WILLA v12 - The Retirement Column

Volume 12
Fall 2003


By Dure Jo Gillikin

Sorry, dear WILLA members, but I'm climbing up on my soapbox, something I rarely do. But it is now perfectly clear that there are those who have an agenda that would demote, if not destroy, the public school system in order to substitute profit-making or proselytizing private institutions.

I cannot pick up a newspaper or listen to a newscast without hearing comments about how educators have failed again. The latest example involves a teenaged student suing the public school system for not teaching her how to read. This leads me to pose a series of questions: If teachers must socially promote failing students from grade to grade, then how can a quality education be achieved? And if it's crushing for students not to pass on to the next grade with their classmates, then what's to be done? Will individual instruction fill the bill -- and, if so, where will the funds to pay those tutoring bills come from? It's great to say that no student will be left behind, but how reasonable is it to expect that all students can start and finish their educational careers at the same time, learning at the same rate of speed and always being among the top contenders? "It would be pretty to think so," as Hemingway wrote in other circumstances.

Above all, why do the critics constantly flog public education for its failures, while continuing to deny it the necessary funding it needs to provide a quality education for all? Everybody knows, for example, that classes need to be smaller, but where's the money to help public schools accomplish this? Where's the funding to educate teachers to be the best they can be, so that they can help their students be the best that they can be, so that our democracy can be the best it can be? Siphoning funding from public schools to supply private schools will not solve the problems. Indeed, these problems will multiply, increasing discrimination against the poor and the oppressed and forcing many of the middle class into even more unbearable financial straits. Many college students can scarcely pay for their textbooks now.

Why is there such a disconnect between the job world and the educational world? If students could see early and often how their educations will improve their job prospects and their lifestyles, wouldn't they perform better? If they could see how clear, logical, and specific writing and speaking relate to what they want and need in life, wouldn't they "get with the program"? If the business world connected with students in a similar manner, helping to pay for their education and their later work, wouldn't that ease the financial strains? Wouldn't businesses profit by investing in schools to help schools educate students for the work world? Wouldn't this help with the burden of taxes? Creating private schools and making public schools outcasts is not the answer. Talk about separating the haves from the have-nots!

If all our children do not receive, or have the chance to receive, an equal education, then our democracy will have taken a turn for the worse.