Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Shrug for Schools

If there truly were fiddlers fiddling during the conflagration of Rome, and a stringed quartet on the damp decks of the Titanic, I guess we won't be able to say there's no precedence for the current widespread denial of reality when the schools crumble and collapse. 

But we will probably cry out and express our shock.

My school district, a large-ish one in Northern California, has been obliged to cut $33 million in the past three years, and is gearing up to cut another $17 million next week.  Programs for gifted students (music, Advanced Placement courses) are shrinking, or gone entirely.  Programs for needy students (support classes, reading specialists) eliminated, or circling the drain.  Counselors gone.  Vice Principals with caseloads of 700.

I think we are like the rain forests.  Beautiful.  Essential.  But out of sight.  Out of earshot.  Being hacked at and buzzed into with metal teeth while the breathing world inhales and exhales.

Last year, when the athletics program in our District succumbed to the swinging axe, we observed an impressive phenomenon:  parents, teachers, and community members, knowing athletics make up a crucial component of a young person's education, refused to let the program close.  They organized, formed a non-profit foundation, established a Board of Directors, began raising funds and SAVED THE PROGRAM, in a matter of weeks.  Thank God.  I wouldn't want to be running my high school without sports.  Truly.

Recently, a corrupt event planner absconded with more than $6500 from our students' hard-earned prom fund.  When the kids called the press, we had "an outpouring from the community."  People wouldn't stand for anyone so callus as to steal from kids.  Instead of no prom, we will have a free prom in a first class venue, all whistles tweeting and bells chiming.  Part of next year's prom is now paid for too.  Hooray.  It's a right of passage that should not be cast aside.

Yet we're remarkably silent while the schools themselves are dismantled.  Teachers are laid off.  Classes are swelling.  Facilities are shabby.  Students are angry. 

Sure, heads are shaken.  Letters are written.  We even carry signs sometimes and make the news.  But it's tough times.  We all have to take a hit after all.

We probably don't recognize the keystone institution.  Maybe schools aren't it.  But I'll bet they are.  On some level we all know that schools are everything to our state and our nation.  But on the surface, the place where we speak and stand, we don't know what to do to save the schools.  So we watch.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Post Script for the Opening Ceremonies

What a relief---the Opening Ceremonies were totally Canadian.  Totally!  Of course.  Duh!  Just like an American, I assumed.

I was proud of them for their focus on the Native Canadian cultures.  We never think of that in the U.S.  Native Americans are an afterthought.  Shame on us.

There were some cool special effects, about every 15 minutes.  In other words, WAY too slow!  Loved the whales....the moon was pretty...okay I'm tired of waiting. 

I'll just look at the program guide as an overlay with the ceremony in the background.   Oh!  Look!  Law & Order!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fear of the Olympics

Everyone is coiling up for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C.

What amazing feat of the imagination will top the Chinese?  I say, nothing, nothing can compare.  Thank God. 

When the ads for Vancouver come on, I relive Beijing.  And I don't think I'm alone when I say, reliving that opening event stirs up bad memories.  The Opening Ceremonies from the Beijing Games---scary!  Here's how it goes:  First Beijing, then Star Trek, and then the Borg and their monotone.  "You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile."

Yep, watching the dazzling precision of the 2008 Opening Ceremonies put the fear of God in me.  Well, no, I guess it didn't really. 

I was afraid in the moment, but it didn't last.  I am American afterall.

They were too cool though, weren't they?  I LOVED the scale of it!  The grandeur.  The geometric M.C. Escher beauty created by human beings in motion.  The discipline!

But that's where the fear came in.  I can only hope it's irrational.  Think of it:  One BILLION Chinese.  One point three Billion.  Running in concentric circles baffling the eye, never missing a step.  Wearing thousands and thousands of lighted body suits, suspended on wires, defying gravity and rewriting physics.  Presenting an alternate view of reality. 

I couldn't take it in.  It took me in.  I was assimilated.  Or I would be, could be.  Very scary.

We just don't have that, do we?  Discipline on a vast scale?  Like most Americans, I don't even have it on my own tiny personal scale.  Which is likely why the scale that weighs me isn't so tiny any more!  We're mostly fat now in America.  We take comfort in the numbers of obese.  We're making our children fat.  Oh, excuse me, not fat!  Overweight, heavy, proportionally challenged.  Let's not hurt anyone's feelings!

Somehow I don't think they're pulling punches along the Yangtse.  Get off your Chinese cheeks and smile!  But I digress.

Are these new Opening Ceremonies Canadian?  I guess they are, but somehow it seems like we, Americans, are on the line.  Ours will be different, defiantly so.  Ours will be loud, sexy, shamelessly in-your-face extravagant.  We don't have thousands of years of history to depict, so we will swagger about our short, dramatic, undeniable rise and lasting influence.  Bruce Springsteen, for sure!  Born in the USA!  Born in the USA!

We are lasting aren't we?  We won't be assimilated will we?  We will go on.  Unique.  Independent.  Yes.  Because we're good.  Good deserves to go on.