Home > Uncategorized > Defunding of Oregon Schools Good Proxy for National Phenomenon, a Phenomenon that Ultimately Destroys Democracy

Defunding of Oregon Schools Good Proxy for National Phenomenon, a Phenomenon that Ultimately Destroys Democracy

April 24, 2019

Beaverton OR Visual Arts Teacher Belle Chesler wrote an excellent op ed that appeared in Tom Dispatch titled “Defunding Children, A National Crisis of the Soul“. In the article Ms. Chesler provides mounds of compelling evidence supporting her thesis that the defending of public education is a national phenomenon that is eroding public education, one of our country’s bedrock institutions. Midway through her essay, Ms. Chesler homes in on the heart argument for defunding schools: money is not the solution.

There is a large disconnect between the lip service paid to supporting public schools and teachers and a visible reticence to adequately fund them. Ask almost anyone — save Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — if they support teachers and schools and the answer is probably “yes.” Bring up the question of how to actually provide adequate financial support for education, however, and you’ll quickly find yourself mired in arguments about wasteful school spending, pension funds that drain resources, sub-par teachers, and bureaucratic bloat, as well as claims that you can’t just continue to throw money at a problem, that money is not the solution.

The next paragraph, Ms. Chesler offers this rejoinder, a response that resonated with me:

I’d argue that money certainly is part of the solution. In a capitalist society, money represents value and power. In America, when you put money into something, you give it meaning. Students are more than capable of grasping that when school funding is being cut, it’s because we as a society have decided that investing in public education doesn’t carry enough value or meaning.

As one who grew up in the post-World War II boom, I had a sense that the public DID support public education and DID hold out high hopes for our generation. I had this sense because new schools and additions were being constructed everywhere, we seemed to get new textbooks every year, there seemed to be new classes added to help us get into college, and we had more and more extra-curricular offerings. Education was clearly valued and was clearly meaningful to our parents and our community.

When I became a school superintendent in several Northeastern states, it was evident that my experiences in West Chester PA were not limited to that region. Regional High Schools sprung up throughout New England, New York, and Maryland during that same time frame and state colleges and junior colleges expanded shortly thereafter as our generation moved through the school systems. The message we got as students was that we mattered, that school was important, and people in the community cared about us.

Now that we can vote, though, my generation is not lending a helping hand to those behind us…. and, as Ms. Chesler notes, that is having a corrosive effect on the institution that drives democracy: the public schools. She concludes her essay with this call to arms to her colleagues in Oregon:

Public schools represent one of the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Yet as a society we’ve stood aside as the very institutions that actually made America great were gutted and undermined by short-term thinking, corporate greed, and unconscionable disrespect for our collective future.

The truth is that thereis money for education, for schools, for teachers, and for students. We just don’t choose to prioritize education spending and so send a loud-and-clear message to students that education doesn’t truly matter. And when you essentially defund education for more than 40 years, you leave kids with ever less faithin American institutions, which is a genuine tragedy.

On May 8th, educators across the state of Oregon are planning to walk out of schools. The action, a precursor to a strike, is a direct response to the inadequate funding in the upcoming state budget and a referendum on the continuing divestment in public education. Teachers like me will be stepping out of our classrooms not because we don’t want to teach, but because we do.

Already Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona teachers have staged similar walkouts to good effect. MAYBE my generation is feeling some pangs of guilt and is ready to step forward to offer more financial support for schools. Time will tell.

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