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.