"In recent years, we've become enamored with our own past success. Lulled into complacency by the glitter of our own achievements. We've become accustomed to the title of Military Superpower, forgetting the qualities that got us there. We've become accustomed to our economic dominance in the world, forgetting that it wasn't reckless deals and get rich quick schemes that got us where we are, but hard work and smart ideas, quality products and wise investments." -Barack Obama, Arizona State Commencement Speech, 2009
My dad has been saving articles about education from the NY Times for me. And they're good--but kind of depressing. Being part of a school impacted by budget cuts, I see first hand what's going on on a larger scale. And reading these articles, I see that it's not just St. Paul, or Minnesota, or Davis, or California that are affected. (The elementary school I attended was closed due to budget cuts while I was in college.) It's Levittown, Pennsylvania, or South Bronx, New York. It's *insert almost any city in the US.* I went to a school board meeting last month, and half of it was a budget presentation. And most of the public comments were complaining about budget cuts--everyone had a story, and a program or job that was unfairly shafted with the new proposal. But there's simply not enough money to go around.
Unfortunately, money speaks louder than what research/logic shows is best for kids. Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari wrote a great article titled "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries." The way America values and views the job of teaching affects education. Eggers and Calegari compared how we handle failures in education with failures in the military:
When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
And it's true--instead of giving schools extra funding and help so that they can better serve their youth, we take away funding.
There are some wonderful teachers out there who make amazing strides with the children they teach. But these days, it's in spite of the budget (or lack of), and in spite of standardized testing. From another article titled "The Math of Heartbreak," a teacher said "You want to be able to say that the amount of money you have to work with doesn't matter, and you can do the same quality job with less. And we can try to do that, but in what other enterprise is that true?" Unfortunately, money makes the world go round.
Money doesn't buy happiness--but to be happy you still need enough to get by. According to happiness research, there is a correlation between money and happiness--to a point. Once you reach a certain amount of money, your happiness won't increase by getting more. That certain amount though, is the amount to live comfortably. And if you're struggling to get by, as a teacher, how is that going to help your students? The more outside stressors there are, the less energy you're going to have for your kids. And for some of them, you're the last line of defense for a better future, because they're not getting much help in their home life. And instead of empowering kids, the government is telling them they don't care enough about their future to afford everyone a quality education, regardless of color, gender, socioeconomic status, what have you.
Yes, I know the government is having budget issues. And you know what's really going to make a difference? Not cutting the education budget. Because that's an investment in the future. And the amount you're saving now is just pocket change compared to the amount you need to fix the budget. It's like expecting the economy to be fixed because we cut funding for NPR. It's an investment to close the achievement gap--which by slashing the budget we're maintaining--and increasing the gap, and the cycle of poverty. Which it seems that a lot of (rich white male) members of government don't care about, because they're not personally affected by it.
Eggers and Calegari briefly address the money issue:
For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.
We're AMERICA for goodness sakes. With liberty and justice for all. Those shouldn't just be words, or an ideal. America stands for freedom and equality, but we're not doing a very good job at living up to that. Education has the potential to even the playing field, so to speak. We can do better.