Our Founding Fathers envisioned public education as the secure foundation of our democracy. A couple centuries later, the critical infrastructure in many of our schools is far too frequently descending into disrepair: structures crumble, ceilings fall, pipes leak, fungi grow, climate control malfunctions. Nonetheless, advocacy for reducing the tax burden abounds.
Due in large part to the fiscal conservatism of recent decades, the foundation of our public schools is now cracking like so many other pieces of our critical infrastructure. It is a tribute to the dedication of educators that they frequently prevail despite these hurdles.
How has it become reasonable that educators often consider an assignment in the modular classrooms a respite from the rigors in the permanent structure? Should physical plants really still be in service after exceeding -sometimes even doubling- their anticipated lifespan at completion?
Children hear our collective lip service to the importance of their future. Do you think the irony escapes students crowded into dilapidated, mold-ridden facilities? Do you believe that children remain blithely unaware of the stark differences between school houses they occupy and those of their more affluent peers?
Children can be willful, stubborn and cantankerous participants in the education process; however, children are simultaneously intelligent, honest and insightful. Children are curiously adept at spotting incongruity coming from the adult world.
Adults, ironically, seem to generate a nearly endless stream of behaviors that do not mesh with stated beliefs such as “Children Come First.”
While visiting a school with a host of dignitaries a few years ago, the entourage entered a typical first-day elementary class where an hour into the school year a teacher already had her very large class totally engaged in a floor-time read-aloud. The activity ended and before transitioning to the next element of the class, the teacher asked, “Would anyone like to know who our famous visitors are?”
A pregnant pause ensued, and in a precious moment worthy of a scene in a situation comedy, one lad responded, “Uh, no!” Less than an hour into the school year, the teacher had become the most important person in the room for that group of 10-year-olds.
Only one question remains. Will Prince George’s County be able to retain mesmerizing teachers like her after buckets have been scattered about the classroom, for months at a time, to catch the liquids from the leaking climate-control system or the holes in the roof? When will we commit to making every physical plant in every zip code a warm-and-welcoming structure for children to grow?
[The original of this Commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on September 22, 2014. It has been slightly revised for the purpose of rendering more current.]