American reading habits have turned south. Only 30 percent of 13-year-olds read almost every day, according a recent NEA study. The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure, which may explain why one out of three does not make it to high school graduation.
As teachers cite the lack of parents’ involvement as a primary cause of faltering of education, parents blame that lack of discipline as the major cause. Both camps, however, can agree on one thing: lack of funding is the second biggest problem.
Indeed, even if nobility is still associated with the profession, the economy is far from showing its appreciation. Many young people who would have gone into teaching have told me they were deterred by financial insecurity. “I would consider teaching seriously but if I ever want to own a house in the Bay Area, I might as well forget that profession,” a graduate from Berkeley recently told me. In Silicon Valley, in order to keep talented teachers, there are now housing units being built for many who couldn’t afford a home, as the average salary for a beginning high school teacher is $44,000 in a county where the median income is around $85,000.
Something about our fast-paced, super consumerist society seems to have robbed the teaching vocation the respect it deserves, disposing that once concrete and tender human relationship to a matter of mere transaction. "You’re a paying customer!” said the yoga student. If in my mother’s world of North Vietnam, the word “teacher” is still interchangeable with the word “father,” in the world I live in now, I fear teaching as a profession is in danger of being reduced to "humble scutwork."