As I mentioned yesterday, and as I feebly tried to make my point during the last Crazy Hip Blog Mama carnival, I am interested in education. Specifically, today’s story about the mayor taking over the schools, firing the current superintendent and having someone who sounds fresh and uniquely qualified –albeit with no superintendent experience– to take over the schools, is very exciting.
I hope this turns out well for the city. I hope that DC schools can pull themselves out of the miry dirt and neglect and bureaucratic torpor in which they’ve been for far too long– even despite the best efforts of people who have tried to turn that ship around. From what has been printed on the Post, the most obvious problem is a Godfather-esque system of giving jobs to those with ties to the system regardless of experience or actual performance– and making the firing of these incompetent people a drawn-out bureaucratic nightmare that never happens. Of course, this sad fact coupled with parents who cannot, will not, or simply do not take active interest in their children’s schooling; old crumbling buildings that are not kept up; an indifferent school board that cares more about having a political platform from which to move up to the next position instead of making a few unpopular decisions to help the kids; and a general apathy from people who can afford to take their kids elsewhere; makes the problem pretty much a snake biting its own head because you can’t clearly see the beginning, nor the end.
Reading these articles also reminds me of my favorite controversial blogger out there, Violent Acres, who says things I wish I had the courage to say ; and hell, I’m mostly an anonymous blogger, so you think I’d have the cojones to unload sometimes like she does no-holds-barred… but I do not, and she does. The piece to which I’ve linked is radical and poignant and really, a matter of common sense –starting with the fact that if you do not have the time and the resources, you should probably not become a parent. Specifically, what she claims is that if you have a child you cannot afford, you are a child abuser.
I agree, people. I do. Please spare me the lecture on how all children are blessings and so on and so forth. YES: children ARE blessings. So shouldn’t we at least do right by them, little treasures that they are, instead of exposing them to years of poverty and harsh conditions? Shouldn’t we plan for their future before they come into this world? Why is it okay to neglect them by not providing basic food/shelter/clothing necessities on your own? And before you unleash on me, please do go read what she wrote, because she makes a very good cause for it.
So I go a step further: if it is, as Violent Acres claims, that it is child abuse not to adequately provide for your children’s basic material necessities, then is it not abuse to neglect your child’s key to a successful adulthood– a basic education?
The District’s children have been abused for years and years and not just by the parents who had them at a too-early age and in unstable circumstances and who depend on the government to be able to feed them and keep them clothed and who cannot be there to help out with homework and little league and fundraisers and with reading circle –which is the first line of abuse they have encountered. (Not all children, but really… too many of them have done so)
But the abuse that is coming through clearly and despicably in the Washington Post’s series (click here to read— fascinating and sad) happens to be the abuse of the people the city has hired to manage, maintain, and staff their learning places. The abuse is found in deplorable teaching conditions and crumbling buildings, and in teachers who are not qualified to teach the subjects they teach. They have been cheated by grubby politicians and by district administrators who made no calls to get the live wires fixed or the broken window replaced; and by principals who turned a blind eye to violence complaints and to crime; and by school secretaries who lost their records and could never find them again; and by teachers who were tenured and decided to pop in a movie instead of preparing a lesson, or who will not retire and instead hang on to a job that is not essential because their bloated paycheck is more important than the supplies that could be purchased with it. They were abused by the janitor who never cleaned up the messes and they were abused by anyone who let years of dreams and glossy textbooks pile up in a dusty audiovisual room — an expensive room, packed with expensive equipment and no true desire to use it.
Meanwhile, what does this abuse look like? The children living in our nation’s capital cannot read or write in massive numbers. I will double check later, but I believe that one statistic given was that by third grade, 67% of the students cannot read properly. Also in that same article, it was reported that those same-age kids cannot do math properly –well, at least 75% cannot.
Now of course for the skeptics out there, much fault can be found with these numbers. For starters, what does it mean to execute something "properly" (my word)?
I imagine that these statistics are derived from the standardized test "du jour" –a concoction of basic facts and a few curveballs to assess learning progress, and which seem to have changed every year since "No Child Left Behind" was instituted. But objectively, these results do not sound favorable: during third grade most kids should be able to read a clock, do basic logical reasoning such as "this thing does not belong with the others" and do basic multiplication (according to my memory of what California teaches then, but I’m sure this varies from state to state) –and if they cannot do those simple things we take for granted then how are they going to survive in the world, seriously?
I ask that earnestly: how are you expected to be a balanced, well-adjusted, caring individual who will make the right choices and has an inherent knowledge of his or her self-worth if you are, say, twelve years old and are unable to look at an analog dial and proclaim, "Why it’s 10:55 am, darling mamma! I do believe it’s time for my elevenses! Let us see how many biscuits we’ll need if there are six of us and we shall eat thirteen biscuits apiece!"
And furthermore, how are you supposed to grow up resentment-free and willing to learn if you grow up realizing that because you are poor, your education seems to be irrelevant? Because your education plays a second fiddle (a distant one at that) to the desire of a few eager small-town politicos to kiss butt and manipulate other people so they can obtain "experience" and votes as they move up the DC political ladder?
Granted, it IS possible to come out of this poor start with a good attitude and a desire to succeed –perhaps because of your very own bad start– but it is generally the exception and not the rule.
Let us hope that the DC schools can turn around. Let’s stop abusing these kids, and do right by them.