Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Wrong With America

"At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems-the answer for all the problems of the world-come to a single word. That word is education." -Lyndon B. Johnson

"America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week." -Evan Esar

Sure, I've never proclaimed to have any expertise in the area of politics and government, but in light of things happening both locally and nationally, I have now determined what I think is wrong with America.

First: On a national level there is a bill that proposes to cut--and possible eliminate funding to AmeriCorps. On a local level, my school district has a new proposal called "Strong Schools Strong Communities" which is ironic, given that it was mainly created to work within cut budgets, not based on school performances, or what's best for the students. The school I work at was slated to be closed at the end of the year. Now, some of the staff and families at my school were not going to have that. So at a school board meeting, a huge crowd turned up, and students, staff and parents spoke. It was enough that the superintendent decided to move the school to a new location, because the main reason it was closing was because the student population is too small--but there was no way that we could grow within the building we were in. We were designed to be a small school--which I think is a huge strength. There's really no question that smaller class sizes is better for students. And smaller schools allows for a much tighter community.

So, what's wrong with America? America doesn't have its priorities in order. It seems as if the government looks for quick fixes when looking at the budget. Putting more money into education might not help the economy or the deficit within a year, but in the long run, by investing in youth, we can keep down costs in the future--if everyone has equal access to quality education, maybe less people will be in jail, or need to be on welfare, and more people will be positive, contributing members of society. So by closing schools, or setting up less effective school systems to save some money, it's going to cost more in the long run.

As for cutting funding for AmeriCorps, my initial reaction is, are you kidding me? By cutting these programs, you're cutting community members who are integral to the sites they are serving. So not only are you, in someways pulling the legs out from under a lot of non-profits, schools or community centers who would have trouble funding new employees to do some of that work, but AmeriCorps is actually a pretty good deal. It's encouraging people to be involved in service--the motto is "Getting things done for America." Plus, members just get a living stipend--I think it averages out to 3-5 dollars per hour? So really it's a good deal--you get wonderful dedicated people making a difference, working for under minimum wage. And most AmeriCorps jobs relate to education, which is really the most valuable investment you could make.

Not to mention the fact teaching is probably the most under paid and under appreciated profession out there. Yeah, there are some bad teachers out there, and with some teachers unions, some people are still teaching who really shouldn't be, but overall teachers are incredible, dedicated, wonderful people who put in so much energy into their students. They also have a huge influence on the children who are our future. Shouldn't we put a little more effort into providing our children with the best education we can? Especially given that it's just embarrassing that the US may be such a rich and powerful country, yet we're falling behind in educational success.

This video is a trailer for Waiting for Superman--I'm posting it not because I'm promoting the movie, but because it touches upon what I've been talking about. In fact, until the very end, it's just an infographic, and doesn't seem like a trailer at all. The documentary itself brings up a lot of really interesting statistics, and despite being critiqued for hating on teachers unions, there is so much more to the film. It balances statistics with personal stories of several students. It's easier to make someone care if they feel more emotionally involved--showing a bright, adorable kid who has dreams that will be much tougher if she can't get into a certain school based on a lottery is going to tug more heart strings than a bunch of numbers.

TakePart: Participant Media - Waiting For 'Superman' - Infographic from Jr.canest on Vimeo.

Well, now that I've figured out what's wrong, shouldn't I propose some solution? I suppose that would be more useful. But like I said at the beginning, I can't say I really get politics or the government. I'm doing my best at a local level, hoping that I can make a difference in some kid's life. Most of the students I work with are on free or reduced lunch, and most of them are students of color, which means, statistically speaking, I'm working with a group that's mostly at-risk. At a larger level, I don't have a solution, but I have hope that things will look up. My school isn't closing, which is a small victory in the big picture, but an important one for those whose lives it affects. And shows that what is right, and what is best for the kids can sometimes trump budget issues, and we need more of that in America.

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