All have a stake in schools

Published 10:27 am Saturday, April 24, 2010

■ Last in a series about public education

During this series, I have referred occasionally to “our children.” When asking people about their interest in public education, I have too often received answers such as:

■ “Education is the job of the schools. That’s what I pay my taxes for, and I don’t see any need to be concerned or get involved.”

■ And, “My children are all grown up now, and so I’m done with the schools. Someone else can worry about that, now.”

Thus too many people divide their interests and concerns not to include education and do not know or care where the carriage we are in is headed — only how they will get through their day today. They do not realize that the children currently in school represent the future for us all.

My own notion of “our children” relative to their education is well-represented in the Third Stave of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when the second spirit reveals two appalling children — “where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.” The spirit explains, “‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city.”

We have a lot of erasing to do.

Enter charter schools, a backdoor means to needed reforms in public education. Whether you like the idea of charter schools or not, there are growing numbers of news stories about schools that are totally reforming themselves and achieving significant results for their students with a culture of professionalism across all staff and of visioning success on the part of every person involved, including the students. Many of these schools are working with the same demographics as the traditional public school models they are replacing. One would think that any sentient school leader would be researching such best-practice models and enlisting diverse resources to consider what should be implemented in his own system.

Those calling for reform — or simply asking questions or expressing concerns, whether within or outside of the school system — are not the enemy, although they are treated as such by some school system administrators to keep them quiet. Instead, they have but one single goal: to improve the education process for the sake of our youths, for their future, and accordingly for our best long-term national interest.

For heaven’s sake, who is in the right? There is too much at stake to continue to acquiesce to and thus support the status quo.

For those who do not care to be concerned about the national interest, I ask that you look at least to your own communities. For as public education continues to decline, it takes with it the quality of life of the entire community. Area businesses suffer as it becomes more difficult to find well-qualified, reliable workers. Rising domestic problems and criminal activity increasingly challenge social services, police departments, courts and penal systems (and thus increase costs that could otherwise be spent on activities that enhance the wellbeing and success of the community); poorly skilled and unmotivated citizens earn lower wages (or are unemployed), reducing retail and government revenues; increasingly ignorant (certainly not to be confused with “stupid”) and unmotivated citizens are not to be found living healthy, financially responsible lifestyles, contributing to the community through volunteerism, nor voting intelligently at the polls, and they are easy prey for loan sharks, spin doctors, fear mongers and gang leaders.

Thus it is the relatively weak products of our public schools who are directly victimized by the negligence of the adult community, which is in turn indirectly victimized by its own failure to holistically educate its own children. We have met the enemy, and …

New federal and state legislation can be debated and enacted; we can determine and modify national achievement standards; we can develop all kinds of tools to measure academic achievement, and we can be upset about SOLs; local school systems can spend significant human resources obtaining great federal grant programs; we can require teachers to post their daily objectives in the classroom in SOL format and stated in behavioral terms; we can build new schools and equip them with the latest technology and the best textbooks; we can have heated debate about the academic threshold required to play sports; we can impose the latest teaching methodology fads on our teachers; we can blame the parents, the teachers, the administrators, the students, and insufficient funding; et cetera ad nauseam.

In my view, however, the significance of such issues and actions pales by comparison to the positive impact to be had by 1) a systemic promulgation of high behavioral standards across a school system, by 2) allowing teachers to work as professionals in a truly professional work environment, and by 3) a deliberate, effective enlistment on the part of school system administrations of the human resources within the system and across the community in addressing the needs of the education process to improve.

Even with all of that, it would be a long and difficult journey. For too long, local governments and school boards (indeed, the leadership of many of the major elements of the community) have been reactionary rather than visionary and proactive, and too little value has been placed on public education.

Nothing is more important to our long-term interest than public education, however. The path of least resistance is the road we have been travelling; but we, in our own communities, had best turn our carriage around and soon, for we are headed for the cliff.