Repeatedly in this space, we have made the point that public school teachers in Hawaii are underpaid. Given the state's cost of living, that first statement should perhaps be amended to say vastly underpaid.
How much is a good teacher worth? With the notification that the most influential teacher of our school life died, it seemed like a good time to put some thought into the value that educator provided his students.
Unlike many of our classmates who had racial backgrounds that exposed them to prejudice at an early age, we had never been the target of bigotry until the presidential election of 1960. There, within the space of two days, a fellow student and the head of the savings and loan put on a display of anti-Catholicism we'll always remember.
The fellow student stood up and told our class that, "Nobody wants a Catholic in the White House. Nobody wants the pope ruling America." That night on local television, the president of the local savings and loan showed people how to "split a ticket, so you don't have to vote for a Catholic."
Our teacher was a young man who was not a Catholic. Yet, he had witnessed the outburst by the student and, of course, seen the demonstration of ticket-splitting on television. He sought out some of us students he knew to be Catholics to console us and to assure us that bigotry was an unthinking, ill-informed practice.
He also told us that the vast, vast majority of people were not bigots, but folks who judged others on the basis of individual actions and worth.
While this incident has stuck with us our whole life, it was only part of the reason he was our most influential teacher. In his social studies class, we drew maps placing capitals and major cities in states and countries. His spelling tests were funny narratives he'd read aloud and we'd copy down on our lined paper. And, oh yeah, those funny narratives contained that week's spelling words.
He made learning fun and he showed his students every day how much he cared for them.
So, how much is such a teacher worth? Surely enough to make certain his family has a decent house and good food on the table. He may not be priceless, but his pay should reflect that he is treasured.
(This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harry Tatarian, "block teacher" at Eisenhower Junior High School in Carlsbad, N.M., in the 1950s and '60s.)
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.