Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm Not The Only One

I live in a small, rural town in eastern Oregon.  I live in the Republican stronghold part of Oregon.  I know a few Democrats, a few out of the closet liberals, and several closeted gays.  In a small town, everyone knows your business...even people you've never laid eyes on.  You don't need six degrees to find a connection to anyone in a small town.  Eastern Oregon is a conservative culture.  It  is easy to acquire a reputation, earned or unearned, truth or fiction, that will haunt you for years.  In a small town this collective knowledge can impact your livelihood.  I have great respect for the individuals in my town that work with PFLAG, or immigration reform, or other controversial issues.

When I was working I was careful about sharing my liberal views.  People knew I was a Democrat and for a long time I had a pro-choice bumper sticker, but once I became a school administrator the bumper sticker came off my car.  I didn't write letters to the editor of the local paper.  My career was hurt by advocating for non- English speaking students at a time when the popular stance was to "send those Mexicans back to Mexico."  The popular opinion was that those Mexicans were syphoning off resources that should go to "our" students.  Then I became the Special Education Director and once again I championed a minority acused of syphoning away resources from "our students."  "Our students" were, of course, the middle class regular education kids. 

I'm sure you've heard people complain about the school system:  how it spends so much money on those kids who don't speak English or on those special needs kids that a regular kid can't get any help. Have you heard them in the beauty shop complaining about how their son, nephew, cousin is a genius but he can't get any specialized instruction because the school spends all its money on those other kids?   Now that I'm retired I can say BULLSHIT! 

Where do people get off believing that their children are more entitled than other children to free public education?

Public education is like running a race.  All the kids are aiming for the same finish line.  Each state has established its own finish line and the hurdles that all kids need to jump to complete the race.  The job of educators is to get kids to the finish line.  Not all kids start the race at the same place.  Some kids leap ahead and some lag behind.  I know it's popular to chant that "All kids can learn" and "All kids can meet high expectations,"  but the truth is that there are some kids who will never learn algebra, hell, some kids will never learn to recognize numbers.  All kids can learn, but not all kids learn the same way or at the same rate.  Just like in a race, we help the participants along the way. We've got education aid centers set up along the race path. Any kid who need the educational equivalent of gatoraide should get it and move along to the finsih line.  Some kids reach the finish line early and we cheer and clap for them at special assemblies that honor the golden children.   But there are other classmates to those students who are struggling to be toilet trained, or to master basic arithmetic facts, or to learn to read.  Those kids run at a slower pace and need help over the hurdles.  Our obligation is to help everyone to the finish line. 

Face it, some kids need more help than others.  Public education isn't about giving the same thing to every kid, its about helping ALL kids reach the state established finish line.  Some kids get more help than others because some kids need more help.

I used to feel like a lone ranger, out of touch with many in my community.  Since I've started to speak my mind and publish it on my blog, I've had surprising responses from friends and acquaintences.  Perhaps the silent majority is really the liberals in eastern Oregon?

So, this week I'm grateful for the insight that blogging has brought me.  I'm not the only one.


Teresa Evangeline said...

Right on, Sister! I was a teacher once upon a time and I appreciate your thoughts here. Love the definitions. From where I sit, they're spot on.

Linda Myers said...

My younger son was an outstanding athlete and an indifferent student. Extra district funds were provided to him for tutoring so he could graduate. Even then, his high school diploma is a piece of paper. What he needed to learn, he did learn, out in the working world. I'd have like some of that tutoring money to have been given to kids who wanted to learn, but needed extra help.

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