to prestige as it would seem that teaching has higher prestige than its average standardized test scores would indicate.

[HS: There's a very high correlation between standardized test scores and prestige of an occupation. Much higher than the correlation between the prestige of an occupation and the salary of an occupation. Even though journalists might make no more money than unionized sanitation workers, one only has to look at SAT scores to figure out that journalism is the more prestigious profession.

And by the way, if you multiply a teacher's salary by 1.2 to account for their 2 months of vacation, they make a good-enough salary compared to the average non-college graduate.]

"You need a vocational degree to teach"

Wrong. In some districts, you just need a teacher's license, in addition to an undergraduate degree. Plenty of public school teachers have liberal arts or sciences degrees (English, chemistry, etc.).

How could you not quote Paul Fussell here?

"The degree to which your work is overseen by a superior suggests your real class more accurately than the amount you take home from it. Thus the reason why a high-school teacher is "lower" than a tenured university professor. The teacher is obliged to file weekly "lesson plans" with a principal, superintendent, or "curriculum coordinator," thus acknowledging subservience. The professor, on the other hand, reports to no one, and his class is thus higher, even though the teacher may be smarter, better-mannered, and richer."

Why is "middle class" necessarily at odds with working in a "quasi blue-collar profession"? Until the end of the 20th century, men could have not merely a "quasi" blue collar job but an *actual* blue collar job (in manufacturing) and still be middle class.

asdf:

To me, the worst part about being a teaching is simply knowing that you cannot make a difference, since the economic/social system values aptitude measured by standardized tests, not the knowledge in the curriculum you teach. One cannot teach what's really important -- the ability to perform well on g-loaded standardized tests. Also, let's not forget that some students simply lack the aptitude to even learn the material that you are teaching, and most of the information you teach would simply decay.

At best, economically, a teacher would just be facilitator in a system that enables students to signal their conscientiousness and intelligence through high grades. The content of the classes does not matter at all in the economic sense, although it can intellectually enrich some students.

---

I meant to ask what are the factors behind occupational prestige other than test scores.

I don't know how savvy the average 21-year old is about the downsides of teaching, but these days the main ones are: if you go public, you have to endure a credentialing process which is nothing more than immersion in radical political corectness, then you work for evil black administrators; if you go private, you're at the mercy of SWPL principals who demand that you work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., because the parents paying those high fees expect their kid to get into Harvard. Contrast becoming a mid-law insurance litigator: you get the bad hours, but better pay and the only people looking down their nose at you are the investment bankers, which you don't meet often anyway.

"The degree to which your work is overseen by a superior"

has a lot to do with occupational satisfaction. It is inherintely unpleasent to be supervised and micromanaged regardless of the task.

The very notion of "middle class" is so ill-defined that it makes no sense to talk about it without first agreeing on a reasonable definition. Just try reading the article on Middle Class in Wikipedia. It is horribly written and contains at least three conflicting definitions - international, Marxist, British and American. Even in everyday American usage, it can mean vastly different things.

Even if you try to consider income only, you then have to include cost of living, pension, health insurance and other benefits to get to some estimate that is meaningful across the board.

I recently stumbled upon an alternative analysis with three overlapping hierarchies: Labor, Gentry and Elite. I would recommend it:
http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/the-3-ladder-system-of-social-class-in-the-u-s/

A friend of mine became a math teacher at a public school. He tested at around 1% but had no ambition. 11 Years ago, when he started, it was a great job. It went straight downhill over this time, became a horrible job, and as of this year, he works at a magnet school.

I am a teacher, and here's my take on this issue: It depends whom and where you teach.

Teachers in the inner city, like myself, are not real professionals. The conditions are horrible, and we actually could use a functioning union to address severe safety issues, health hazards and all that jazz. Also, as a rule, we are not considered to have any specialized knowledge, our opinions are not respected, and we are micromanaged to the Nth degree. To be fair, our work isn't intellectual. We babysit the dysfunctional youth, and don't contribute to society anymore than the prison guards.

Now, the teachers in my suburban home town (whom I know well, and with whom I still keep in touch) are white collar professionals. Their work consists of keeping a high level of expertise in a certain subject and finding a variety of ways to effectively explain the concepts of their chosen subject. Other than the common PC and Puritan restrictions, these teachers are given a lot of freedom.

It makes sense since teaching in the inner city is a lot more physically demanding and stressful, while teaching functional children with potential for a productive future is a lot more important and intellectually demanding.

JP, that definition of middle class (that include blue collar workers) doesn't make sense other than describing the cold war period. The more traditional definition has more to do with independence. In the middle ages the townsmen (and yeomen, to the extent that they weren't snuffed out) were considered middle class. Everyone else was either upper class (nobility) or lower class (serfs) Townsmen were independent and worked for themselves.

When the US was settled people by default become middle class, because nearly everyone was self-employed. Our farmers were middle class, which is a historical anomaly. Many of the early immigrants to the US, particularly in the north, were middle class in Europe, so the US was far more middle-classy than anywhere else. For example my ancestors were homeschooled farmers, but they studied Euclid's Elements (college level geometry) in Greek and the Bible in Latin. That didn't happen anywhere else in the world.

However the industrial revolution changed that. Immigrants from all over were brought in to be the obedient workers that the Americans refused to be. It wasn't just about wages, but about control. Middle class values were suppressed.

WWII brought another reversal. Unlike modern (professional) militaries, the WWII military was drafted. Everyone was given an IQ test the GI bill meant that many more could go to college. Post-war confidence in the US economy resulted in world-wide monetary policy that transferred value from Europe to the US until 1971 when the Breton Woods agreement broke down.

If you take a bunch of white people, send them to college, and subsidize everything that they do... you're going to end up with a lot of innovation. This essentially resulted in a labor shortage. Technology was improving faster than people could build all of the gadgets. People wanted (and could afford) infrastructure faster than it could be built.

This relative labor shortage gave blue-collar workers leverage and thus more independence and higher wages. I think that it is reasonable to categorize blue-collar workers as part of the middle class during the cold war. However that was a historical anomaly, and no one should have expected it to last.

Are municipal workers middle class (I am now a city worker)? Government workers have a hard time transitioning to the private sector but some move to non-profits, which strike me as higher in class.

Teachers are either high prole or the lowest possible middle class profession. K-12, Teachers often fail their own proficiency tests, misunderstand their own material (many math teachers have a tenuous grasp on the subject), and generally have prole interests.

It seems like many teachers get caught having sex with their students. That sounds pretty prole-like to me.

"The degree to which your work is overseen by a superior"

So a plumber, who spends his days making unsupervised repairs in people's homes, is upper class. Makes sense.

"You need a vocational degree to teach"

"Wrong. In some districts, you just need a teacher's license, in addition to an undergraduate degree. Plenty of public school teachers have liberal arts or sciences degrees (English, chemistry, etc.)."

Here's some data on that: http://ncei.com/Alt-Teacher-Cert.htm

Alternate route is the way to go. And it's getting more popular. That was my route. Most of the smart new teachers I see avoided education programs altogether.

@ Insider

Americans, in general are proles. That is if you ask any college educated European what they think of Americans.

"Until the end of the 20th century, men could have not merely a "quasi" blue collar job but an *actual* blue collar job (in manufacturing) and still be middle class." -- JP

Historically, society consisted of mostly aristocracy and laborers. During the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs built factories and other businesses. They and their top managers and a few professionals in medicine, law, etc were the only true middle class. They were called the middle class because they were sandwiched between the aristocracy and common laborers.

Teachers aren't owners or top management. And they're certainly not real professionals. They're only middle class because they had degrees at a time when everyone else was either a tradesman or laborer. It's more of a legacy. I grudgingly admit that it makes the cut. But teaching is about the lowest degreed career one can have. I personally view teachers as lower than nurses and some police officers who are also degreed and earn more.

If one has to choose between teaching and a trade then they're better off learning a trade. It pays better. And one can start a business.

The comments by Maya and T are good, but consider the following:

1) Try actually to get a job as a teacher. You will find it as difficult as getting a job as a plumber or a construction worker. You basically need connections with someone who already works in the field and/ or belongs to a union.

2) Check out how often stories about teachers currently feature them them having sex with their students. Its not like all or most or a majority of teachers have sex with their students, the point is this is the only attention the trade gets. Think about the other professions or trades that only get in the newspapers when their members have inappropriate sex.

Honestly, they are not doing badly at all, we are just not dealing with a "white collar" profession in terms of social status anymore (though these are disappearing or downgrading across the board anyway).

"Half Sigma, you forgot about the low standardized test scores of education majors."

Fewer than half of ed majors become teachers, so the scores of those who actually become teachers aren't quite that bad. See here: http://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/teacher-quality-pseudofacts-part-ii/

"BTW, how correlated are standardized tests scores to occupational prestige?"

Very highly. From Wikipedia:

"There is a high correlation of .90 to .95 between the prestige rankings of occupations, as rated by the general population, and the average general intelligence scores of people employed in each occupation. At the level of individual employees, the association between job prestige and g is lower – one large U.S. study reported a correlation of .65 (.72 corrected for attenuation). Mean level of g thus increases with perceived job prestige. It has also been found that the dispersion of general intelligence scores is smaller in more prestigious occupations than in lower level occupations, suggesting that higher level occupations have minimum g requirements."

@destructure,

"Historically, society consisted of mostly aristocracy and laborers."

Obviously, if I refer to manufacturing laborers as middle class, I am not referring to all of history but post-industrial revolution.

"During the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs built factories and other businesses. They and their top managers and a few professionals in medicine, law, etc were the only true middle class."

I don't agree. Skilled laborers in manufacturing jobs were (and still are) "truly" middle class.

@T,

"that definition of middle class (that include blue collar workers) doesn't make sense other than describing the cold war period"

I think it makes sense to describe the period after the industrial revolution, and certainly anytime after 1860.

"The more traditional definition has more to do with independence."

I was not using the "traditional" definition, which has no relevance to the modern world anyway, since we have neither nobles nor serfs today.

"When the US was settled people by default become middle class, because nearly everyone was self-employed."

Disagree. They are better described as peasants - i.e., lower class. Not all peasants in Europe were serfs "owned" by some noble; many were independent (nominally anyway).

"However the industrial revolution changed that. Immigrants from all over were brought in to be the obedient workers that the Americans refused to be. It wasn't just about wages, but about control. Middle class values were suppressed."

Disagree again. American capitalism did not rely on or require obedient robots. American capitalism relied on, and required, skilled laborers on the floor who genuinely contributed to the success of the enterprise. Middle class values were not suppressed, they were encouraged.

"If you take a bunch of white people, send them to college, and subsidize everything that they do... you're going to end up with a lot of innovation."

The white folks who worked in factories were very, very innovative *even before* they all went to college.

Most of the white folks who go to college now do NO innovation whatsoever. Case in point: teachers! They hate innovation and the entire system of teaching in this country is designed to suppress innovation. The same could be said of many other professions that require a college "credential".

Not to mention that for most of the Cold War, the number of people with Bachelor's degrees or more in the United States was *relatively trivial* -- it didn't even break 20% until the Cold War was over. Therefore the idea that blue collar workers only became "middle class" during the Cold War because lots of them were sent to college is completely false.

JP, are you from Europe? You have American history completely backwards. The farmers were much higher class (educationally, socially, and economically) than the industrial laborers. The fact is that people who arrived in the cities only stayed there long enough until they could buy land, and then they moved up the social ladder. America never has peasants (obedient, ignorant, dependent) in the European sense.

When industrialization came the capitalists could not get farmers to work in their factories, because factory work was lower class than farming. They had to import new immigrants.

@Shawn: "Are municipal workers middle class?"

Good question. Would this city workers be middle class:

Current Police Chief of a 75,000 FL coastal suburb with a US cost of living index of 88/100 as per bestplaces.net. Chief is a local hometown boy, got hired as a police officer with the city in 1979 at age 19. While working full-time and at the city's expense, earned a BS Criminal Justice from a from a local diploma mill. Retired on full pension (75%) after 25 years of service at age 44 at the rank of Deputy Chief at an annual salary of $90,000; but proceeded to defer retirement for 5 years while remaining on the job at full pay.

While remaining on the job in "deferred retirement", the Deputy Chief's monthly pension payments begin and are accumulated in a special IRA-type account. After five years, this special account totals $337,000 + 6% annual interest, which is paid out to the Deputy Chief after the five year period. This is often called a Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and is available to many local and state workers.

Anyway, after the 5-year deferred retirement, the Deputy Chief is 49 y/o, collects his $337,000+ lump sum pay out and begins collecting his regular monthly $5625 pension check. But is promptly hired as the Police Chief at $115K per year and has remained in that role for the past three years, and is now 52 y/o.

Based on this wealth accumulation and salary, is this city worker middle class? If police officer is prole-like, then I guess Police Chief is middle class.

"Why is "middle class" necessarily at odds with working in a "quasi blue-collar profession"? Until the end of the 20th century, men could have not merely a "quasi" blue collar job but an *actual* blue collar job (in manufacturing) and still be middle class."

You're confusing social class with economic class. A plumber or an electrician or a factory worker can make $100,000 a year, but they'll still more than likely be a prole. You can see this when well-paid blue collar people still have no money because they blew it all on a new boat or ATV or hunting rifles.

Think about it this way; how many people want their kids to grow up to work in a skilled trade, even though these jobs pay decent money? Laborer jobs have no status.

"Think about it this way; how many people want their kids to grow up to work in a skilled trade, even though these jobs pay decent money? Laborer jobs have no status."

But most white collar jobs have no status either. Now, since they don't pay more than skilled trades in most cases -- and they have worse job security -- have you considered that many class-insecure people have been duped by the college-industrial complex? It's in the interest of colleges to have white collar jobs require college degrees and to make middle class people think they're losers if they learn a trade and don't get a college degree.

[HS: If you work in a trade, then you're prole, and proles ARE losers.]

@Bob,

"You're confusing social class with economic class."

No, I am not. The key word is "necessarily". There is no *necessary* reason why a someone with a skilled blue collar job (e.g. manufacturing) should not have middle class values and behaviors. If you read Charles Murray's Coming Apart, you can see that until recently, skilled blue collar folks largely *did* have middle class values and attitudes.

"JP, are you from Europe? You have American history completely backwards."

No, I am an American, and needless to say I think it's you who have things backwards.

"The farmers were much higher class (educationally, socially, and economically) than the industrial laborers."

No, and keep in mind that there is a difference between skilled and unskilled industrial labor. I am referring to the former, and the former could be (and were) middle class.

"America never has peasants (obedient, ignorant, dependent) in the European sense."

Not all European peasants were like that. American farmers simply were not middle class. Your attempts to define them as such are ludicrous.

"If you work in a trade, then you're prole, and proles ARE losers".

IT guys are in a trade. They are also seen as losers.

"[HS: If you work in a trade, then you're prole, and proles ARE losers.]"

Why? Why is a locksmith who gets $250 for 20 minutes work a loser? What makes a college-educated cubicle worker who makes less money, has less autonomy at work, and no job security, better or happier than him?

I think if you set aside your preconceptions and consider this objectively, you'll realize your blanket statement about tradesmen being losers is obviously false. You have bought into a paradigm that makes you feel like a failure if you aren't a Rockefeller. You're welcome to feel unhappy about that if you want, but why should a tradesman with a good living, a loving family, friends, pursuits he enjoys, etc., be unhappy?

"But most white collar jobs have no status either. Now, since they don't pay more than skilled trades in most cases -- and they have worse job security -- have you considered that many class-insecure people have been duped by the college-industrial complex? It's in the interest of colleges to have white collar jobs require college degrees and to make middle class people think they're losers if they learn a trade and don't get a college degree. "

White collar jobs aren't necessarily prestigious, but the jobs themselves and especially the people who do them are seen as better and above those who do manual jobs. The quote from Caddyshack goes "The world needs *ditch diggers* too", not "The world needs accountants too. Blue collar jobs are seen as something you end up in because you were too stupid or lazy to "make something of yourself" and go to college like you're supposed to.

The college-industrial complex is precisely why trades jobs are inherently lower status in our society. The elite may see the plumber and the cube monkey as being on the same level, but the average joe does not.

"

I think if you set aside your preconceptions and consider this objectively, you'll realize your blanket statement about tradesmen being losers is obviously false. You have bought into a paradigm that makes you feel like a failure if you aren't a Rockefeller. You're welcome to feel unhappy about that if you want, but why should a tradesman with a good living, a loving family, friends, pursuits he enjoys, etc., be unhappy? "

We're talking about societal perceptions here. Personally, I would much rather be one of those well paid tradesmen than some jackass in an office all day. But greater society doesn't share that view.

" No, I am not. The key word is "necessarily". There is no *necessary* reason why a someone with a skilled blue collar job (e.g. manufacturing) should not have middle class values and behaviors. If you read Charles Murray's Coming Apart, you can see that until recently, skilled blue collar folks largely *did* have middle class values and attitudes."

Murray's definition of "middle class values" are much wider than the ones used by people like Fussell. Holding values like having kids in wedlock and holding down a job consistently have little to do with being middle class.

ED,

I'm not sure what your point is.
About getting hired as a teacher... It's not all that hard, and doesn't require connections, as long as you're certified in a hard to staff field- foreign language, special education, chemistry, physics or math- and are willing to work in an inner city hell hole. Elementary education is different, and it might require networking and remembering the admins' birthdays.

And if we're talking about getting hired to teach in the rich suburbs, I think the process is akin to that of a young lawyer trying to get a job at the top firms or an MBA grad applying to GS. All my teachers in middle school and high school had semi elite (or, at least, respectable) education from places like U of Michigan, Cornell, Northwestern, U of Chicago, U of Virginia, Boston U and so on. Most of them had a master's in their field. My baby siblings' elementary school teachers seemed to be either the elderly women from another era who held their positions for decades or the very pleasant, pretty, but less talented daughters of the upper middle class. Their fathers sent them to private colleges or nice flagship state universities and didn't discourage them from earning degrees in elementary education because anything else would've been to stressful, and these girls weren't ever expected to support themselves to begin with. They all dressed very well and drove shiny cars. Good deal for everyone. Children got to spend their early school days with the very nice, happy, relaxed young women with middle class sensibilities and correct accents. The young women got to ward off boredom and refine their nurturing instincts by spending time with cute, well behaved kids who had parents capable of addressing any problem that might arise in the kid's progress. You have to be someone's daughter or wife to land a gig like that.

As far as teachers being in the news only for sex scandals, I don't see what point you're trying to make there either. The profession itself isn't very exciting. Are dentistry, accounting or physical therapy in the news often? Sex and child abuse are two of those topics that get everyone's attention and sell newspapers. And most other professions aren't such that the inappropriate sex would be directly connected to and affecting the work itself. If an accountant is caught in a broom closet with a naked 12 year old boy, it's not really connected to him being an accountant.

I predict trades will be taken up by the educated classes in the coming decades. This will the end the Prole-Trade association.

We'll see occupations that were once blue collar now considered prestigious, at least more than previous, because they will require college degrees and difficult certification exams. There aren't enough well paying desk jobs for college grads anymore.

Just Speculating,

The perceived prestige of most occupation depends on the average g of the people in a given occupation (or minimum g required for competence). Trades will have more prestigious if they have higher minimum entry requirements or require more g.

@ Black Rose

"The perceived prestige of most occupation depends on the average g of the people in a given occupation (or minimum g required for competence). Trades will have more prestigious if they have higher minimum entry requirements or require more g."

I think the trades will become more competitive in the future, given the fact that many well paying White collar jobs are becoming obsolete. As always, there are too many stupid people (Proles) that occupy blue collar work. I also see a downsizing of civil servant jobs, and those remaining will become more competitive (gov't is running out of money and there are too many low IQ NAMs).

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