Friday, March 12, 2010

Toyotas and Teachers

It was a good day on the Star Tribune op-ed page.

Michael Fumento's piece, originally from the Los Angeles Times, raised some good points about the magnitude of the Toyota problem:

Sudden acceleration in Toyotas over the last decade has been linked with -- which doesn't mean "caused" -- 52 deaths, according to NHTSA. A Los Angeles Times investigation brought it up to 56, including those culled from lawsuits. Whatever the count and cause, that's too many. But it's also out of 20 million Toyotas sold, and out of the 420,000 Americans NHTSA says died in motor vehicle accidents that decade.

And although Toyota had almost 17 percent of total U.S. car sales in 2008, it accounted for merely 8 percent of total claims for deaths and injuries in the first quarter of that year, according to NHTSA. found that while Toyota was third in U.S. car sales from 2001 through 2010, it was 17th in NHTSA complaints.

Thus, even if every sudden-acceleration complaint proved valid, Toyotas are among the safest cars made.
I suppose one could argue that Toyotas are bought by people who tend to be safer drivers... but even so, those are some pretty compelling numbers. And I say this as a Toyota owner who has had her share of fear of the accelerator lately. (By the way, it sounds like the San Diego man with the most recent runaway accelerator story is in it for the money or the fifteen minutes.)

The other piece worth reading on today's op-ed page was by Dick Bernard, a retired teacher and Education Minnesota (union) representative. He recalled the days of public schools before teachers had tenure -- not something I've ever thought about a whole lot:
During my growing-up years..., we moved to eight communities. In each, Dad was called superintendent, but actually was a teaching principal, the administrator who was accountable to the local school board....

My parents were outstanding teachers and outstanding citizens of their communities. I know. One or the other was my teacher for my last five years of public school....

But we moved often, and very often that move was necessitated by Dad being fired, in one or another odd and sometimes innovative way.

These were the good old days of "at will" contracts. All it took was some disgruntled citizen who knew the right people to dispatch these outsiders at the annual contract renewal time. (In my files I have nearly every one of those single sheet "contracts" signed by my parents in their careers.)

Dad always took a philosophical view of the firings, but down deep, I think they hurt him deeply. Recently I came across an essay he wrote about the various ways he was fired during his long career. It was funny, in a very sad way.

Protections that are revolting to some -- things like due process, seniority, continuing contract -- came about because of abundant abuses in those good old days when the teacher was, literally, a "public servant."
I wish I could read Bernard's dad's essay, and that an objective journalist or even a historian would document what it was like to work as a teacher in the pre-union days. (Perhaps someone has. If you have a source to share, post it in the comments.) I, for one, had never devoted much mental energy to it, but now I wish I had.


elena said...

I'd also like to read his dad's essay. My parents have some insight into this issue, in part because my mother's dad was also a school superintendent (teaching principal) in small school districts in North Dakota. Despite the fact that he was respected and respectable, they had to move many times. There was almost an itinerant preacher culture about the way people were sent packing from place to place. That has always seemed odd to me – the way teachers often found it hard to be longtime members of otherwise pretty stable communities.

Daughter Number Three said...

By the 1970s in my small town, I remember the teaching staff being very stable, particularly in middle and high school. I believe my second grade teacher (c. 1968) just escaped the banishment that accompanied marriage and pregnancy. I also remember the superintendent being there forever, and he didn't teach any time in my memory. But this was in rural New York... so who knows what all was structurally different out there by then.

Michael Leddy said...

The Toyota piece must've made it to every dealer in the country -- our Corolla was in for an oil change today (fourteen years old, 190,000 miles), and my wife Elaine heard more or less these points from our salesman.

Blythe said...

I attended a tiny (20 students max) elementary school and we generally got a new teachers every year. I always assumed that the teachers either got tired of living in the teacherage or driving the long way back and forth from "town." Those are reasonable explanations. They were probably being used up like Kleenex. Still, I'm deeply grateful to those transient teachers who introduced me to the color fuchsia, gave me real drawing pencils (6B "like black butter"), and never seemed to tumble to the fact that I was too poor to be important.