Sal: “Get in the car now!”
Mike: “Why? Where are we going?”
Sal: “We are going to your high school; I want to speak to your math teacher now! I want to find out why as a junior in high school that you can’t do 5th grade math! My tax dollars paid for your education and I want a refund!”
That exchange took place between me and a young gas pumper one afternoon in 1995. I was teaching an employee how to open my Texaco gas station in preparation for his upcoming summer vacation. This had become an annual ritual so that an ambitious teenager could take advantage of his time off from school and earn extra money.
I was troubled by the lack of skills that high school and college part timers possessed in order to be competent employees. Handing customers the correct change, balancing shift paperwork, or recording inventory are simple tasks requiring fundamental education, yet few high schoolers have these skills. I opened my Exxon station in 1978 and learned that my employees were incapable of performing the most menial of tasks. For years I thought, “If someone is not capable of pumping gas-then what are they capable of?”
Think about it. If a person doesn’t have the skills to pump gas, then what can they be employed as? What contribution to society can they make? Ultimately, society pays for the uneducated and the unskilled through higher taxes and costs associated with crime and poverty. Poorly educated children cause an economic ripple effect that employers pay for in many ways beyond high taxes.
How does an auto technician properly measure the thickness of brake rotors if he can’t read and calculate a micrometer? How can a technician do a proper wheel alignment if he can’t add or subtract caster tolerances? Today we refer to auto mechanics as technicians because repairing a car requires highly skilled personnel.
Why do we employ workers that are so poorly educated? Why do we have employees pumping gas that can’t make proper change? Why do grocery store clerks look puzzled if you hand them coins in order to receive back cash?
About 75 percent of our property taxes pay for local schools. Why do we pay so much and get so little in return?
Small business owners know how competition affects business performance and profitability. Some customers drive right past a gas station to save a penny, while others will pay more for better service or a preferred brand. Even loyal customers will look elsewhere to have their car repaired if they don’t receive quality service and competitive prices. Starbucks charges $4 for a cup of coffee, yet a gasoline/C-store only charges $2. Why? COMPETITION!
Competition doesn’t exist in our education system, creating a malaise of mediocrity and lack of accountability that permeates our classrooms. When I grew up teachers were poorly paid in comparison to other professionals with similar levels of education. When I grew up, teachers chose to be teachers because their passion and career were rolled up in to a paycheck. Rightfully so, teachers began to demand more, resulting in an out of control teachers union, extremely well compensated teachers with extraordinary benefits, out of control property taxes, and kids graduating that can’t add and subtract.