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Friday, May 26, 2017

Teach the Children

Everything is a political issue today, it seems. Some of them are bewildering. When did conservative Republicans become so hostile to public education? I suppose the core belief of the Republican is that money is not the answer, even when, as it comes to education, this is disproved over and over again.

The Trump budget, scarier than any Stephen King novel, came out this week, and there's something for every right-thinking person to hate. I'll just focus on education. The simple numbers are: 9.2 billion dollars, or a 13.5 percent cut. Just on its face that's bad enough, when the U.S. has fallen behind in the brain race with other countries.

But here are a few particulars: stopping the subsidization of student loans, which makes college more expensive. This is fine for kids who have parents who can write checks to Princeton, but for those who can't, you will spend the rest of your life in crippling debt. The Democrats have it right--make tuition free for community and state schools, which will enable poor students to get a leg up. So many Republicans whine about people not pulling themselves up by their boot straps--what if they can't afford boot straps?

Cuts to Medicaid would impact special needs students. These kids always get the short end of the stick, whether it's the short bus or getting shoved in the worst classrooms. Lest we forget, there is a law (the IDEA, passed in 1990) that ensures every child with a free, public education that best fits their needs.

Proposed is a 2.3 billion dollar cut in a teacher training program that would help reduce class size. Believe me, the smaller the class, the better the education. You can't reach everyone in a class full of fifty kids. And lack of teacher training means poorer teachers. If you don't pay teachers well, no matter how devoted they are they will eventually suffer from burnout and feeling unappreciated, and will have to move on to other careers to feed their families.

Title I, a program that aids high-poverty schools, would remain flat. I teach at at a Title 1 school, and believe me, we need the money. My kids are lucky if they have a pencil, and I end up buying school supplies out of my own pocket. My old principal, who knows a thing or two about high-poverty education, was blunt: throwing money at schools is the solution, not the problem. Of course it has to be spent right, but leave that to people who know what they're doing, not politicians.

Of course, the Republican answer is school choice. Let students from struggling school districts get vouchers to attend private schools (even religious ones). All this does is remove money from public schools, and will lead to the ultimate destruction of public education in the inner cities. Instead, why not give that money to public schools, so they can better themselves?

The villain in all this is Betsy DeVos. It's a crap shoot on who Trump's worse cabinet appointment was--it's hard to top Ben Carson or Jeff Sessions--but DeVos was the one who made me, an educator, the angriest. She has never attended a public school, nor have her children. She got the job by taking Amway money (those annoying people who badger you to join their pyramid scheme) and donating it to Trump. She believes that public education is a "dead end," and that charter schools are the way to go.

I have nothing against charter schools. Las Vegas is full of them, and many of them are tuition-free. Parents of students who have discipline problems would be well to send their children to them, because the atmosphere is much tougher and the education more rigorous (I remember the fear of being sent to military school). But charter schools should be an alternative, not a replacement. For one thing, they have no higher a success rate than public schools. Second, if they don't accept federal money, they do not have to obey anti-discrimination laws. But DeVos wants to change that.

In recent questioning by Congresswoman Katherine Clark, one of my new heroes, DeVos indicated that states had control over who could go to the schools and who couldn't. Clark zeroed in and asked point-blank: could schools deny rights to LGBT students. DeVos, indirectly, indicated that they could. Clark, appalled, asked if a school could receive federal money and discriminate against blacks. DeVos, amazingly, gave the same answer, and it didn't seem to bother her a bit. I wish Clark would have gone a step further and asked if a school could keep out white children.

Caring about education involves caring about the greater good. I used to hear old people whine about school taxes when they didn't have kids in the system anymore--implying, "Fuck it, my kids are out, I've paid my dues." This is the Republican way of thinking--"If it doesn't affect me, I don't give a shit." Unfortunately, this short-sightedness leads to a withering of society. Our civilization depends on our people being well-educated. We don't all need to be geniuses, but it certainly helps when everyone has basic literacy levels, which we don't. My students, who are sixth-graders, come in on average with a third-grade reading level. They are already behind the eight ball, and Trump and DeVos are just going to sink them into the pocket.

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