In a recent article for the New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert takes the nation to task for failing to provide a basic education for its students. In “The War on Schools,” he writes, “There’s something surreal about the fact that the United States of America, the richest, most powerful nation in history, can’t provide a basic public school education for all of its children.” He continues, “Actually, that’s wrong. Strike the word ‘can’t.’ The correct word is more damning, more reflective of the motives of the people in power. The correct word is “won’t.”
He argues that while the country prepares itself for war, another, less prominent crisis is being overlooked in our own classrooms. “Without giving the costs much thought, we’ll spend hundreds of billions of dollars on an oil-powered misadventure in the Middle East. But we won’t scrape together the money for sufficient textbooks and teachers, or even, in some cases, to keep the doors open at public schools in struggling districts from Boston on the East Coast to Portland on the West.”
Shrinking state budgets, combined with little relief from the federal government has forced school districts to take previously unthinkable actions to stay in the black. Karen Soehnge of the Texas Association of School Administrators, told the New York Times that “districts across the state have been in a cost-cutting mode for a number of years.” She continued, “When you continue that cutting over a lengthy period of time, you’re cutting to the bone. We’re concerned because in Texas we have increased standards for student learning. So we have increasing expectations and diminishing resources, two irreconcilable forces.”
In several events across the country, students have taken to the streets to demand more money for education. Herbert describes a recent event held in Albany, N.Y. “Among the banners and signs waved by the students was a placard that showed an American flag and said: ‘Public Education – An American Dream. A Dream That No One Wants to Pay For.'” Herbert also spoke with Marion Canedo, the superintendent of the Buffalo school system, who was part of the demonstration in Albany. “When [Ms. Canedo] talks about the cuts she’s had to make and the cuts currently being considered, her voice has
the tone of someone who has just witnessed a chain-reaction auto wreck. ‘It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the district 35 years,’ she said. ‘I mean we’re looking at crazy things, like a four-day week, no kindergarten, no pre-kindergarten, no sports.'” She continues, “I’ve done everything I could think of. I’ve closed schools. I’ve suspended service at schools. It’s been horrible.’
On the other side of the world, we’re preparing our military forces to invade a country on behalf of its citizens who are too weak or too timid to stand up against a dictator. However, here in our own country, we are neglecting those same kinds of citizens, students in our inner city schools and other high-poverty areas who cannot help themselves. Herbert writes: “There is no way to overstate the gulf between the need for funding and the reality of funding in urban school districts. And that gulf is widening, not narrowing.”
His column concludes with this sad commentary on our nation’s attitude toward public education:
Education is the food that nourishes the nation’s soul. When public officials refuse to provide adequate school resources for the young, it’s the same as parents refusing to feed their children. It’s unconscionable. It’s criminal. The public school picture across the country is wildly uneven. There are many superb school districts. But there are so many places like Buffalo (including big and small cities and rural areas), where the schools are deliberately starved of the resources they need, and those districts are the shame of a great nation.
When it comes to education financing, the divisions among federal, state and local government entities are mostly artificial. It’s everyone’s obligation to educate the next generation of Americans. It’s an insane society that can contemplate devastating and then rebuilding Iraq, but can’t bring itself to provide schooling for all of its young people here at home.
Read the complete column at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/06/opinion/06HERB.html