The State of the Union message always leaves me confused. No matter who gives the speech, it is always filled with promises of unity and purpose that I know will be swept under the rug the next morning in the race to fund the pet projects and political agendas of those same individuals who were smiling and clapping after every optimistic promise. Of course I know very little about government and even less about politics. Who can possibly keep up with all the nuances of either unless it is their fulltime occupation or avocation? However, I do know how much life has changed in the last four decades since I became an adult. Very little.
Oh, yes, there have been astounding changes in some areas of our life. But when you look at the topics that resurface year after year and term after term- poverty, unemployment, education reform, healthcare, military involvement, international competiveness, illegal immigration, safety, and morality- it seems that we are still treading in the same waters and waiting for the lifeboat. Instead of smiling and clapping last night I found myself thinking, “I hope you understand that you don’t really have the power to do that.”
And therein lays the problem. No matter how well intentioned our president, and I do believe most are, it seems there is very little real power at the top. We have wisely limited the things our president can actually do without the cooperation of all the other leaders in Washington, and I seriously doubt most of them could agree on where to have lunch, much less how to solve our problems.
I should not venture too far in my opinions from my own knowledge and experience, so I will tell you that our president’s promises of education reform did not inspire me. I have lived through too many broken promises, both as a student, parent, and educator. I am a poster child for what is good about education. I came from poverty, moved in and out of more than a dozen schools, survived a couple of horrible teachers, survived gang violence, was inspired by several gifted teachers, made excellent grades, graduated from college despite tremendous obstacles, and became a teacher. However, I have also experienced many of the programs and attempts to change and improve education. My children have attended year-round schools. They have been in non-graded classrooms and magnet schools. They have been in this program and that program. Blah, blah, blah…
If there is one thing I have learned in the trenches it is that we will NEVER make education an equal or even equitable experience for ALL children. Not going to happen. Not in my lifetime. Not in my children’s lifetime. Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime. We can start with the same expectations. We can start with the same curriculum. We can set the same goals. But a child attending Podunk School in rural America is not going to have the same educational experience as a child attending Gang Banger High in one of our major cities. And if you really want to see reality and inequality in American education, visit any one of the Texas high school campuses that looks like a college, and has a professional style football stadium and an Olympic-sized pool. It’s about the money folks, and it will never, ever be distributed equally, fairly, or uniformly. Get over it.
And education will never reach the one-size-fits all goal because the idea of “all” is inherently flawed. Children are not the same. Not even those raised in the same family. The idea of “no child left behind” was always ludicrous because some children didn’t even make it to the starting line! Now we have “Race to the Top”. Take a close look at that, and read why the governor of Texas won’t even participate.
As usual, my time is limited and my ramblings could go on forever. I just can’t resist one more comment. The President said we should teach our children that “success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline”. I’m sorry, but our children are getting a very different message from the media! And I’m not sure we can turn the tide as long as YouTube exists.
Well, off to work. Have a great day!