Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Too Important to Fail: How Schools Fall Victim to Corporate Greed

"Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are." - James W. Frick

I wish I were friends with Dennis Miller. I’m having trouble coming up with words strong enough to properly convey my frustration, anger even, with the current situation in America’s schools. The comedian known for his rants would be able to put things in perspective with some colorful choice words and scathing criticism. However, I’m just a guy working for a school system in central Kansas and this is not HBO. My audience includes children, for crying out loud.

So let me just say, “Only in America”. Only in America can a company grow so large, become so greedy, and be so irresponsible with their finances that they are actually rewarded for it. Yes, rewarded. Here we have not just companies, but entire industries that are so corrupt or fiscally irresponsible that we-the very people who made the top executives rich in the first place for doing such a horrible job-have to give them even more money so that they can continue ripping us off and making bad financial decisions.

These spoiled brats, er, companies, nearly drove the entire country into a depression. They caused people across the country to lose jobs. They caused people all over the world to lose jobs, as the United States economic health is closely tied with the success of markets worldwide. They helped tons of people part with their hard earned money-with financial tricks that would be considered criminal in most places. They made good and honest people think they finally had a chance at the American dream, only to see their house sold from underneath them, their finances and dreams shattered.

What does our country do when bullies push us around, lie to us, deceive us, all for their own gain? We give them money. WHAT?

Meanwhile, the economic meltdown caused by these fat cat pocket stuffers has far-reaching effects on our future for years to come. A recession may be temporary, but the effects it has can be much longer lasting. Allow me to elaborate. I have a son in the first grade. By the time funding at his schools returns to normal, he will be in high school-if he hasn’t already graduated.

Does an entire generation of students deserve to have less than those who came before them, simply because the country in which they live bails out banks and automakers but leaves schools to flail and flounder for every penny?

Add to this sobering thought the FACT that in my state, lawmakers were actually sued a few years ago for not funding education adequately. The lawmakers, like most in their position, denied that this was the case. After all, why buck the trend of spending more to put someone in jail and keep them there than to educate children? They hired an independent study to prove that they were right-those spoiled brats (talking about the students, now from the view of the lawmakers) were getting plenty of money. Do they really think they deserve more?

Things didn’t go according to plan, as the study found inequities in the funding formula, and the courts ordered them to change it. Lawmakers did change it, to their credit, and began funding schools more fairly until-you guessed it-the corporate greed of a few individuals living somewhere outside of reality came crashing down on every man, woman, and child within our borders.

Now, the very people who make the laws in my state are intentionally breaking it. How this is even allowed, I will never understand. Apparently, you can break laws during hard times, but only if you are a legislator who helps to make those very laws. I have heard that being ignorant of the law is no excuse for breaking it. These men and women wrote the laws, know them as well as anyone, and break them routinely. Why do we allow this?

Breaking the law to help yourself during hard times will still land you in jail if you are a working man who is laid off and you have to steal for your family’s food. But, you can be a legislator and steal from children and that is OK.

I can hear their grumbles from Topeka: “These are hard times, after all, and what would you have us do-raise taxes? Then we might not get re-elected!”

Children need more from their schools today than ever before. We are in the midst of a near-crisis mode in education as it is. Schools are beginning to face the fact that they need systemic change to meet the needs of 21st Century Learners. Schools need more of just about everything from counselors to computers.

Instead, we’re taking things away from them. Why? Because it’s apparently more important in our country for big business to continue ripping people off than for our children to learn how to earn an honest living.

These companies may be too big to be allowed to fail, but schools are too important to be allowed to fail.

Only in America.