Financial guru Suze Orman joins teacher-bashing bandwagon

by Christopher Paslay


Insulting teachers is no way to empower them.  Educators need support and resources to succeed.    


Have you trashed a school teacher today?  Go ahead, you can admit it.  It’s one-hundred percent politically correct and always in fashion.  I’d hold my tongue when it comes to discussing race, gender and sexual preference (I’d even watch my step around folks with disabilities), but when teachers are the topic of conversation, feel free to point fingers and call for their heads on the chopping block.


The Philadelphia Inquirer pulls no punches: “Too many schools are straddled with bad teachers . . .” (Editorial: Obama’s Plan, 3/13/09).


Neither do writers for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook: “Many people argue that creating this new culture requires replacing either all or some of the teachers in the building with a fresh staff that is on board with the school’s mission. . . .” (Does reforming high schools require starting with a new staff, 3/30/09)


Or the LA Times:  “What can be done about bad teachers? . . . a bad teacher either continues to influence the lives of hundreds of students or draws a salary for manning a desk.”  (Getting rid of bad teachers, 5/5/09).


The latest person to drink the anti-teacher Kool-Aid is Suze Orman, a best-selling author and financial guru who was named by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Most Influential People.  Last month in a New York Times Magazine profile article, Orman ripped America’s school teachers a new one.


“When you are somebody scared to death of your own life, how can you teach kids to be powerful?” she said.  “It’s not something in a book—it ain’t going to happen that way.”     


The NY Times Magazine article went on to explain that Orman “has been reluctant to work on school curricula on personal finance, because she says students can’t learn empowerment from people who aren’t empowered, and teachers, she says, are too underpaid ever to have any real self-worth.”


Last week Anthony Cody, a writer for Teacher Magazine, published an article headlined, “Do Teachers Lack Power and Self-Worth?”  In it he calmly dissected Orman’s obnoxious statement. 


He wrote, “When I first read this I got ticked off. Orman has equated empowerment with personal wealth—perhaps not surprising, since she earns $80,000 every time she speaks publicly on that very subject. But then I started thinking a bit more about her proposition. Part of it makes sense. We can only teach what we actually embody.”


Cody went on to argue that teaching is really about setting an example in the classroom—that students learn more from the teacher’s presence, tone, attitude, etc., than they do from the lesson itself. 


I’ve always argued that education is first and foremost about teaching values.  In this respect I agree with Cody: Teachers are modeling respect, patience, confidence, and citizenship as they stand in front of the classroom.  There is a subtle transference of energy that happens when an educator effectively connects with his or her students.  


So in a way, Orman (who was accused by Forbes Magazine in 1998 of misrepresenting her Wall Street credentials, by the way), has a point: Teachers must feel empowered in order to empower their students.


The irony is that stereotyping and belittling America’s educators isn’t going to empower them.  Nor is making them the scapegoat for all of the problems of public education.


Teachers must be accorded a minimum level of professionalism and respect.  We must also be given the proper resources in order to succeed.  We can not do the job alone, contrary to public opinion.  Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time teaching in a classroom (especially one in an urban setting) understands that it takes a network of parental, political, economic, and community supports to make education work.


First we need the basics: Help from mom and dad; a new community attitude that values education; smaller class sizes; more practical educational policy; better teacher preparation at the university level; and a society that goes back to embracing traditional values.


Teachers are a very big part of their students’ lives.  We do have the power to empower, but insulting and belittling us is not going to help us achieve this goal. 


11 thoughts on “Financial guru Suze Orman joins teacher-bashing bandwagon

  1. Christopher;

    Thank you for this piece. I must say, I am or was a big Suzi Orman fan? My wife and I would have our Sat. Suze Orman dates. We geek over our personal finances.

    But with her popularity she has lost her luster with me.

    Self worth.. let me see. That is a internally driven thing.

    I plan on writing my blog where I will discus social entreprenuership in the classroom. I say, we are all the own self enterprises. Some successful, some not as successful.

    So forget the nay sayers, ( if Suze is one of them) and do what it takes to make things happen in our classrooms.

    • Samuel,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I didn’t know much about Suze Orman until her recent comments about teachers.

      I like your idea about writing about entrepreneurship in the classroom. You’re right–we as teachers must forget the nay sayers and do what it takes to make things happen in the classroom with our students.

      –Chris Paslay

    • Someone should ask her if she would sign a one page contract where the pay is not specified.

      She absolutely would not, and in my opinion this is where teachers have an edge in this discussion. We are not people who teach because we cannot do, we are people with brains, who should not be afraid to express ourselves. Who can speak better to this situation than us?

      People are jumping on this silly bandwagon because it’s a simple answer to a complex problem that WE understand. If we understand it, it’s up to us to communicate it.

  2. If put to the test I don’t think Suze Orman would express her sentiments using the same words. I’ve listened to Suze, and she’s basically about making money for herself, but has a lot to say about one’s self worth with regard to their own money. Ex: if your office is a mess, and you don’t bother to open your statements, your finances are probably in the same state.

    I think (hope) what she’s attempting to say is that if you feel empowered , which many of us don’t right now, It’s difficult to inspire others to do so. She is constantly saying “people first”, so I say, let her explain further.

  3. I see Suze’s comments as being more realistic than most here. She could mean (I hope) : If you are afraid of your own day to day physical safety, AND are underpaid, it’s difficult to feel powerful. In other words- we don’t have the kind of control we should have, and “powerful people” are ususally in a postion of control. Make sense?

  4. Cathy,

    I see your point, but I don’t think Orman has the credibility or experience to make such a statement. She doesn’t have the background in education or teaching, so her comments in my opinion are more stereotyping. Teachers as a whole have plenty of self-worth, and are very much empowered. Maybe not in the movies or on TV, but in my experience (in the real world) we feel secure with ourselves and with the jobs we do.

    –Chris Paslay

    • Chris-

      Yes, she ought to stay in her own milieu, if she cannot make herself clear. Most likely she didn’t get involved in curriculum planning beause it didn’t pay enough. I disagree somwhat about the “intrinsic self worth” and feeling of power that we should have , but don’t right now. I want to hold off on commenting until after tomorrow’s meeting. This is Philadelphia, and we need to make that understood!

  5. The problem is that teachers are not given the forum to express their frustrations.

    If anyone had the opportunity to make a documentary showing people what really happens from day-to-day around the district, to really see the frustrations of good teachers who do try, I think most people would be amazed at what they see.

    I think, Cathy, you are right when you say that blaming teachers is just an easy solution to this problem. People don’t realize that schools are not businesses. “The buck stops here” model does not apply to institutions like schools. At least, it should not. Too many other people are responsible for the development of children to blame everything on teachers.

    It is narrow-minded and foolish.

  6. Suze Orman,
    You can come teach in my class anytime. I promise you you wouldn’t last a day without tearing out of the classroom crying about the mountains of paperwork, staying up on the discipline, planning, filing papers, grading papers, meeting with parents (angry or not), and oh yeah – actually teaching. Wanna try it? I promise you you will change your mind. Remember we did not come into this profession because we were going to be promised huge sums of money. We came into it because we value it.

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