Childcare And Education Are Underfunded Because They’re Female

Amid pandemic, politics, stressed schools, broken economy, and activism, we still have to teach our babies to read

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Thanks to Praveen Gupta on Unsplash

Donald Trump is ready to send your children back into school. Will death result from super-spreading young to old?

While everyone is panicking about where their children will be educated and cared for during this pandemic, I took some time to reflect on how “female” these concerns are.

I am certainly not saying that men don’t “do childcare.” Many do, and our pink, pussy hats off to them; for this trend of co-parenting has been missing in our culture for far too long. My observations come, as both a former educator myself, and having watched my mother teach for almost fifty years. Even today, most pre-school and elementary teachers are women. Of those many women, most of them get off long and grueling schedules. Then they go home to cook, clean, and care for kids and spouses.

I witnessed this for my entire childhood. My mother worked on school work at home, long before pandemics were trendy, lockdown intense, ordeals. She also did the bulk of home management, an underpaid load of “essential” work, before anyone ever knew that term. My father earned income, too. But in his non-wage hours he could be found messing with his hobbies: cars, and horses, or just napping on the sofa — while we kids had to tiptoe about and “Turn down that damn T.V.!”

Juggling homeschool, and remote learning are an offshoot from the COVID-19 crisis that gets little press. We are too busy trying to make ends meet in a lousy economy, or drama scrolling for that vaccine, or waiting for the next police shooting, and evidence of new reforms after widespread public protest. Or, we are watching political dramas, scandals, fear-mongering, and such petty societal afflictions such as how wearing a mask morphs into a culture war. Regarding masks: required when schools re-open? Are you ready?

But, all the meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to afford kids, you better also be lucky enough to find a way to educate them.

The US Census of Governments, reports that state and local governments spent $115 billion on police in 2017 (the latest year for which comprehensive data are available). In inflation-adjusted dollars, state and local spending on police increased from $42 billion in 1977 to $115 billion in 2017. School budgets by comparison employ more people, work directly daily with tons of kids, and largely have to go begging for supplies, books, and staff.

This is why many participants in the Black Lives Matter movement call for defunding the police.

They want investment instead in education, and services that actually protect and serve. In those communities where police presence make life less safe, schools are generally a good alternative place for kids to be. Yet, they are in financial distress just like the rest of us. In many areas they are laying off teachers, and cutting classes and crucial services.

But there is some hope, thanks in part to the protests and public outcry.

The city council in Rochester, N.Y., recently laid off its entire school police force and reduced the city police department’s budget by $3 million after local Black Lives Matter activists used a series of rallies to call attention to how the city’s police budget exceeded its K-12, libraries, and youth services budgets combined. The city council redirected more than $130,000 into youth services.

The Rochester school district, under financial distress, had just laid off a tenth of its teaching staff and dozens of social workers.

The slashed education budget scenario is being played out all over. Comparing the investments made in education in the USA compared to other nations, shows that we are very backward compared to many. We fund our education system according to “good” neighborhoods, and “bad” neighborhoods through property taxes. This turns out to be a very lousy investment for communities, especially communities of BIPOC. Rather than investing in prevention of crime, and vast opportunity through education, we created a system with low expectations, a school to prison pipeline, and a whole lot of parents wondering where in the world it’s safe to send your kids these days.

When schools do restart, and if you do recover from your “second shift” when are you going to pencil in those critical PTA meetings that most men won’t attend?

Policing and teaching are occupations under constant scrutiny. However, when conservative government scrutinizes teaching unions, it is usually out to discredit teaching unions and cut budgets. When they look into police unions, they are trying to bolster and militarize them further. Obviously, we need many more woman cops, and more male teachers, but to recruit quality workers, the embedded culture about those careers paths has to evolve.

Teachers do not generally go into classrooms with a warrior mentality. They are expected to be warm, compassionate, and knowledgeable. The salaries of teachers and police are similar, about $45K per year to start. But most teachers need to pay for a four-year degree, and many pay for a six-year degree (a Masters, like I did years ago) in order to reach a higher pay grade. If you are woman, your student debt is going to be higher than the macho guy who trains for an average of 18 weeks to become a cop.

Many people are calling for less policing in school security and more healthcare services in schools. In healthcare, the lowest paid and those with highest rate of human contact, and therefore, exposure to contagion, are women. When my mother and her sister were young, there were exactly three paid career opportunities: become a nurse, like my aunt. Become a teacher, like my mom. Or become a secretary and go work for Mad Men, or some equally humiliating place of glass ceilings and groping bosses.

Our generation has made many more gains for women in career opportunities, but at the same time, the cost of having kids has skyrocketed. And whereas men get little guff about making a career for themselves, women are still largely expected to “just stay home and enjoy your children’s precious years!” Even now, as the world has lost its marbles, women are constantly put upon to “have it all.”

Mothers are still, the go-to stay at home parent. This means you must be professional and productive, whether or not cheerios are flying across the background of your Zoom meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our vulnerabilities in healthcare, social safety nets, poor versus rich neighborhoods, ineffective and poorly prioritized community investments, and of course, a bit more about the true cost of continuing racism and sexism.

Remember too, that when we pay a nanny or tutor, or if we fire them, these people too, often have kids that need education. We have set up a system where couples with young families, or single parents, have an insanely difficult time juggling all of this. We no longer live in agrarian lifestyle of grandparents on both sides of the farm, and tons of relatives and neighbors ready to step in to the rescue. My hope is that society sees these shortcomings and begins to build quality neighborhoods that are safe, educational, secure, and most of all connected with others in the same vicinity. We can’t rely on going back to school in shifts and flex time, if we burn out our teachers and parents too quickly.

My own mother was a teacher and I was penalized for it. I came home to an empty house and began my chores. My siblings often did the same. When I did hope for “quality” time with mom, she was busy grading papers, or doing housework. Contrary to popular belief, teachers aren’t on vacation over the summer, they are taking classes, required to keep current.

The world is changing fast. Our outdated attitudes about who cares for, and teaches the children, must also change if we are to innovate enough STEM and other careers in time to save us from pandemics, extinction events, crisis and the unknown perils ahead.

Let’s just not ask women to do it all ourselves.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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