What Vanna White's private planes say about our values and how we're overlooking the most cr


Nothing against Vanna White. She seems sweet.

Like all of us, she’s had her struggles – some devastating. Her fiancé was killed in a plane crash, and she had a very public miscarriage. (Her pregnancy was announced to the world as one of the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune --

V-A-N-N-A-S P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T.)

But she hit the genetic jackpot. That and being the quintessential right place, right time story helped her make millions.

But still, come on people! Come on economic system!

Isn’t it supposed to reward hard work? And originality. And producing something of value (or perceived value). And contribution to society?

Well, probably not that last one. The system rewards scarcity more than it does impact. If you can do what almost no one else can do or what no one else has done – and it has value (or perceived value) – you’ll be financially rewarded even if the societal effect is negligible or negative. (Juul comes to mind.)

Vanna White’s wealth, however, is mysterious. I’m betting she’d be the first to say that her “success,” is beyond bizarre.

Does Vanna work harder than you? Is she crazy creative? Does she produce something of value? She may contribute something to society, but what she does is definitely not scarce! There are lots of pretty girls who could capably turn the letters on Wheel.

I don’t begrudge her. Her catching lightening in a bottle hasn’t damaged me. Or anyone else. I’m glad for her.

Yet, when Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph told the story of chartering one of Vanna's private Learjets to attend a business meeting with Blockbuster –

Blockbuster famously rejected Randolph’s offer to sell it Netflix – I thought, Wait a minute!

I mean, what the heck? We’re paying early child care workers and pre-school educators virtually nothing to watch, guide and teach children during the most crucial developmental time in their lives, and Vanna White owns private jets!

Do the best child care workers and pre-school teachers work hard? You try it!

Do they have to be insanely (and often spontaneously) creative? Virtually every minute! Do they produce something of value? Does anyone need an answer to that?

Are the highly skilled, extraordinarily compassionate members of the early care and education workforce scarce?

Absolutely. How many potential incredible early care and education workers won’t and can’t even consider a career with young kids because the compensation is insulting and cruel?

Some saints will do it anyway. (Women, mostly – 2% of pre-kindergarten teachers are men). But they shouldn’t have to suffer low-wage indignity any longer. We have to stop taking advantage of their kind hearts and warm spirits.

In the last year of my public-school teaching career, I taught 12th graders government and economics. I considered it a vital vocation. I worked hard at it. I tried to be creative. Hopefully, I produced something of value. I’d even consider myself scarce. I know not many can do what I did.

But what I did was not nearly as vital a vocation as early care and education. I know I didn’t work as hard as early care and education workers do. I definitely didn’t have to be continuously creative, as they need to be. The value of me enlightening a 17 or 18-year-old can’t compare to the value of molding the mind of a preschooler.

Coale James' teachers deserve to get paid!

A major reason more people are more willing to teach teenagers than tots is salary. At the end of my career I was paid four times as much as a typical early care and education worker. Not only was this not fair, it doesn’t even make sense. The compensation system is upside down.

I’m not advocating heaping great riches upon early care and education workers. We can’t afford for them to be buying private planes. But they ought to at least be able to buy a used car.

Learn more. Get involved. Explore U.C. Berkeley's Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.


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