There is no debate about whether our United States of America is in financial crisis. Nor can there be an argument made for the fact that when budget cuts are necessary decisions have to be made in ways that will best preserve all that is most important to us as a nation and a people.
I am not a numbers cruncher nor am I knowledgeable enough to know how best to prioritize in areas in which I have no expertise. I’d also venture to guess that’s true for the great majority of us. Yet, I do feel we each have the right – at the very least – to voice our personal beliefs, preferences and predictions.
I am, therefore, taking the opportunity today to voice mine with regard to education in America.
For those of you who follow my blog each week, you may remember the one I devoted months ago to what I learned from my grandson about a new writing program that had been instituted in his public school this year.
I wrote about it because it excited me so to know how students as young as my grandson Eric (who will celebrate his ninth birthday Tuesday!) were being taught how to think critically and creatively.
Today, it saddens me to know that in nearly every state cuts are being instituted that will directly affect our school programs in devastatingly significant ways. Classes in foreign languages, the arts, and in some instances even gym are being eliminated. Positions such as school guidance counselors and aids to the handicapped are also being eliminated and/or reduced in numbers.
One has to truly wonder whether those in charge of policy decisions understand that school counselors are often the only people some children trust to deal with family traumas, school bullying, or personal emotional problems and that aides for the handicapped are never a luxury but a necessity in assisting those with special needs to navigate through the difficulties of their days.
Do those people not understand that such cuts will inevitably affect the tenor of every school as well as the basic education our children receive? Surely, it will also increase the load of already over-burdened school personnel and will, furthermore, give students not yet old enough to understand our fiscal problems the message that all that’s being taken away from them is of less importance than what is still a part of their curriculum. In other words, the arts and foreign languages (subjects that seem to top everyone’s list) are merely frills to one’s education.
In my opinion, the opposite is true. While the “basics” offer invaluable knowledge and tools, the arts feed an essential part of the human soul, allowing for individual expression and the nurturing of other – equally important – parts of the brain.
As a psychotherapist and educator I see the current thinking and decisions that are being made as having irreparable ramifications. Ultimately, our children will be less informed, less challenged, less delighted to learn about subjects that they may have no way of knowing about or of being exposed to in any other setting but in school.
With all the technological progress that has occurred in the past decade, I’d trade it all just to have students be able to paint, sculpt, play in a school band, receive time necessary for physical exercise, and, yes, study foreign languages. In so doing they will enjoy aspects of learning that will also make them better educated, more well-rounded, with an opportunity for some to develop a passion that will sustain them throughout their lives and give life itself greater meaning.
While I certainly don’t intend to oversimplify or underestimate the many reasons why children become delinquents, school drop-outs or worse still young criminals (problems that confront society, educators, and families even during the best of times) they are certainly less likely to occur when children attend schools where the curriculum is rich and where dialogue is encouraged. In such schools students do not have as much free time and, more often than not, they get into less trouble. Their minds are occupied with productive, joyful activities; their hands are holding paint brushes, molding clay, and playing musical instruments.
By omitting or limiting such opportunities or not having the benefit of school counselors or aides for special needs students, we will be denying our children what for so many years we have all fought so hard to achieve – a diversified education that serves not only the rich but the poor, not only the gifted but those with special needs, as well as the majority who, in varying degrees, fit into the vast majority in the middle.
It seems clear to me that today’s budget cuts are making our children victims of our economic woes, political in-fighting, and worst of all of a nation that seems to be at war with itself about what we cherish the most – something we can’t put a price tag on in our democracy or any other democracy – the right to provide the most opportunities in the best environment possible for all our children.
In one community alone – and this is admittedly not an example of a financially impoverished community – seeing their budget cuts on-line, the ones noted that cause me particular concern are:
*charging tuition for education of pre-K students
*the elimination of the Library Aide
*the elimination of a Special Education teacher
*the elimination of World language Program in grades K-5
*the elimination of elementary and middle school computer labs
*the elimination of 3 elementary teachers – effectively compacting
classrooms per grade and increasing class sizes from 17-18 to 20-23
Concluding comments reflected the fact that “this loss represents 20 positions across all areas of the District and includes a reduction in wages for a significant number of employees.”
While I don’t claim to know how best to solve this problem – namely what other cuts to make so that the ones in education wouldn’t have to be so drastic – I do know that the emotional and educational toll will be one that will not allow us to look back and say that we gave our children what they deserved and ultimately what would help our nation develop better leaders, more educated/ethical politicians whose values are not dictated by selfish/personal gain but are devoted to the better good in helping to promote a more “perfect union.”
Please let me know what actions, if any, you are taking to protect our children from these destructive decisions.
With best wishes for all who are celebrating Passover this week, Easter, April 4th, and all other holiday festivities in the coming weeks.