Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mirrors in the Privatization Revolution

I had to sit and have an additional cup of coffee, eat breakfast, get dressed, and clean my entire house before I could determine whether or not it was prudent for me to comment on Doug's powerful blog, "Between Scylla and Charybdis". Prudent because I'm a military spouse, living on a military post, supportive of my family, my husband, and appreciative of all the sacrifices he has made to not only do his job, but to do it long enough to be able to provide for us when he retires. Read Doug's post first before reading on.

The privatization issue has evolved so much, so quickly (it seems), so recently. And yes, it permeates everything. Which makes discussions in our household tense events. I'm a teacher. He's a soldier. We regularly cancel eachothers' votes out in each election. We do not debate whether we should be in certain countries or not. But because of our jobs, because of our observations, we are effective mirrors to one another. We understand why we each feel the way we do, and we agree to disagree at those junctions where we're faced with the choice of escalating into an argument or going to bed, grateful we're able to do so together while our friends and family endure their deployments. Either I'm not diplomatic enough, or I'm just too exhausted thanks to spousal shell shock and extended adrenal overload due to being married to the military (with a deployment to Iraq recently completed) and being a teacher that I purposely try to steer clear of any topic or discussion that may become heated and unproductive. Living in perpetual fight-or-flight mode is unhealthy for everyone, and we've all been doing it for far too long now. I can only offer here the viewpoint of a military wife with no answers or suggestions for improvement... the wife of a soldier who has actually deployed (and yes, that matters). The viewpoint of a person who has been a teacher LONGER than she's been a military wife.

When my husband first deployed, there weren't enough soldiers to do the job assigned. For military police action, you need military police officers. Not military band members, not military lawyers, not military cooks, just as it's better to have me as an Early Childhood Specialist in the ECE or primary grades in school- I'm afraid I don't think I'd be a very effective teacher in high school. Military police were spread thin (anyone try to drive on post in the last six years or so? See those "rent-a-cops" at the gates instead of "real" MP"? Yep, those jobs were contracted out so MP soldiers could be deployed.) and the first group of private security companies were at that time mostly made up of retired/veteran soldiers, police officers, etc. People with experience. Kind of sounds like our retired teachers returning to schools to sub, doesn't it? This private security was put into places where MP either didn't exist, or couldn't be because there weren't enough active duty, fully trained military police officers in our Armed Forces. It was an acceptable situation to many soldiers because they "knew these guys," trusted their experience and backgrounds, just as we as teachers know which retired colleagues to request when the sub list is waved in our faces.

Yes, the pay of these private security staff members has been and still is a slap in the face to soldiers and their military families who face the same risks day in and day out, many living at or below poverty level. Yes, teachers aren't compensated nearly enough. It kills me to know that if I were just paid at a babysitter's rate, the year I had thirty-four students in my class I would have made a HIGH six-figure income. In the beginning, families were comforted by the fact that the staffing WAS made up of "qualified" veterans, people who knew and understood their spouses' missions and responsibilities, those who had "done their time" (another thing many in the teaching field look up to), and could do the jobs that would enable soldiers to do what they needed to do more effectively. Stress and danger were experienced not only by soldiers but also by the security staff. High turnover occurred, lives were lost, those most qualified retired, but most if not all of them knew they were subject to the military code of justice, and did all they could to not put their "brothers and sisters" in harm's way. (I know, I know, "military justice" is its own debate, and I'm NOT getting into it.)

As my husband puts it, "qualified and highly trained MP take a long time to grow." It's the same with teachers. And what has happened in education? Here in Texas many districts hire new teachers who worked in another field, took part in a quickie teacher certification program, and now less than a year later, are having fun forcing the TAKS down students' throats with no clue about the dis-service they're truly providing year 'round. Funny, the districts' scores still aren't improving. Nor are the tests being thrown out after careful scrutiny and review. Apparently with this revolution, those in power want public education to excel at being ineffective. And too many people in our nation are allowing it.

Who has replaced the MP and the qualified security staff of time-not-so-long-ago? Soldiers from other career fields who have had to take "quickie" soldier training to operate as MP. Can you see a clarinet player from the military band doing the job as effectively as a twenty-year-veteran of paratrooping MP service can? What other replacements have we had? Mercenaries, and many of them "wanna be" mercenaries, made up of young hotheads, or those soldiers kicked out of the military for conduct unbecoming a soldier or officer. And they get the big paycheck while not feeling too terribly inclined to follow a code of conduct as representatives of this country. As partners to our soldiers. As professional and frankly, personal, KIN.

Oh yes, my husband and I mirror eachother in so many ways. And there's one thing we agree on: this privatization revolution isn't working, it isn't helping. And no one is stopping it. Yes, we're between a rock and a hard place.

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