Gaining Knowledge

Over the years, the teachers in the state had become a powerful political force. But their influence was greatly diminished as the state became one of the most conservative states in the nation. The state legislature took a bold step of eliminating the teachers’ retirement plan and placing all teachers into a 403(b) retirement plan. Basically this plan would place 3% of a teacher’s salary into a retirement fund if teachers also placed 3% of their salary into the fund. A fund manager was selected and was asked to do briefings for teachers in each county.

The fund manager provided a selection of 25 funds where teachers could place their money. Knowing that teachers tended to be risk averse, the presentations focused on low risk, low return funds. These resonated with the teachers and the great bulk of the teachers’ retirements went into these funds.

Five years later, teachers began to realize that their retirement funds had gained very little value. Projections of income at a desired retirement age were not sufficient for even a minimum of standard of living. The teachers’ union raised an objection claiming that the teachers had been duped by the fund manager. They found very little sympathy from the legislature or the public. Most of the families in the state had similar retirement plans and had chosen more balanced portfolios which had done quite well. While the teachers’ union claimed that teachers were being treated inequitably, there was no remedial action taken. Teachers were allowed to change their portfolio allocations to achieve better returns.

Were the teachers treated equitably? Most teachers would admit that they knew very little about investing and this led to their bad decisions. How does knowledge relate to equity? Does equity also carry with it a duty to be informed? Has misinformation become a 21st century tool to reintroduce inequities?

If knowledge and equity are intertwined, where does the responsibility for gaining knowledge fall? Is it a personal responsibility or a societal one? Should there be an equity safety net for those whose lack of knowledge led to bad decisions? Should we reframe our concept of equity as a necessary but not sufficient societal responsibility?

Just imagine how we might educate the public in taking full advantage of societal efforts to establish equity? How might we respond to those who do not avail themselves of the education provided? Just imagine what (if any) equity safety net might be necessary? Just imagine where the assurance of equity resides: the individual or our society?           

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In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.