Factories, Wal-Mart and Paul on the importance of great urban teachers

Urban Context (1.0)

Recently, I posted a blog describing the forces impacting large urban cities, like Memphis. Most significantly, technology and outsourcing have significantly reduced the number of mid-level jobs in American cities. Mid-level jobs are those jobs that required mid-level skills and paid wages that supported middle-class lifestyles. These jobs were mostly the industrial / manufacturing (unionized) jobs. The industrial revolution provided ample access to these jobs and therefore to a rising standard of living.

Today, however, things have changed. Automation and cheap overseas labor have taken away these mid-level jobs leaving “most of the lesser-skilled city workers employed in the services rather than in the more promising unionized factory jobs. As a result, the city’s (Memphis) racial and ethnic ghettos have become repositories for a sizable number of extremely poor residents with very limited job prospects.” (Opportunity Lost, Pohlmann, page 37)

More recently, see Belaboured (Economist, May 29, 2010). This article chronicles the transition of a Chicago South Side neighborhood that has seen the loss of factories give way to a potential opening of a Wal-Mart… with much lower wages: “Mildred McClendon, who has lived on the South Side since 1968, is one of those who say they would welcome Wal-Mart if it paid a middle-class wage. She remembers when the area’s factories whirred. Her husband worked at Automatic Electric and the Wal-Mart site in Pullman was home to a steel plant. The retail stores that replaced the factories, she insists, must pay more. If Wal-Mart agrees to raise wages, other retailers will follow suit. This is the argument put forward by Chicago’s unions and their supporters. But remembering the old days is unlikely to do them much good.”

Into this urban economic reality we go to teach the next generation… Into this urban economic reality, education is more important than ever. It means life or death.

Recognizing that God, speaking through the writer Paul in the book of Philippians (chapter 2), has called us to “look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others”, entering Memphis’ highest-needs schools to be fantastic math, english, science, spanish, french, history or elementary teachers is absolutely a valid and necessary response to the gospel. For what is the alternative?

Won’t you join us?