The Kinship of the Unsung
There are so many careers that provide so many vital services, forms of assistance, life saving procedures out there that I want to be clear: I salute all you ladies and gentlemen.
Now, I would like to talk about a group of American workers that, to my knowledge has very little protection from Unions or organized representation. Most of them need to be well educated to get their jobs–B.A., usually in the field they will be working with. Many of them have earned the necessary approvals and certifications to handle extremely hazardous materials, dangerous equipment and some of them have official First Aid certification and some are trained EMTs. Some of them are the people who might get a call in the middle of the night if a local hospital with a bite victim doesn’t have antivenom for certain species of reptile or arachnid, because their organization does and this individual is the only one around (and yes, Virginia, this can be in an Urban area) certified to handle it. Some of them have saved men, women and children from unexploded military ordinance while ‘trained security’ stood idly by–because at one time, the individual in reference was responsible for the location of every tank on the East German Border and knew how to determine that a rusted grenade was still live.
To the best of my knowledge (as in, what I have witnessed, or what they have told me) some of these people (although not all) have been sexually harassed in public before hundreds of witnesses, and sometimes their supervisors at the workplace. Many of them have been physically harassed, or verbally abused to a severe extent–as in not repeatable unless it’s being bleeped out on ‘The Jersey Shore’ (including me). I do not know a single one of them who has ever been paid a salary that is truly commensurate with their education, experience or training–the same stuff the organizations hiring them claim is crucial for their positions. I think to be safe I will add that this is my opinion.
And more than a few of them, Steven Kellner, my late husband, among those (by the way, his name is actually on a bronze commendation plaque at the organization that did this to him), have been fired or ‘retired’ or ‘encouraged’ to leave for reasons that are illegal. Nobody could afford a lawsuit; that does not mean nobody would have won.
Who are all these people? They are Museum Educators. They are the people who find your child in a four story building in less than five minutes to avoid tragedy at worse, and total lockdown, the police and possibly even heavier law enforcement and panic at best. They are the people who teach the Art and Science and Humanities to kids who need that stuff in their curriculums who can’t always get enough of it in the school rooms. The teachers can teach it, absolutely!!! ( TEACHERS READING THIS I WOULD NEVER SUGGEST OTHERWISE, BITE YOUR WONDERFUL AND DEDICATED TONGUES!!!!) but the school board would rather budget for a bus to the museum for half a day than buy the art supplies, hire the art teacher (Caroline thank the Gods you got a job) organize the extra class hours, etc…
Here are some things I have seen in several different states.
1. Somebody with an MA in their field being (Literally.Conspicuously. Repeatedly. As if they were a ghost) ignored by the “program/concept” design staff, working on a concept dealing with this person’s field where the ignorers have proudly mentioned that they took a course or two in college.
2. A statement issued that if the temperature at an outdoor museum went up to a certain degree the animals would be taken off display but the men and women posted outside (often right in front of air-conditioned enclosed spaces) would be “permitted to remove their aprons (ladies) or their waistcoats and hats and roll up their sleeves (men). Virginia. July. 105F in the shade. Before the heat index.
3. The director of a small museum that owned several 17th and 18th century guns who refused to label them. At all. He also insisted on a 4th Grade Social Studies program and a regular adult tour that presented all soldiers in the British Army as illiterate mouth-breathing louts who had to take off their shoes to count to six and would kill a five-year old for sticking out their tongue. This man was convinced that as soon as anyone, teen, man, woman,picked up a weapon of any kind, regardless of reason, motive, Impress, they became a drooling, homicidal maniac intent on raping anything that remained on two legs and despoiling anything left after that. The problem? His museum was a house owned by an Artillery officer,then an Army Captain, his widow and finally an American Army General. He was across the street from a military cemetery, a National Guard Barracks and Naval Officer housing. He refused to read military history and he had a BA in 20th century art. He consistently belittled employees’ attempts to change policy.
4. An HR rep telling a part time employee, formerly full-time with an excellent service record, a veteran educator that she would not be hired full time again because she had recently been married and did not need the income as much as a single college age candidate. The full time HR rep was married some time later and did not reduce their hours.
5. And, finally, as Dickensian as it may sound, I will never forget this: The fifty-eight plus year old woman, eleven months from retirement and pension, arthritic, permanently disabled hip and knee, using a cane, had all the correct documentation from her Doctor etc to sit down as she did her job forced to stand, for four hours at a time. The President of Colonial History Land had seen another employee sitting down the previous day in front of an exhibit and felt it was inappropriate at Christmas. No he didn’t like it one bit. So while he sat at his desk, a 35 year old, massively overweight supervisor sat on a marble bench directly across from this lady and watched her stand, leaning on her cane, 35 degrees F outside, four hour stretch. The supervisor was grinning.
Runner up: the manager of a science program who left a defenceless aquatic turtle in a dry bucket for what would have been an indeterminate period. The educator on shift to check in, (schedule permitting) clean the tank and feed his brothers and sister found him–after at least 24-36 hours in the bucket. There was no way of knowing if this was a deliberate and necessary medical isolation.No number to call for any potential health issues for any animal at the museum. There was no way to reach the program manager. When she returned to work her main reaction was to laugh and hint that the educator was overly sensitive. Well, yes, although the little guy was fine, the sight of a dried out animal helplessly scratching at the bucket walls did create some increased sensitivity.
Look. Teachers go through 89 different kids of hell and I don’t know how you all do it. Our Armed forces and Law Enforcement, local and Federal have their Dangerous and Incompetents but they also have their heroes and I thank you all for taking care of me and everybody in this country. Academics have to confront stuff some people would never believe. I honestly and truly appreciate the lawyers who strive to do good. I could go on. But for me to celebrate the 99% I felt the need to celebrate a vastly diverse group of men and women. You don’t all know each other. Some of you are still in touch with me some aren’t. Some will read this (please don’t kill me) some won’t.
Here’s the thing. The stuff I’ve described up here is the TIP of the Iceberg. And every one of you has weathered a million times worse with dignity, grace, wisdom and strength. You care about your fields. You care about your organizations (or what may be left of them under the rubble once they’re done shooting nuclear missiles up their behinds) you love learning cool stuff and teaching other people about it. So you are all my heroes too for this day and every other day especially the ones likely to see big groups at a museum.