The first-ever Dash for Cash event pitted 10 Sioux Falls area teachers against each other to grab as many single dollar bills as possible in less than five minutes. The money, meant to go toward either their classroom or school, was donated by CU Mortgage Direct.
— Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus-Leader
It wasn’t a joke.
It wasn’t a parody, nor a satire, nor performance art.
It was an honest-to-God scramble for cash, foisted on teachers in South Dakota, where salaries are among the lowest in the nation. They average less than $50,000 a year.
The money grab was the entertainment between periods for Saturday’s Sioux Falls Stampede hockey game.
In a video that (inevitably) went viral on Twitter, public school teachers in jeans, T-shirts and helmets knelt on a shag rug tossed onto the ice and scooped up $1 bills that had been dumped onto the rug. Five grand was on the line. The teachers stuffed the money down their shirts as fast as they could.
Some critics compared the exercise to the 2021 Korean-language survival drama “Squid Game” — in which characters desperate for money enter a deadly competition — without the blood. It put me in mind of the 1969 satirical movie “The Magic Christian,” without the manure.
In reality, it wasn’t either of those things.
The goal in “Squid Game” was to stay alive. The goal in “The Magic Christian,” the film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, was to show how people will compromise or debase themselves for money. (Its famous final scene showed proper gentlemen in bowler hats and suits diving after cash into an excrement-filled vat.)
But the teachers in the ice-cold hockey arena were not in it for themselves; they were scrambling for entirely altruistic reasons. They want better for the kids in their classrooms.
“The teachers in this area, and any teacher, they deserve whatever the heck they get,” said the marketing director for the mortgage company that dreamed up this unintentional exercise in humiliation.
I know he meant well, but as the child of a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who spent far too much of her own cash on classroom supplies, it was hard not to read his quote as an insult. Most teachers deserve so much more than what they get. When she died at 70 in 1998, my mother, who taught deaf and hard-of-hearing students, left a trove of teaching supplies.
“This just feels demeaning,” tweeted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “No doubt people probably intended it to be fun, but from the outside it feels terrible.”
The hockey team and the mortgage company later apologized.
I certainly don’t blame the South Dakota teachers who participated. They were hoping to get enough money, they told the Argus-Leader, to purchase flexible seating, such as standing desks, or computer and sports equipment.
Good luck with that. When the spectacle ended less than five minutes after it began, their cash hauls ranged from $378 to $616.
The stunt was in terrible taste, for sure, but it also encapsulated in one sickening moment much of what is awry with how we fund (or don’t fund) public education, and the regard in which we hold teachers in this country, most of whom are women. (Women account for 80% of elementary …….