When I get together with either of my daughters our conversation eventually turns to school- school budgets, school problems, and school improvement. My friends and I often “talk shop” about curriculum planning, school supplies, discipline methods, and parent communication. I can even strike up a conversation with a stranger and get a strong opinion about any aspect of education I choose to discuss. School is something we all have some experience with and an opinion about.
Yesterday I ordered $100 worth of supplies for my classroom. That isn’t an outrageous sum, and it won’t be my last order. I’ll need a few more books and a book shelf and a new reading carpet and a new doll this year. I routinely spend about $25 a week on general supplies such as tissues, paper plates, paper towels, pencils, stickers, writing paper, and treats. I also spend about $20 per child, annually, for their memory book. I tell you this because I’m confident that my expenditures are quite average, perhaps even low by the standards of some teachers. It is a fact of life that school budgets were not designed to cover all the expenses of an education, especially in the lower grades.
During my vacation I was made painfully aware of the problems raging in my home state. Yes, I claim Oklahoma as my home, but I was born and educated in California and it hurts me to see the problems they are facing. While we were there the nightly news was filled with stories of teacher layoffs and “contract buyouts” and budget deadlines. My daughter, Karen, and her friend told me about things they will have to do without this coming year- including teacher friends who are now unemployed. My granddaughter will have to survive much larger classes and will get fewer extra-curricular activities. Katrina is fighting her own battles in Vermont, where cuts are being made in advanced classes and the arts. My friends in other states tell me the same stories.
It has always bothered me that the quality of education constantly boils down to one thing- money. We either spend it on our children, and our future, or we don’t. And in most cases, we don’t. There are schools in America with crumbling buildings and leaking plumbing. There are classrooms where children aren’t allowed to take their books home because they must share them with other students. There are classrooms built for twenty students that are stuffed with thirty-five. There are teachers struggling to do their best with what they have- but the toll in stress and discouragement is affecting them, and their students.
We can’t view our education system as just another business enterprise. We can’t let the market place take care of the problems. It doesn’t benefit anyone if the schools in California are totally different from the schools in Idaho or Florida or Oklahoma. We can’t just let the best get better and the worst fail and see how it turns out. I can tell you for a fact that the government isn’t going to bail out a bankrupt school! And it’s not okay if ANY of our schools fail. If our education system fails we are all in trouble. Our children will be taking over the leadership of this nation. They will be inventing new products and taking care of the old ones. They will be growing our food and curing our diseases. They deserve, and we deserve, the best education they can get.
We’re all familiar with the “no child left behind” mantra. I say we abandon that tired and impossible fantasy and go with a better one- No School Left Behind. If we create a standard for schools and go about making it a reality we will benefit far more students. Every child deserves to attend a school that is safe, clean, modern, and well-supplied with the tools of education. Every child deserves to be in a class of no more than 15 students with a teacher who is well-educated and ready for the challenges of teaching. Every child deserves the opportunity to excel in the arts as well as academics. Every child deserves the opportunity to participate in a variety of physical activities.
Where are our priorities? As I watch this country cope with the burden of the financial mistakes of our leaders it frightens me to see how our money is spent. Greed and lust seem to dominate business. Greed and lust certainly control our politicians. When did we stop sacrificing for a better world, a better future, for our children? That’s what my parents did for me. That’s what my grandparents did for them.
So…I am willing to give up some of my money to improve the education of my students. My colleagues routinely do the same. What we are waiting for is for the leaders of our country to join us.