This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to celebrate the 3.6 million school teachers in this country, including some 421,000 working in private schools.
But there are many other teachers who also deserve our gratitude, including one who lives under my own roof. The very picture of unselfishness, for years Susie Dutcher has gone about her work each day with a quiet strength and dignity, often toiling into the wee hours over essays and worksheets and lesson plans for our homeschooled children.
“She looks well to the ways of her household,” as the proverb says, “and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
“I respect your public service,” she once testified in the nation’s capital before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. “And I hope you respect my public service, which consists of providing the public with one healthy family, comprised of well-adjusted, productive individuals.
“Because of the time and money and energy I invest in their lives,” she said, “I believe my children will grow up to do great things.”
Economists tell us the difficult work of childrearing provides a benefit to society (I believe the term is “positive fiscal externality”). “Everyone benefits from having a next generation in place to sustain the society and keep its institutions going,” writes Jennifer Roback Morse. “In modern developed countries, the family saves the state money by taking care of its own dependent young, rather than foisting that responsibility onto the taxpayers.”
Our political leaders should appreciate these parents, including those mothers who educate their own children. These teachers build human capital without making demands on budget-conscious appropriators already besieged with requests from competing interests.
After all, policymakers don’t have to provide my children’s teacher a salary, health and retirement benefits, and so on. Indeed, her family’s tax dollars help pay the salaries of public school teachers. She pays for school breakfasts and lunches, too—both for our own children and for the children of our fellow citizens. She buys her own school supplies (without the tax deduction, alas, that other teachers enjoy) and also buys school supplies for others.
When it’s all said and done, her hard work of educating our children will have saved our political leaders well over half a million dollars. That’s money they can use to build roads and bridges, incarcerate criminals, or pay schoolteachers.
Imagine how much money politicians would have to come up with—not only current expenditures but also construction costs—if a few million homeschooled students showed up at public schools nationwide tomorrow morning wanting to enroll.
My children’s teacher is not a professional. She’s an amateur, a word that traces to the Latin amare (“to love”).
“Rather than an exchange,” economist John D. Mueller explains, “love is best described in economic theory as a gift or voluntary ‘transfer payment’—that is, as a voluntary distribution out of one’s resources not made in compensation for useful services rendered.”
As she told the senators that day, “I used to be a schoolteacher, and certainly the salary and benefits I could earn teaching school would improve our material well-being. But some checks can’t be cashed at the bank: My son, when he was 3 years old, said to me one day, ‘I’m proud of you ‘cause you do the right things. Like take a shower, and fix my breakfast … Those kind of things.’
“I know it’s all worth it when we’re on the floor playing with blocks and I notice out of the corner of my eye that he has stopped playing and is staring at me like a smitten young man. ‘I love the way you talk,’ he said to me. ‘And I love the way you smell.’
“‘How do I smell?’ I asked.
“‘Like a mommy.’ ”
That little boy’s all grown up now, doing a residency in orthopedic surgery—thanks to his teacher, who very much deserves our appreciation.
[An earlier version of this article (now behind a paywall, alas) appeared in the Tulsa World.]