When life imitates an apocryphal exclamation…

“Let them eat cake!”

No evidence exists that Marie-Antoinette actually uttered this infamous phrase upon being informed that the peasants had no bread to eat. Even the translation from the French is less than precise, since “…qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” is more accurately rendered by the phrase “Let them eat rolls!”

Still, this anecdote, historically precise or not, has survived for two centuries because it illustrates so cogently the bitterness that arises from an acute division of social classes. It is chillingly representative of the resentment engendered by the insolence of office vis-à-vis the masses. Ultimately, the French aristocracy in the 18th century paid with their lives for ignoring the needs of the many.

Nearly two centuries later a more enlightened John F. Kennedy would say, “A society that does not help the many who are poor will never save the few who are rich.” Unfortunately, our political practices have yet to reach the lofty aeries of our rhetoric.

The youth of today crossed the threshold into a new millennium of immense promise and potential, but the door may soon slam shut on any save the most privileged. The war on our public schools is well-funded and widespread. Generally, and for no good reason, we are failing abysmally to meet the needs of America’s poorest youth.

This society in general, and this community in particular, still decline to commit the necessary resources to the education of all our children. Constituents are screaming for reduced class size and the consequent personalized attention from teachers that their children need and deserve. Instead, staffing ratios in Prince George’s County have fallen in the last decade from 54 teachers per 1,000 students, which was already inadequate, to 46 teachers per 1,000 students which renders nearly impossible the job assigned to teachers and administrators .

This actually sounds like 22 students a class until you do a little number crunching. At any given time, one-quarter to one-fifth of staff members are free of children during their planning period. Further complicate matters with some “non-teaching” or “non-classroom based” positions and pretty soon we’re talking more than thirty students per class and a near inhumane load of clientele for the typical classroom teacher. Nor is eliminating those “non-classroom based” positions the solution, because the work they do helps the school run more efficiently.

What is really accomplished when a perennially overworked staff receives an improvement in compensation only to discover longer class lists at the start of the school year? One colleague even joked that they could have the raise back for smaller classes, but most are just doing what they’ve always done. They are trying to do their best in difficult circumstances.

Another budget cycle looms large and there are no guarantees -as always- that the community will support the Board of Education’s budget request.

In the last three decades, the budget request was fully-funded just once on a fairly low ball request…

Must this continue ad infinitum?

A certain political party encourages us only to consider our narrow self-interest instead of the common welfare of our citizenry.   We are urged to vote for candidates who support vouchers, tax-credits, charters, school choice and home schooling. They would have us believe every family is an island, whole and entire unto itself; and that, as participants in society, we are not diminished, all, by the failure of any child. John Donne must surely be turning in his grave at the hardening of our collective heart.

For that same political party, the one where fewer than 1,000 members contribute in excess of 133 million dollars to the party coffers, the goal, it would appear, is to pit the have-littles against the have-nots in a strategy of divide and conquer. It is most frightening that the strategy may be paying dividends.

Home teaching? Beyond the fundamentals, how many among us can presume to have the qualifications to teach math through infinitesimal calculus, science through physics, a foreign language to fluency, information systems, literature, music and physical education? Keep it as an option for those so inclined, but for those who are unable to execute an instructional plan, writing off the potential of their children is not an option.

School choice? The only reasonable choice is for every child to attend a school that has sufficient staffing and resources to do the job. Anything less constitutes dereliction of our duty to the next generation.

Charters? Well-regulated charters that offer well-defined programs that differ significantly from the traditional schools offer beneficial alternatives. However, the headlines have been weighed down with stories of financial irregularities, profit skimming and refusals to accommodate students that present challenges.

Vouchers? In Florida, potential “voucher” students were reportedly turned away from 9 out of 10 private schools when they applied due to insufficient seats. Private schools do not have the capacity to take up the slack of students who might want access. Anyway, how is removing money from the public coffers the solution for schools that are already drastically under funded?

Be wary, very wary, as you cast your vote! Every election continues to be the most important election in history. For when the masses cry out that their children are floundering in the Public Schools and that there is insufficient educational “bread” to go around, the message that some are hearing is:

Let them attend private school.

3 thoughts on “When life imitates an apocryphal exclamation…

  1. Thanks, Ken! Your eloquent columns speak for me and thousands of other teachers, I’m sure. I think your writing should reach a bigger audience. It’s entertaining, persuasive and I would bet (although I’m not a professional fact-checker) well-researched. Keep it up, please!


    1. Thanks for the feedback! Feel free to forward my blog to colleagues and encourage them to do the same. I’m gradually reworking older writings and posting them over the next few months. It is gratifying to know that others enjoy the writing (it is why we write, I think…).


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