Tenure Protects More Than Vacation Time

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As the month of June passes its halfway point, students everywhere are bracing themselves for the unbridled joys that await them during their summer vacations. All but the strictest of parents are unlikely to begrudge their children a well-earned break, but there is often less sympathy reserved for teachers, who many feel are entitled to too many perks. Nowhere is this truer than in matters concerning tenure, which is often dismissed as an unfair shield against being subject to the sort of performance-based standards that come with most other professions.

But tenure originated for the purpose of protecting not just teachers, but the art of teaching. Predating tenure was an academic environment in which teachers could lose their jobs for raising hot-button issues in class—evolution versus creationism being perhaps the most famous example. As thinkers on both sides of the aisle continue to move further and further into their proverbial echo chambers, unwilling to settle for an opinion that isn’t a carbon copy of their own, the need for thoughtful and curiosity-quenching discussions is more glaring than ever. It’s imperative that we remember that for every tenured teacher who is sleepwalking through a lecture, there are dozens more who don’t have to lose sleep over their right to teach controversial issues that encourage dissenting opinions and different lines of thought amongst students, thus fulfilling their primary functions as educators.

This is not to suggest that tenure is an unflawed system, and as with most things in life, there will be always be a few who find ways to give it a bad name. But countless teachers pursued their careers not to have summers off, but to inspire our youth to pursue their passions in life with the sort of enthusiasm that can eventually lead to their making a difference. Not every teacher will fulfill the old trope of a kindly, gentle creature with an apple at his or her desk, but this is all for the better. There are no perfect people in life, and the sooner our kids realize that, the better.

And while we’re on the subject, there’s an old saying about apples that can just as well apply to teachers: don’t let a few bad ones spoil the bunch.

—Joseph Catrone

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