Thursday, March 10, 2011

Perhaps I'm an be it

Yesterday I was sitting in my Peace Studies class listening as my students shared their action plans for trying to bring a measure of peace to a target group. I had already read their plans and given feedback to them. However, I thought it might help them to hear their classmates' ideas. It might give them food for thought or give them an opportunity to make suggestions to each other.  While some students wanted to examine global problems like human trafficking and child soldiers, several wanted to address problems in their local communities. Two, in particular, struck a chord with me as I continue to worry about the fate of public schools. One student is exploring health and fitness of youth and the other is interested in the loss of programs in the arts in public schools. In both cases, budget constraints mean that the ax is wielded at these programs first.

I realized that while these students have very valid concerns and there is an abundance of research which shows the importance and essential benefits of physical education and the arts in child development, these girls had no sense of the larger ax that is threatening teaching jobs on a broader scale.  The sheer number of classroom teachers is being threatened around the country. Rhode Island teachers are losing their jobs by the bushel.  The Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit public schools played with the idea of allowing class size to go up to 60. SIXTY! I have to wonder if he has been in a classroom to see if that is physically possible much less considering the educational ramifications.

We must examine the needs of our public schools on a broad scale. What kind of future does this nation have if we cut fundamental programs like the arts and physical education and then continue to shove more students into the classes that remain?

In Tuesday's Seattle Times, columnist Danny Westnest responded to Bill Gates's proposal for public schools in his commentary Bill Gates, have I got a deal for you!  He exposed the "research" study that Gates used to show that public school teachers are open to adding more students to their classes. In fact, Gates manipulated the information. Moreover, he pointed out that Gates and his children have benefitted from smaller class sizes, not larger ones. Why? Because Gates and his children attended private school. They could afford small class sizes.

While it may be oversimplified, Westnest made an interesting proposal to show the arrogance of Gates's "solutions", "Bill, here's an experiment. You and I both have an 8-year-old. Let's take your school and double its class sizes, from 16 to 32. We'll use the extra money generated by that — a whopping $400,000 more per year per classroom — to halve the class sizes, from 32 to 16, at my public high school, Garfield."

Call on your local school districts. Call on your state legislators. Demand funding increases for public schools. We should make smaller classes affordable for all students. Think of what we could gain. Imagine if public school students had the chance to attack global problems, to share, to innovate, to received detailed feedback. Budgets are stretched across the nation. Certainly, there are better places to cut than schools. There must be.

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