By Laurie H. Rogers
Perched up there the tears of others are never upon our own cheek.”
― Elizabeth Goudge, The White Witch
“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
Republicans, Democrats, progressives, communists, anarchists, elitists, corporatists and fascists are finally working together – in a multi-partisan effort to look the same. Having outlawed logic several sessions ago, Washington legislators are fixing education by breaking it some more.
- HB 2799 would pay the deep thinkers in the colleges of education to “partner” with K-12 on “innovation,” thus sending all of us farther into financial, academic and social ruin.
- HB 2337 would pay the geniuses at the state education agency to write online curricula in alignment with the unfunded, unproved, arguably illegal, obscenely expensive de facto federal mandate called the Common Core. Legislators who had promised to help fight off the Common Core defended their support of HB 2337 by saying, “Shut up. Don’t be so negative.”
- HB 2586 would pay for mandated standardized testing of kindergartners, getting them started early with government brow-beating and low self-esteem. Legislators explained the idea: “Why should kindergartners feel good about themselves? Nobody else gets to do it.”
- HB 2533 was affectionately dubbed “Fund the Education Mob First.” Legislators defended their support of this bill by refusing to discuss it.
School districts already suffering from a phenomenal growth in their operating and capital projects budgets over ten years have been forced to consider doing things properly and efficiently. Desperate, they begged for help, and lawmakers came to their aid by voting to eliminate everything from school buildings other than administrative staff. As a matter of efficiency, the measures became law before they were written.
As a result of these measures, school district buildings in Washington State soon will have nothing in them but administrators, support staff and “Vote Yes for Kids!” signs. Forums were held around the state to pretend to gather feedback. In Spokane, administrators shrugged and said, “So what? We’ve already begun to do that. We’ve been trying to get rid of the little buggers for decades.”
At a town hall meeting, a representative seemed puzzled when asked if banning the children would be academically counterproductive. “Academics? In public schools? That’s funny,” he chuckled, sipping a latte. “Oh, you’re serious. Well, we can’t fund everything. Everyone has to sacrifice.”
Union leaders attending the town hall meeting defended the decision, in a show of strength and supreme self-interest. “Why should we fight for children?” a union president sniffed. “Do children ever fight for us? No, they do not. Go ask them why they’re so focused on themselves. Irritating little snots.” Asked about academics, she looked blanker than normal. “Academics?” she asked. “What? Where?”
A few reporters at the meeting roused themselves from a decade-long stupor to ask a board director about the decision. The board director looked in vain for his District Talking Points. “Well, yes, it’s unusual, to be sure,” he said, carefully, unused to thinking for himself. He looked around for help, but administrators were off collecting favors. He began to sweat. “It’s precedent-setting. Unprecedented. Innovative, you know. Transformative. Part of the reform.” His voice trailed off.
“We had to do it,” he said suddenly. “We gave the keys to the U.S. Department of Education, and the secretary said he’d get us a spare set. We haven’t gotten them back yet. Maybe the mail is late… I don’t know.” He stopped, horrified. “This is not good for me,” he said, rushing off.
“Sanity has become vanity,” chuckled a math teacher, watching the board director escape. The teacher thought fondly of his third margarita of the day, now two margaritas ago. “I lost my man-ity when we lost our sanity,” he sang softly. He glared at the room, then hiccupped. “No one will let me save the children, you know,” he confided, his breath an alcoholic mist. “But I am allowed to save the manatees.”
Asked about the children, another board director snapped, “Who cares?” Then he remembered his Talking Points. “No, wait,” he said sincerely. “That’s not right. It’s all about the kids.”
“Hey, look, you, you’re missing the point,” a tech vendor fretted, looking over a parent’s shoulder. “What are you writing? Stop that. It isn’t about us. You seem obsessed, and you’re very negative. You aren’t all that likable, either, I don’t know if anyone has said that to you. No offense. But you don’t understand what we’re going through. We aren’t bad people. We just want to do what’s best for us. For the kids, I mean. Damn it, I keep mixing that up. It’s really all about the kids.”
The vendor was tapped on the shoulder, and he turned around. “Oh, thank you,” he said politely, stuffing a hundred-dollar bill down his pants. “I got my kids through private school this way,” he confided.
Meanwhile, local citizens were startled to find out that their children had been outlawed. “What the heck?” asked a perplexed parent. “Aren’t schools supposed to have children in them?”
“Not necessarily,” replied a superintendent. “We wish we could accommodate that. We know that’s what parents expect, and we suppose most of the teachers care about the kids. We’ve done our best, but with the economy so weak, with parents and teachers being incompetent, and with nobody but a few malcontents insisting that we actually teach the children, well, we’ve run out of options. This was a last resort. It isn’t something any of us want.”
The superintendent said if people want their children back in schools, they could always come up with more money. “Another billion might do it,” she mused, staring out the window at her new Mercedes, parked outside the door in two spaces so no one could dent a door. “It depends on many things.”
Meanwhile, an associate superintendent told the parent that perhaps some of the children could be allowed back in, on an interim basis, to carry the district’s “Vote For Our Levy, Damn You” signs, or to spray-paint “If You Aren’t a Kid-Hater, Vote for the Levy” on the side of houses. “The children also could open doors for us,” he offered helpfully, “wash the Mercedes, and serve tea.”
“I guess it was to be expected,” the parent said sheepishly as she left to buy paint and tea. “Phonics went away, then arithmetic. Then grammar. Then cursive writing. The kids were bound to be next.”
Amid speculation as to how these bills and decisions would affect children academically, one local know-it-all said it might actually be better for them to be taught at home. “They aren’t being properly taught in the schools, and the district’s failed approach seems abusive. Maybe parents and grandparents will teach them,” she said hopefully, to loud guffaws from the Education Mob.
“Don’t listen to her,” a legislator told the Mob. “She’s an idiot, and she didn’t donate to my campaign. The kids are fine. Well, ours are fine. OK, well, mine are fine. And that’s what matters.” The Mob and media nodded as one, knowing he wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.
The math teacher, now fondly recalling his 6th margarita, was accidentally asked where education money goes. He said blearily, “We have no freaking idea. Everyone in the city is out for themselves. Nobody cares about the kids or the parents. Teachers are subbed out constantly to learn stupid things and to manage fund-raisers. The paper complains about excessive power, full disclosure and budget cuts, but they have the power, there are no budget cuts, and nobody but parents wants full disclosure.”
The room quieted. The Mob/media blinked, wondering what to do. Someone began preparing a rope. An instructional coach jumped up, smiling thinly. “You’re drunk. Be quiet. You’re fired,” he said to the teacher. He turned back to the room and assumed a caring expression. “Budgets have been devastated,” he said. The Mob/media nodded. “Superintendents are crying, in their offices,” he said. The Mob/media tsk-tsked. “Poor things,” they murmured.
“It’s a budget tsunami out there,” the coach added, shedding a tear. “A budget lynching. It’s a civil rights issue.” The media listened investigatively. “I don’t have exact numbers with me, but listen. How will districts buy pencils, now, for the children? We do not want the children to not have pencils. And they’ll starve. Do we want the children to starve? No, we do not!” The Mob/media nodded obediently.
“Wrong!” the math teacher shouted, from his drunken purgatory. “Parents send in pencils, every September. They have to. They get a list. They also have to buy paper. And glue. And pens. And tissues. They bring in big bags of stuff. Nobody adds that to the costs of public schools, but it must be …”
“Damn it,” the coach snapped at the teacher. “You were fired. Why are you still here?” Turning to the room, the coach smiled earnestly. “It’s very simple. If we have the children, we can’t afford more coaches and principals, and we need the coaches and principals because parents and teachers are crappy. Everybody knows that. It’s a tough economy, and tough decisions have to be made.”
Behind him, the representative nodded sensitively. “I’m a businessman, and I know all about it. He’s right. They’re doing their best. It’s no one’s fault, although I do think it’s the kids’ fault.”
The Mob/media nodded, relieved to be hearing from a businessman.
“I get it,” a reporter said collaboratively. “Adults need other adults, and they all need car allowances, and the cars need gas, and gas is more expensive. No money left for pencils. Wow. Poor kids.”
“Poor kids,” the other media echoed, taking careful notes regarding each other.
“Are you all idiots?” the drunken voice asked, from his purgatory. “Parents have to do most of the academics. Long division, grammar, handwriting, phonics … They can’t get any of that in public schools. The problem is not money – it’s them,” he said, waving a middle finger at the bureaucracy. “What’s the country coming to when schools don’t have children?”
The drunken math teacher was led away and shot. Hearing the sound, the reporters moved uneasily in their seat, wondering how to respond. Taxpayer-funded doughnuts were quickly furnished for them –sugar-coated cakes with sprinkles. Everyone took two, daintily brushing sugar and sprinkles onto the taxpayer-funded carpet. Someone sighed happily; the rest hastened to follow suit.
A superintendent grinned, showing canines. “It’s such hard work to keep everyone happy,” she said. “Hard, hard work. It’s another challenge we face, on top of so many. But we care about you, and we’ll help you … in whichever way you want.” The reporters nodded, mouths full and faces sticky.
A school director stood up. He was smiling. Sober. Happy to be there. Not intending to be shot. “We can’t depend on the whims of voters,” he said confidently to the media, who so appreciate confidence. “Nothing is more important than the kiddoes. We care about them just that much.” He smiled at the reporters, and they smiled back. All were in alignment with themselves.
In an inspired use of his brand new Ed.D, the school director suggested taxing the second-to-top 1% of the population, the bottom 17%, the near-bottom 43%, and the upper middle 38% to pay for basic education, work for social justice, fight for revolution and take care of inequities. A parent raised a hand to ask about that last 1%, at the very top.
“What?” the Ed.D turned on him, eyes narrowed. “You want to ask a question? You aren’t anti-school or something, are you? Anti-kid? Anti-teacher? You aren’t a hater, I hope.”
The parent whimpered and lowered his hand.
“It’s about the kiddoes,” a superintendent cooed administratively. “Those little kids. Little tykes. So cute. They need us. They have so many challenges. We must all take responsibility. It isn’t like we enjoy making these tough decisions. It keeps us up at night. We suffer and sacrifice and feel awful about it. But we have no choice. We’ve cut to the bone. Go out now and tell the people. Then come back and we’ll give you a pat and a doughnut. Just remember. It’s all for the kids.”
The media nodded, wanting to be forceful but fed. “All for the kids,” they repeated.
In 2014, children were allowed back into the schools. Parents who refused to put their kids in public schools faced a firing squad. (Most chose the public schools.) Grade 12 students were faced with daunting choices: Paint graffiti and serve tea; emigrate and start all over again; or apply to a college of education. (In a happy coincidence, legislators innovatively passed a Bill that tasked Colleges of Education with creating new Schools of Graffiti and Tea.)
During the first 2014 session, the legislature made truth illegal. The measure passed, nearly unanimously, or so they said. One lone representative dissented, scaring everyone. He was shot. The governor climbed over his body to sign the bill, her heels leaving small, dark holes in his forehead.
Hearing that the Truth Bill had passed, a superintendent said, “We aren’t changing anything. We’re just formalizing what we’re already doing. You won’t see any difference at all. It won’t cost you anything, and you won’t even know.”
The media nodded. “No difference,” they murmured. “No one will know.”
Laurie H. Rogers has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a master’s in interpersonal communication, emphasizing the evaluation of argumentation and logic. In 2001, she founded Safer Child, Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy information resource. In 2007, she narrowed her advocacy to public education, and in 2010, she founded Focus on the Square™, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving American K-12 education.
Laurie is the author of the blog “Betrayed,” located at http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/. Her book Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She and colleagues in Spokane, WA, have begun a new informational Web site called Partnership for Kids, located at http://partnershipforkids.org/
Besides serving on the executive committee for Where’s the Math?, Laurie has a background in finance, journalism and child advocacy. She has volunteered in schools – tutoring children in literacy and math, and teaching chess, argumentation and knitting. She lives in Spokane with her husband, daughter and two cats.
Contact Laurie Rogers at [email protected].