Judy Spiers’ column: Occupy Wall Street – Cut, Spend and Educate


Occupy Wall Street participants appear to be clear on what they don’t want – things like theft, greed and corruption.  Protesters stand to accomplish something substantive by coming together to share ideas, negotiate and forward solutions. 

 What makes the Wall Street collapse so untenable is that there was a shortfall of laws that would hold anyone accountable.  That leaves us grappling with issues of morality.  

 Simply demanding governmental spending cuts may prove to be too simplistic.  Short-sighted quick fixes could bury this country in a future of grave, long term costs.  Laying-off teachers to trim budgets now could yield some devastating results in the future at the back end of the deal.

  Let me share an example.  Jim dropped out of high school – like nearly a third of students.  In these tough times, a diploma is likely the bare bones minimum requirement to get a job.  Jim doesn’t have one.

 His employment has been spotty, but like everyone else he needs money for food and clothing, rent and utilities.  So, how does he get it?  The person I interviewed agreed to speak only if I would not disclose anyone’s identity.  

 “Jim is a thief and has been for a long time.  He stole prescription drugs and tools from my house.  He is a serial burglar. 

 “Jim was picked up by police for stealing a lady’s purse in the store.  He shoplifts.  And he steals expensive equipment from stores and work places and sells it. 

 “He alters his prescriptions and gets more pain killers than his doctor prescribed which he also sells, and he makes and distributes illegal drugs. 

 “He gets juveniles to break into houses to steal what they can sell through a fence.  That’s how Jim makes his living.  That’s what happened to me.  He had kids break into my house while I was gone because the ‘three strikes and you’re out law’ does not apply to juveniles.  I had a large collection of guns.  They stole and sold them. 

 “It had never crossed my mind that someone could steal my guns and sell them to criminals to commit more crimes.  But that’s what happened.  Law enforcement knew what he was doing.  But it took many months to carefully build an airtight case.  So for months and months, when I went to bed at night I wondered if I would be awakened by someone who’d broken in again and was holding my own gun to my head. 

“I got a notification the other day that Jim is back in prison.  The community can breathe easy again knowing that. 

 “I talked to the District Attorney.  He says it is now easier and more comfortable for Jim to live in prison than on the outside.  At the age of 40, he’s familiar with the routines of imprisonment.  There he has a clean warm place to live, three meals a day, free medical and dental care, a TV, a library, and conjugal visits from the mother of his children who are now supported by public assistance.

 “Taxpayers have been paying for Jim’s lack of education for over twenty years now.  The sheriff says when Jim stole the guns he transitioned from a thief to more violent crime.  The next time Jim is caught, he will have three strikes against him and he’ll go to prison for life.  The sheriff told me that when three strikers feel they have nothing to lose, that’s when they become violent. 

 “If Jim ends up in prison for life, taxpayers will be paying Jim’s room and board and health care until the day he dies.  If he kills someone and he faces capital punishment, it will take years of appeals and untold costs to terminate his life.”   

 There are tens of thousands of “Jims” across this country that didn’t start out this way.  Their problems began as children when they failed to be educated.  As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement ponders what it wants and doesn’t want for this country, it would do well to scrutinize the hidden costs of cutting teachers. 

 $9,500 per year is the amount paid by taxpayers to educate a child in the year 2008. $47,102 a year per inmate is what we spent on incarceration, according to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.  Add to that the costs of law enforcement and courts and supporting families and the real costs are far higher.   

 Our prisons are burgeoning with people who failed to graduate from high school, cannot get a job, and so are unable to be self-supporting.  The highest incarceration rate in the world is right here in the United States.  We have been using prisons as waste disposal plants for humans.  If that is not a moral issue, what is?

 It costs six times more to incarcerate than it does to educate.  Maybe it is about time for a paradigm shift in the way we think of teachers, and to consider the cost savings they bring to our society when we give them the support they need to succeed.     

 The potential for a child’s success, or lack of it, is predictable at an early age.  By the end of third grade, if a child is not reading up to that level there is an eighty percent possibility the child will not graduate.  A simple thing like reading sets the trajectory of a nine-year-old child’s adult life. 

 No child deliberately sets out to have a career as a prison inmate and teachers are doing their best to see that every child will have a fair shake throughout life.  But today there are more children than the reduced number of teachers can fully reach.  

 Communities are responding.  Volunteers are stepping in to help fill the gap.  At Graham Elementary there is an after-school program called, “Readers Are Succeeders.”  Eldora Sloan has organized this group of mostly adults who meet twice-a-week with children to give them extra help and encouragement.  But, even though high school students are also joining in, more volunteers are needed.  (Eldora Sloan may be reached at 253. 843. 2469).

 Not all education takes place inside a classroom.  The 30% who drop-out often need educational programs in the community – such as internships, apprenticeships and one-on-one mentoring in the workplace.  For kids who don’t have particularly stable homes, this could provide a powerful impact.

 Life is not always fair, just or equal to children – or to teachers or taxpayers.  In 2009 the average worker’s pay was $33,190.  Wages have gone down by $1,500 just in the last three years. 

 Yet, in 2010, some of the nation’s largest companies paid their chief executives 343 times as much as the average worker makes, while corporate profits soar.  Corporations are people, too.  Given that they have the money that others do not, they should feel some moral compunction to see that education is fully funded.       

 The OWS movement has targeted the 1% in this country who are becoming more wealthy at a rapidly accelerating pace during the hardest times since the Great Depression. 

 However, there are those among the 1% who agree that this nation’s institutions need to be purged of theft, greed and corruption. 

 There are those among the 1% who are engaged generously in humanitarian works and who are already actively working to improve education. 

 There are those among the 1% who also agree that it is the moral thing for the hoarders who have the money to pay more than they are. 

 Last week a bill was voted on in the Senate that would have put $35 billion toward hiring and keeping teachers, fire fighters and law enforcement personnel.  The supra-rich in this country would have been charged one-half of one percent on income over one million dollars a year.  The bill fell a few votes short of the majority needed to pass. 

 The “no” vote may not have just been a vote against jobs.  It may have been a display of political recalcitrance that was deemed more important than the decent and moral willingness to invest in, educate, and keep our children safe.   

   But here is where OWS could really do some good.  By coming together and lifting their voices, ordinary people may be able to inspire a vision for a better and more moral nation. 

 Coming together, it is entirely possible that we really can cut and spend in uncommonly well-justified and intelligent places. 

 The ninety-nine percent believe that a well-educated future work force is an integral part of our greatness and a powerful way to care for the children of today and tomorrow. 

 We can put pressure on those we sent to Congress to do the right thing by supporting our teachers—and fire fighters and policemen—to vote to employ teachers and keep them employed. 

 We don’t need a nation full of Jims.  We don’t need a country full of prisons.  What we do need is to educate and graduate all of our young people in such a manner that they will be self-supporting and independent. 

 In our vision for the future, no young adult should be left behind.       

©  2011  Judy Spiers

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11 Responses to Judy Spiers’ column: Occupy Wall Street – Cut, Spend and Educate

  1. catalina says:

    Nice job, Judy. It always bothered me that many people are willing to spend $$ on the wrong things – incarceration rather than education or job training or Head Start or any number of programs that used to be called part of the social safety net – I think Nixon coined that phrase.

  2. Nancy says:

    Great article Judy. I loved hearing about the “Readers are Succeeders” program.

  3. gkcclc says:

    I agree that we need to change laws that let some folks off from being held accountable and that if we can educate more of our children we will have a better chance of turning this mess around. CVW

  4. Mary Schooley says:

    Judy, your response is simplistic, also. The problems in this country run far deeper than undereducated people. The problems in education run far deeper than not enough teachers and internships and apprenticeship programs usually take a high school diploma as does the military. Law breakers is an issue in itself and is extremely complicated.
    Occupy Wall Street may be disorganized at this time and everybody is now jumping in with their issues, however, it is about corporate greed and the middle class supporting this country. It is a wake up call that the people in this country have had enough. Eventually, the leadership will surface and the issues will be clearer, but their voices are being heard that we need and want change not just rhetoric. I hope they continue in their efforts and I applaud them.

  5. Paula Morris says:

    Great article Judy. I agree with you that one of the consequences of uneducated children is mayhem down the road. Of course the bigger problem is a government that could hold their heads up at all after voting “no” on safeguarding teachers, firefighters and police.

    My pet peeve is health care. We have a horrendous healthcare system in this country and should feel ashamed; yet there are those who actually justify denying service to a fellow human being. I have heard people, even in the health care profession, who rant about “their” taxes having to pay for “them.” Our society has become so grudgingly selfish and divided.

    The old proverb: “A stitch in time, saves nine,” comes to mind in regard to health care issues. It is much cheaper to treat John Doe’s diabetes by giving him free insulin and needles than it is to pay $100,000 each, for the surgeries he needs down the road due to untreated diabetes. We waste so much money on the most unnecessary and avoidable things.

    In my understanding, OWS is the voice of all of us waking up. It is the voice of people…with many issues. It is the voice of the 99% saying: “We have had enough of the 1% lording it over the rest of us and not listening to the people.” The people want a government by the people and for the people. We do not want a government that controls and intimidates and brainwashes the masses while they make off like bandits with the loot.

    • Paula Morris says:

      This is a post script to my above comment: The prison system is becoming more and more privatized. It is part of the “military industrial complex,” that Eisenhower warned us about. Yes, they have gotten more powerful and have more control of the economy of all nations. These private corporations have built many prisons which stand empty …. for now. It is very profitable to keep prisoners….for the corporations. They don’t want less prisoners, they want more.

      The U.S. already incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. What does this tell us about the rulers of this nation?

      • brucesmith49 says:

        Whoa, Paula. You’ve made some extraordinary claims, and so they require extraordinary documentation.

        What prisons are you talking about and what corporations control them? What countries are they placed in? Can you show us pictures of empty prisons awaiting prisoners from wherever? How do these privatized correctional corporations control economies “of all nations.”

        Yes, “for-profit” corrections corporations do exist in the United States, and they house many inmates, particularly in the southwest. In fact, I worked for one such corporation in New Mexico, Cornell Corrections Corporation (albeit for only one day, after which I quit because I knew the staff – and the job – was going to drive me crazy). I have a personal interest in this subject, but your comments are extreme, so please back them up.

        It is my understanding that privatized prisons still only house a small percentage of American inmates. I recall the figures being in the tens of thousand whereas the total inmate population is in the millions.


  6. Paula Morris says:

    Ok Bruce, I’ve sent you some documentation, and no, I don’t have my own pictures since I’m not a reporter per se, and I don’t remember everything I’ve read on the subject nor where I read it. I do know that I’ve read many articles lately that insinuate that our “prison industrial complex” is thriving in this country and a number of judges have been sentenced to prison themselves for wrongly (and for profit) incarcerating teens, etc. I don’t wish to do an extensive article and investigation on this, but I sent you multiple links so you can read all about it.

  7. Richard D. Thurston says:

    Judy, much of what you say is accurate. It is also largely irrelevent to our current problems. The massive economic problems of our times were NOT caused by people like “Jim.” We have always had people like Jim and we always will. Nor will we solve anything by hiring more teachers or increasing teachers’ pay. The economic disaster was produced by a group of highly educated lawyers, bankers, economists and others finding loopholes in securities laws and cheating both mortgage holders and mortgage lenders. They were aided and abetted by Democrats who demanded easier access to mortgages for people who couldn’t afford them and by Republkicans who demanded de-regulation of the financial industry. The Perfect Storm of excesses by Right and Left.

    The Obama “jobs plan” is designed to create more jobs for members of public employees unions, specifically teachers, firefighters and police officers. By some strange coincidence, public employees unions are the major backers of Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. Of course, the Obama administration is not going after Wall Street – the Wall Street gang is his second biggest source of campaign money and the backbone of his economic team. Bernie Madoff went to jail for his Ponzi scheme, but none of the people behind the “derivitaves” schemes, the “:bundling” schemes or the “adjustable mortgage” schemes went to jail. On the contrary, most of them got multi-million dollar salaries, bonuses and “golden parachutes.” Notto mention Cabinet and sub-cabinet positions.

    That’s what the “occupy” people are mad about. And nobody on either side of the aisle is doing anything to rein in the scammers and schemers.

  8. Judy Spiers says:

    Thank you for your comments, all. Perhaps we here are a taste of Occupy Wall Street, small size, and grass roots. I for one am really glad to see a wide range of thoughts and opinions represented here. I think that’s at least a part of what Occupy Wall Street is about – divergent groups coming together to express what means most to them.

    Books are coming out almost daily on what is at the heart of OWS. The news is replete with explanations of what happened to teachers, and fire fighters, and policemen in Wisconsin and Ohio last spring. Probably most of us could have heard by now about the recall efforts that are under way.

    We’ve probably also heard about how the Diebold voting machines can be hacked by anyone with an eighth grade science education and under $11 in parts, or how strenuous efforts are being made in a number of states to disenfranchise voters, or how redistricting is being done to place more weight in the elections on one side, or how collective bargaining is under attack in unions because their members tend to vote more for Democrats than Republicans. None of these may be the reason people have joined with the OWS movement. These are more reasons why the movement is growing. What happens to children when teachers are cut from classrooms is like using a drug with potentially harmful, perhaps even fatal, side effects.

    Too many teachers have been cut from classrooms already. Our children should not be pawns. They should not be used as guinea pigs or sacrificial lambs. As all the political gamesmanship plays itself out between now and the next election, some things should be held sacred. Our children should be off limits.

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