Although I left reporting more than four years ago, my blood still boils when people like Betsy DeVos, the supremely unqualified Secretary of Education, Senator Rand Paul, Representative Steve King, Laura Ingraham of Fox, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, convicted but pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza, and other uninformed public figures blast public school teachers and public education.
Because I’m retired, I have time to dig for the truth. And so, to find out how real Americans feel about public school teachers, I decided to go to the grassroots. Do ordinary Americans respect teachers more than they respect lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, and politicians?
I’ve devoted the past seven months to original field research on this subject, and I am releasing the results today.
A quick summary: Americans care deeply about public school teachers. And at the bottom of their list: politicians!
A second and entirely unexpected finding: Americans seem to have regained their moral compass, this despite the White House being occupied by a man who has paid off porn stars and boasted of grabbing women by the genitals. More about that below.
(A side note to those expecting my annual attempt at tomfoolery: I jumped the April Fools Day gun when I published “No Glove Left Behind, Season Two,” a misguided attempt to lift the gloom created by the debacle of the Senate’s so-called ‘impeachment trial,’ early in February.)
This column, however, is serious. To test Americans’ feelings for teachers, I did 40+ days of field research in seven states. This involved hitch-hiking short distances, sometimes at service areas on Interstate Highways but mostly on local streets in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, California, Texas, and Missouri. I did my field work in September, October, and November well before the current pandemic and have spent the past few months analyzing the data.
A sophisticated Chi Square analysis of my research results shows statistical significance to the 99th percentile, meaning that if one repeated this experiment 100 times, it would produce the same results 99 times. My work has been peer-reviewed, and a longer and more formal version will appear in Annals of Digital Mobility (ADM) this October. ADM is the ‘gold standard’ in the field, I’m proud to say.
I have no doubt that, had I pursued a career in academia, this research would resulted in my being awarded tenure.
By the way, this was not my first extended experience with hitch-hiking. In the early 1960’s I spent five months thumbing my way from Kansas to Florida to San Diego, up the coast to Seattle and then across the country and home to Connecticut. Back then, I was just a 21-year-old wandering around and exploring his home country, but this time was different.
My research design was simple. Whenever I stuck out my thumb, I displayed a sign that identified me as a retired teacher, dentist, politician, doctor, lawyer, or accountant. I made different signs and alternated among them. I kept careful count of the number of cars that passed me by before one stopped to offer me a ride.
I also kept track of time, devoting one hour of hitching to each profession every day. I went “off the clock” while in a car, and I limited the rides to about 10 minutes. I carried both a stopwatch and a clicker to keep count of passing cars. I used the audio recording app on my smartphone to keep track of results.
Regarding teachers, the news is good. Whenever I displayed the “Retired Teacher” sign, I got a ride within minutes. By contrast, most drivers ignored me when I self-identified as a retired lawyer or accountant.
Posing as a retired dentist got me a mouthful of nasty criticism of my profession.
And EVERY single driver who saw my “Retired Politician” sign seemed to speed up; a few gave me the finger. In 40+ days of trying, I didn’t get a single ride!
This complex chart shows the average number of cars passing me by, per occupation.
|CARS PASSING ME||TEACHER||CPA||LAWYER||DOCTOR||DENTIST||EX-POL|
I’m doing another pass through the reams of data, this time to develop a reliable, valid measure of how strongly Americans feel about the professions, using a 0-10 scale. Some ratings are pretty obvious, of course: When a driver said, “My 8th grade teacher saved my life,” that’s a 10 for Teaching. Likewise, the driver who complained, “My fucking accountant cost me $35,000,” that’s obviously a 0 for Accounting. It’s the gray area that creates the challenges. For example, I don’t know what rating to assign to ‘Lawyer’ based on what this driver said: “I love my wife and she loves me, but she won’t agree to a 3-way for my 40th birthday, and that’s all I want. She told me that it’s illegal in our state unless two of the three are men. What do I do now? Goddamn lawyers!”
I expect to publish my measurement system, the “Citizens’ Ratings of Affection for the Professions (CRAP), perhaps in the Spring issue of Annals of Digital Mobility.
But I don’t want to lose sight of the central finding: Teachers count! What our public school teachers do day after day matters to most Americans, and I hope Secretary DeVos and others will take note.
A second finding that may be of interest to those who believe that America is in moral decline. Although this was not part of my original research design, I can conclusively state that Americans today are less sex-obsessed than they were 57 years ago.
Here’s why I can make this statement with such certainty: When I was 21 and hitchhiking around the US, I probably hitched about one thousand rides, and every fourth or fifth driver (men and women) propositioned me for sex.
Having dozens of attractive older women caressing my upper thighs was unnerving to a naive 6’2”, 180-pound 21-year-old with a serious girlfriend, but I was able to handle these situations by just saying NO (to most of them, anyway).
More unnerving were the advances and attacks by men. My worst experience was when a long-haul trucker gave me a ride. After a few minutes he told me that I had to get up into the sleeper compartment behind the cloth barrier because it was illegal for him to have riders. That seemed reasonable, so I complied. A few minutes later, he reached in and handed me what he called ‘some reading material.’ Well, it was porn unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I got so engrossed in my own education that I failed to realize that the truck had stopped. Suddenly he was climbing into the sleeper compartment, scaring the bejesus out of me. I kicked him in the throat, clambered over him, grabbed my stuff, and ran like hell!
(If you want to read more, please pre-order Volume One of my autobiography, ‘In The Car Where It (might have) Happened,’ which will be in bookstores this fall.)
However, I’m older now and not quite so nimble, and therefore I was quite anxious when I began my experiment. While I am happily married to a wonderful woman, what would I do when attractive women, lusting after my body, began caressing my inner thighs? Would I have the moral strength to turn them down?
And when younger men came on to me, would I–at 78– be agile enough to jump out of a moving car, or strong enough to fight them off?
Well, I am happy and relieved to say that America’s collective out-of-control lust-driven libido seems to be under control, because not once in 40+ days of hitchhiking did any driver, male or female, proposition me for sex.
Why was it safe for me to hitch-hike in 2020 when I was at risk in 1962? What has changed in 57 years?
The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that most Americans, repulsed by Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” attitude, have embraced the fundamental decency that exists inside us. Trump said he’d MAGA, ‘Make America Great Again,’ but, ironically, our immoral, narcissistic sociopath President is unintentionally MAMA, ‘Making America Moral Again.’
Thanks to Trump, people like me can hitchhike safely without being sexually propositioned.
That’s why, when the pandemic passes, I will continue my research project, which I’m calling ‘Thumbs Across America.’ I plan on doing field research in the entire Lower 48 and then publishing more CRAP, which will attract the attention of struggling universities like Brown or the University of Lower Southeastern Oklahoma that are hoping to make a name for themselves. At the age of 81, I will become an Associate Professor of Digital Mobility Studies, known on campus as “Dr. Thumbs.” Then, at age 85 when I become the oldest person in history to be awarded tenure, my phone will ring, and it will be Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour, asking for an interview.
Not long thereafter, The White House will invite Joan and me to have lunch with the President and her husband….
In the meantime, smile. Thank teachers. Reach out to those you love. And stay safe….