This time, the teachers did not strike over wages. The basic issue was described by some as, "Who is going to run the schools?"
Wage disputes can be expressed in specific terms, so they are easier to compromise. Philosophical disagreements are more difficult to resolve.
Fortunately, Mayor Martion Barry injected himself into a dispute some said he should stay out of. His shuttle diplomacy was designed to move the adversaries toward the reopening of direct lines of communication.
Everybody involved understood that the best Barry could hope for would be a cease-fire during which the teachers would go back to teaching and the negotiators would go back to negotiating. But that was a goal worth working toward. As our staff writer Milton Coleman put it to me, "The winners would be the children."
Some of my readers are fed up with striking teachers and are critical of the profession because some members of it have not attained high levels of scholarship. Other readers are critical of unions, or union leaders. For example, Harold W. Ryan wrote:
"If, at the moment rank and file workers go on strike (and off pay), all their union officials also went off the payroll, strikers would end more quickly. Union officials might not be so eager to continue a strike until the last striker starves."
The basic issue in the teachers's walkout was the statue this community has assigned to teachers. One measure of status is money.
Several months ago, a reader complained that one reason food prices are so high is that wages paid to supermarket personnel are now at a level that ought to be sreserved for "professionals." I made the mistake of saying that I didn't think many professionals work for supermarket wages, which are usually around $8 an hour.
In the weeks that followd, I heard from about 200 teacher, nurses, accountants, clergymen, armed services personnel and other professionals.
The one thing they agreed on was that I didn't know what I was talking about.
Let me give you some excerpts from their letters:
From Colette B. Dodds: "I am a registered nurse, and I work for less than supermarket clerks are paid. I make approximately $14,000 a year working full time."
From L.C.S.: "Take a look at this headline from your own newspaper, then read the story and tell me what you think." The headline said, "Under U.S. Scale, Janitors in L.A. Earn More Than Nurses."
From Linwood Lloyd: "Many teachers, police and medical service personnel would welcome a job that paid that (supermarket) salary. To equate a single-act mechanical skill like running a cash register with jobs that require training, judgment and personal responsibility, is a disservice to people who have made the effort to become professional in their fields."
From Harriet A. Rood: "For the past four years I taught in a school system for substantially less than the supermarket wage. Since moving here (Quantico), I have worked for Stafford County as a homebound teacher for $6 an hour and have substituted in our local school system for $6.37 an hour. Fairfax County has one of the largest school systems in the country. On last year's pay scale, a teacher with an M.A. and two years of experience was getting $7.90 an hour."
From M.L.: "Substitute teachers in Montgomery County are paid just over $5 an hour -- an insulting wage for a professional."
From a clergyman: "Ministers work for less than grocery clerks. I know a high school principal who has my approximate education and experience. He makes twice what I make, and he is not expected to be available day and night. I know a house painter who makes five times my salary. He spends the four winter months playing golf in Arizona. The Peace of God be with you. Please do not identify me."
After noting that Virginia teachers are paid an annual wage that works out to $7.12 per hour for each hour actually worked, or $5.97 an hour if one counts in vacations and holidays, L.E. Hawkins wondered about a schedule of priorities that pays less to teachers and nurses than it pays to clerks.
I wonder, too. Is a policeman who risks his life for us worth more than a theologian who deals with life everlasting" Should we rank teachers ahead of soldiers or soldiers ahead of teachers? How can we establish a sensible system of priorities without enraging millions of people whose rank would be lowered by it? I just don't know.