Saturday, March 20, 2010

A New Promise For American Children: An Open Letter To Those Controlling Budgets For Public Schools

Today's pubic education funding calamity was long in the making by us, and our collective governments (local, state, and national).  Yet, even in light of an overly exuberant push to bail out failing banks & other companies with copious taxpayer dollars, we appear fully ready to accept this crisis in education funding as if it is a done deal.    It doesn't have to end with the assured collapse of our entire set of public education operations from the bottom (elementary schools)  up (Colleges and Universities). Let's all make "A New Promise To America's Children."

When we turn to place blame, the fingers should not point too boldly at any one person.  The crisis for public funding for public goods such as education and other social services has deep historical roots, firmly growing and fertilized by greed.  Why else would it be okay for failed bankers to receive record bonuses while teachers receive pink slips?  This artificial, man-made crisis may have begun with the new era of conservatism foisted on us by Ronald Reagan and his ilk.   When, in 1984, Reagan decided to raise the drinking age and simultaneously shrink the dollars available for financial aid to college students and ushered in the closing of various public asylums, we witnessed a shift in priorities and values that went fully unchanged and off the rails culminating with G.W. Bush's eight years at the helm.  Instead of legislating for justice, the "majority" went whole hog legislating for morality.  The trouble is, morality is subjective.  Justice is not. Egalitarianism can be measured, as evidenced by a persons' actions (how she or he votes for various legislative propositions, for example) juxtaposed with how he or she spends her or his money and time.

Frankly, I'm less disturbed by our government than I am disgusted by the good people of our State.  Our government is us.  We are government.  Those who would sling the poisonous darts of blame at our elected representatives might be better served Michael Jackson's ubiquitous advice and look in the mirror.

It appears that that our short sighted and greedy, self-centered (perhaps full evidence of the maturation of Reagan's "me generation")  approach to living life in our communities is selling our future short.  Essentially, today's disastorous approach to funding public education across the board is working to throw our collective children "under" instead of placing them respectfully on the bus.  Rather than invest in long term prosperity by paying for high quality education for all, the budget for public education is no where near adequate.  Not only is the bus we are tossing our children under rusted, undetectably yellow with age, but we have sold the wheels to China to enable the shipment of the transmission to Iraq to drive unarmored Humvees over IEDs that were not there before we got there.

Fundamentally, when we toss the children under a broken down, rusted, burned out bus and expect them to get out from under it themselves, we know our value system is morally bankrupt.  And, the great experiment to legislate morality has collapsed; our children bearing the full weight of our errors.

What's the answer? Unfortunately, it does not fit into a sound bite suitable to sell advertisements on various talk shows (a la O'Reilly, Beck, Stewart & Colbert) or what passes for "news" (shoved down the masses throats by the likes of Murdoch at Fox).  The answer is not "smaller" government but right-sized government with the proper priorities backed up by values steeped in justice, not simply pushing a morality play to tease the political system for whatever political advantage (which only serves to cleave our Country even further).  Our government is distracted by things like "don't ask, don't tell," while it should be more interested in ensuring our children have the right number of teachers, who go to school in a buildings that are not crumbling down around them.  The answer is not less money for schools and more money for prisons guards or bankers who continue to screw with our economy.  The answer rests in a better investment in high quality education, not the false choice between pink slips or furloughs.  How much did AIG execs earn from their work over the course of 2009?

We all intuitively understand that there is a substantial difference between an equal opportunity for education and an equal opportunity to an equal education.  Today's budget does not reflect even a commitment to a basic level of quality education.  The collective effect of this budget does more than just monetary damage to our public schools. It demoralizes the very people entrusted to energize our children for a prosperous future full of the skills necessary for ensuring a passion for life long learning.

While we could live with a few less banks and bankers, we cannot survive as a society without high quality educational operations (and you don't get something for nothing).  These are drastic times that require dramatic action.  We are not getting any help from a people who would rather unload millions of dollars to stop same-sex marriage instead of investing those dollars sending children to great schools.  Let's together, all make a promise.  I call this "A New Promise to America's Children."

In this promise, we put down our partisan differences.  We work together to fix what is broken, not with an aim to affect curriculum that dictates a particular morality, but toward improving and sustaining our schools rather than closing them down.  We promise to stop spending money buying politicians even despite the recent SCOTUS decision that unleashes capitalists to effectively buy influence ordinary people cannot afford.  Let's promise, instead, to invest in better teaching and more educational enrichment that improves schools instead of bland, standardized tests that squash and kill enthusiasm for education and learning.  Let's promise to commit to greening our facilities so that we bring our infrastructure for public schools into the new millennium, such that children want to be there instead of needing to hold their noses and close their eyes simply so they can use the restrooms.  How many of you would like to go to work in some of the schools that children go to every day? 

Let us promise to not be greedy, but cultivate capitalism with a conscience that supports public education as an investment in their future work force rather than treats students and schools solely commercially; as as if they were only potential future customers.  Let us promise to not throw our next generation of leaders under the broken down bus, minimally, because they will remember how we have treated them when we are aged, needing their care, and dependent upon their good will to maintain our quality of life.

The New Promise to America's Children is about supporting education above entertainment.  We should be about instilling passion for learning, and providing the customized care necessary to meet students where they are at developmentally and functionally delivering the kinds of education they need.   This rarely means standardized testing as treating all as if they were the same is an inherent flaw to that approach.  As Ken Blanchard said long ago, there is nothing more inherently unequal than the equal treatment of unequals.

Good education is costly &  class sizes that work for all; expensive.  Just ask why parents that send their children to private schools are willing to shell out funds larger than the many a university's tuition.  But in America, were many believe the freedom isn't free, we must regroup and extinguish the mindset that brought us to this brink.

In the words of one of the Sherman Six, we must not waste a perfectly good crisis.  We must take this opportunity to reshape our whole approach to public education. At the base is redesigning a sustainable funding pattern that doesn't rise and fall with the whim of politicians and the sinful economic damage caused by greedy people selling such things as credit default swaps (which by the way are still legal financial vehicles) and other unsound economic practices that produce high yield for a few, and large damage for most. 

Let's invert the conversation. Instead of blame, let's discuss what makes public education great.  What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we tweak to improve? What's working really well?  The job of our government leaders are to fund what works, not cut what's already thread bare.  Instead of slicing education from the top down, let's figure out how to build high quality schools and build a budget from there.  We already know what it really costs to deliver what we currently deliver.  Our New Promise to America's Children should involve building a new, improved system from the ashes created by the practice that has led us to this point.  It starts at the grass roots.

We can begin at the school level, and design an operation with a budget that works. Send the bill on up (instead of the top down driven S.O.P), and further that bill to our legislators.  If they are unable to fund great public schools, let's vote the bastards out and find some that can.
  • Message to our legislators: what is your new promise to America's children?  If you fail to support improved funding of our public schools, you face a vote against you in the next election.
  • Message to the corporate leaders whom we patronize: If your spend on political leaders and lobbyists is more than your investment in public educaiton, expect us to boycott you.
  • Message to school leadership: Don't give up the fight.  Your constituents are pissed & we are not going to accept a passive approach to fixing what's wrong with the current situation.  Action is what we demand.  What are you doing today to improve the plight for schools across the board?
Who's with me?

Blog on friends. Blog on all.


Anonymous said...

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.

Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813)

Anonymous said...

What an eloquently written letter. What we need to do is highly publicize the lists of corporations spending more on political influence than education so consumers can shop consciously and show corporations real numbers.

Until we stop spending billions in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere and funnel that money into our own infrastructure and future, I don't see things changing from the top down.