By Arthur H. Gunther III
Once, educating the nation’s children might have involved simple ABCs, though any teacher worth his/her learned ways would argue that no individual child and the path to knowledge was ever anything but complex, and the tried and true plus the innovative and much sweat was often necessary. Yet today instructing the young, that very foundation of the next society -- social and economic -- is beyond the classroom. Progress as the goal, and even more important, the educator’s security to proceed, is held hostage by political dysfunction and an inability/unwillingness to understand what is required in the most vital investment we can make. If ever detention and remedial learning were necessary for too many of the powers to be, it is now.
School budgets nationwide, particularly those funded by the property tax, are increasingly capped by statehouse elected/appointed officials who look like heroes to some voters. But to school districts that must meet those caps while the very same office-holders do not put budget limits on mandated expenses such as transportation and special education, their only choice is to fire staff and reduce programs. In recent years, athletics, reading, music and art offerings have been watered down or eliminated. Class sizes are increasing.
And while state-required budget caps look good to some of the electorate, parents of those in the schools see a withering of the education tree. This at a time when, ironically, states are requiring higher standards for students and teachers. How do you meet those with fewer resources, indeed when government is failing to feed the roots?
Why don’t states help more with pension and health-care funding while also encouraging reform in those huge expense lines? (Do not forget that these state-controlled pensions relied on iffy, greed-inspired faulty mortgage and other bank schemes without government oversight.) Why do states require necessary special education but do not adequately fund that? Why are transportation costs not capped? Or utility expense? Or maintenance charges from sub-contractors? Why do the states try to make themselves look like fiscal rescuers while causing our children, the nation’s future, to suffer?
And where is the fuller support for our teachers? Once, the profession was held in high regard. Now, you often hear complaints that the instructors are off in the summer but are paid for "doing nothing" when actually most earn salary for a 10-month contract year. Teachers take home work to do at night, such as papers to grade and lessons to plan. They must handle children and parents with individual attention. Most have masters degrees. While all professions include slouchers and the ordinary, too, as does teaching, why is it that they are not under attack?
There is respect but surely disrespect, too, for teachers in my area of the nation, in the suburbs north of New York City.
When World War II ended and our nation, finally out of the Great Depression because of defense spending, realized that the future would be bright economically, socially, even morally only if the millions of servicemen needing work could be trained for professions that would accelerate growth and offer stability, it wrote the G.I. Bill. Boy, did it pay off handsomely, propelling the U.S. as the foremost world leader and economic engine. I bet it returned 1,000 percent on the dollar.
Now, when our education systems are under-financed, when politicians arbitrarily cut spending instead of seeking wise investment, we surely require a rescue plan. Washington must act first, and then the states, to better fund education. The income tax must become the chief way of providing state aid, not the property levy, which is often based on paper wealth.
And -- so very important -- we must begin to cheer those teachers who give the blood of their emotional souls to help grow children. Theirs is the second most important one, with parenthood first.
Where is the investment?
The writer is a retired newspaperman.