Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Can You Do?

It’s been about eight months since I started writing this blog.  I’ve avoided this subject that long,  though it’s the one issue that ignites enough fury in me that I feel I could really hurt a man, like, string him up by his scrotum from a flagpole outside the Governor’s mansion.  They have a flagpole there, right?  I’ve never been.  (If I wasn't already, I bet I'm now on a watch list for having written the words hurt - scrotum - Governor within six pages of each other.) I can see the problem clearly and at least fairly objectively I think, but a solution has evaded me.  I’m not even sure if most people know that there is a problem, or sense the magnitude of the effects that defunding education will have on this country in a very short time.  Those that do probably think, like I have, that there is little or nothing we can do to contribute to a solution, outside of voting for Frick or for Frack, and that’s just exactly what governors like Sam Brownback would like us to believe.  This morning it woke me out of a dead sleep, the question: what can I do?

I’m going to talk about public education.  I’m going to talk about our role, yes I said our role, in public education.  Doesn’t matter if you don’t have kids, doesn’t matter if they’ve already grown up and flown the nest and your job is done, doesn’t even matter if you don’t like kids.  The only reason not to read this is that you don’t like being alive and you hate the human race in its entirety.  

I’m lucky to live in Kansas, where the agenda of my state legislators is about as transparent as a freshly washed window, and the puppet strings are not so much strings as they are fat nautical ropes which are entirely visible to anyone who is willing to look up even a half inch over the perfectly coiffed hair of our plastic-headed governor.  The Great and Powerful Oz is still cooly pushing buttons behind a flimsy curtain in the corner of the room and distracting the unfortunate Tea Party with smoke and mirrors about same sex marriage and birth control and these poor fucks, bless their hearts, think they are campaigning for God himself.

There are two possible reasons that the Koch Brothers have invested so much in fundamentalist politics.  The first is that they are devout men of faith who believe that they are doing the work of God and maybe sometimes that means getting your hands dirty and buying elections.  Possible, I suppose.  The second reason is that they are capitalists who have found a group of people so convinced of their own righteousness that they are willing to allow corporations to buy their way out of environmental regulations, tax regulations, and lay down all the rules of the game in exchange for promising that gay people won’t be able to promote Satan’s Homosexual Agenda.  Seems like a fair trade, right?  I’m not going to be the one to tell them they’re being played, but the truth is that the dudes running the show would frack the holy land with Jesus’s own cross and wipe their brows with his shroud if it meant a few dollars.  They are in the middle of constructing a very elaborate and super bizarro Ayn Randian manifesto to the tune of billions of dollars in their own pockets, and you can connect the dots from their wallets right back to the dying or defunct social services in your own community.  Make no mistake, these people truly believe that educating children is a social service.  In their dream world education will be privatized, and if you can’t afford it for your kids, that’s tough shit.  The strong survive?  Yes.  The strong survive to grow up and dig ditches.  I guess the world needs a lot of ditch diggers.  

Two days ago I filled out the school enrollment forms for my three kids.  The oldest is in Junior High, the middle is in 5th grade, the youngest is starting her first year of pre-school.  Oh, how I love the pre-school enrollment form!

-What are you most proud of about your child?  This could take a while.  Can I continue on the back of the page?  

-Tell us some of her interests?  Well, she loves bugs and dirt and writing songs and writing songs about bugs and dirt.  

-What do you hope your child gains from this experience?  How to use glue and tape without getting them stuck in her hair.  Can you guys teach her that, because I haven’t been able to.  Ponytails have proven to be ineffective, so you’re going to have to work pretty closely with her.  

-What can you do to volunteer in the classroom?  Do you have any special skills to share?  Oh...

The other kids’ forms didn’t ask me that.  They just want social security numbers and who they should call if your kid needs stitches and you’re shacked up with your husband for the afternoon with the phones turned off.  

That’s what woke me up this morning.  Before 5:00.  From a very sound sleep.  Not the part about only three weeks until my husband and I can shack up while all three kids are at school.  The other part.  What can I do?

What can we all do?  Those of us who lament the hours teachers and kids spend preparing for standardized tests that in no way cultivate any of their potential or individual skills.  I actually had a young teacher tell me in a conference last year that my kid helps her sleep at night because she knows that he is going to test well.  The anxiety on her face was very real.  What kind of shit is that?  I’m not a teacher, but some of the smartest and kindest people I know are, and the frustration and indignation I feel for them having to do their job with one hand bound behind their backs by misguided state standards must be only a very small fraction of what they feel.  Those of us who are frustrated with the apathy in our state houses and the feeble and narrow minded notion that someone in the sky will take care of all this if we mandate some crazy rules about birth control... what can we do?  

Here’s the situation: the Koch Brothers and others like them are creating environmental and governmental destruction the effects of which will be felt for decades.  Simultaneously, they are lobbying to defund social services and cut spending in areas like public education.  It’s working.  Don’t take my word for it, do some research.  We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars in contributions to fundamentalist candidates, and tens of millions of dollars in tax exemptions for their corporations, and almost complete exemption from environmental regulation.  So at the same time they’re going unchecked and dumping shit everywhere and polluting our rivers and our house of representatives, they are seeing to it that the people who inherit the real debt will not be educated well enough to do anything about it.  Sound hysterical?  I am.  Sound paranoid?  I wish I was.  

I have never found powerlessness to be a hall without doors.  There are options.  Here are mine:  

I can sit back and bitch and yell TAX ME AND FIX THIS PLEASE!  but that would only work if Jesus had said anything about loving little children.  Hey, wait...  Okay, that’s just not going to work because there is no money in doing the right thing.

If I truly want to be effective in the current climate, I’m going to have to act directly and use what I have.  My special skills, like the pre-school enrollment form suggested.  That’s easy for the 4 year old set.  We’ll go sing songs and read books and hold some little hands on the field trip to the post office.  My husband will grumble about it for a few minutes on the way there, but he’ll thank me for signing him up to do it, and confirm once more that I know what’s best for him, like having a baby goat.  Besides, this wonderful art-based pre-school has been generous enough to grant us partial tuition because we are poor and my husband is kind of a big deal in the art community here.  We can pay the rest with our hands and our voices.

I don’t have a lot of money, but I have some extra time and some extra brainy brains to spare.  Two years ago I volunteered a few hours a week in the Title 1 Math room at my kids’ elementary school.  That’s the place for kids who need to catch up a little on math.  I’m great at math, but so are my kids.  They don’t need any help from me.  I put those resources to work somewhere they were useful since they weren’t needed at home.  The three wonderful women who worked in that room (they reminded me a little of the three witches in A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Who and Which and Whatsit) were insanely grateful for my help filing things and making copies and helping in small ways.  When I suggested that I could volunteer, Mrs. Who said “Let us just get our minds around this.  No one has ever offered.”  Then last year I thought I was too busy to commit to it again, so I didn’t.  That’s bullshit.  I can spare a few hours a week.

What if we all offered?

What if we each offered a small donation of time spent doing something we’re good at?  Or a little money to something that enriches and promotes something that’s been written out of the budget.  That’s a big list.  Art, physical education, music, languages.  Maybe you have a little money but no time to spare.  Maybe you know some other really busy people who have some money but no time.  Maybe you could get together to establish a small scholarship fund at a local tutoring center or basketball camp or art center.  Maybe you have no money but you know how to frame a picture or grow a tomato or critique an essay.  Or maybe, like me, you’re good at something that your own kids inherited the gene for and don’t need your help with.  Someone else’s kid probably does.  Ask an educator or administrator how you can help.

We’re going to have to tax ourselves.  

I’m not just asking this of parents of school aged children.  This is a challenge for all of us.  If you don’t have a problem with the current system, if you don’t care that today’s publicly educated children will not only not be able to compete on a global level, but might even lack the critical thinking skills to be able to identify and solve problems in their own backyards, then you are exempt from this challenge.  But if you’re like me, and you believe that they’re capable of more than filling out bubbles on a standardized assessment, it’s time to sign up.  

This is going to sound like canned cheese, but it’s the truth: I believe in us.  What can you do?

If you help teach a kid to think, you will kick the dentures out of these fat faces.


  1. Take it a step further and home school? But what do we do about Frick and Frack and the Gov?

  2. I cannot read a blog post of yours without feeling utterly inspired by the time I'm finished. Thanks for being one of the people to call out the BS and hold everyone, including yourself, to a higher standard. I respect the shit outta you, and I'm going to do something that you have suggested up above. Because, uh, for real, it's needed.

  3. EXCELLENTLY WRITTEN. And posted on Facebook, and sent to my email list.