Friday, May 2, 2014

Ugh, Really? Or, A Rant on Education

Alright, so if you've read this blog, you probably realize I live in America. More specifically, in the Southeast. Most specifically, I live in Virginia. (But I refuse to name my street address, full name, and full identification. This is a personal blog, after all, not some free-for-all for criminals.)

And I would like to inform you about education. The public educational system. Not precisely the one I'm in -- thank goodness -- but it happened in Richmond earlier this week.

Guess what? Richmond schools are protesting.

If you're unwilling to follow the link to the Richmond Times Dispatch, let me spell it out for you: 150 students protested Monday, because their schools are falling apart. One of the students in my class, who used to be in the Richmond public school system, claimed he once saw a rat there. On the news Monday, they interviewed a few students, and a couple say they're worried about ceiling tiles falling on their heads and injuring them.

The protest was going to peter out, of its own volition, without any news coverage at all. Until the mayor of Richmond showed up, and invited the students in to talk about it.

It sounds nice, doesn't it? The mayor shows up and for 30 minutes out of his busy schedule, sits down to talk with students about their concerns. Except, he doesn't really answer them. He wants to build a baseball stadium nearby -- yes, you heard me: a baseball stadium. And he keeps telling the students that building it will increase revenue, help the economy, and that then he'll have money for the schools. Oh, but he also claims that it's the schools' responsibility to deal with where the money goes, not City Council.

And I would have posted this earlier in the week -- say, the day it happened -- but thinking on it makes my blood boil.

First of all, really? The city has money to build a baseball stadium, but not enough to keep kids safe? And you want to build an expensive baseball stadium in order to bring money in, rather than simply using the money you have to first help the schools and then figure out a plan to raise revenue?

Second of all, it really angers me that someone would forego children's safety like that. When even one kid is in danger, parents rush in to save their child. But when it comes to sending them to school, it's alright to put them in danger? None of the people on City Council, or even the Superintendent of the schools, knows what it's like, to be in these schools.

I am so blessed to be in a school system where I won't (hopefully, ever) see a rat; I feel safe in the building. But I don't exactly have a choice to go. I never had a choice, to go to my high school; it's simply the default school I go to, since I didn't get into any specialty program elsewhere. It's the same with kids in Richmond. They don't have any choice over what school they get to go to. They simply have to go. And unfortunately, they have to go to a school system they don't feel safe in.

How did a system meant to be for the benefit of kids end up such a nightmare? How did it ever come to this, that kids have to protest to get proper maintenance for their schools? When did a system meant to enrich children's lives with learning end up a place where they are nervous to even walk in?

Everyone talks about bullying, and assaults, and gun violence. They talk about how college is way too expensive. But where is the attention for the public school system when it comes to something they have so little control over? No one talks about how maintenance can scare kids as much as bullies, so that they are afraid to come to school.

I once saw a cockroach in my school. My biology teacher killed a mouse eating her supply of lab "equipment" (dried beans, which she uses in a couple experiments at the beginning of the school year to teach evolution). My Spanish teacher was legitimately concerned that Spanish classes after the third year taking the language would get canceled; she asked several kids in my class to go around talking to the third-year Spanish students in order to encourage them to sign up.*

But this is nothing. It's nothing, that our textbooks are battered. Nothing, that the air conditioning rarely works, so that it is either freezing during the spring months -- so much so that I wear a jacket to school, even when it is over sixty degrees outside -- or too-boiling-hot. Two years ago, in Honors 10th grade English, there were so many students in my class that the temperature in there was always seventy degrees. I switched to an AP English class last year and this year, because there are fewer students.

That. Is. Nothing. At least I haven't seen bigger bugs; at least I don't worry about ceiling tiles falling on my head. At least I am lucky enough to be in a decent school, even though I had no control over where I would be going to. I didn't choose to go to my school because it was safe. And some students? They didn't choose to go to their schools in the city, because those schools are grim. Luck is all that separates me from those kids.

And you know what? I'm so sick of it. If we are required by law to go to school, then it had better be a good place to go. Because you can't just sacrifice quality when it comes to kids. To people my age and even younger. You can't take risks with safety. So why can't anybody pay attention and fix this mess -- or better yet, why didn't anyone pay attention enough to have stopped this from happening in the first place?

There are so many questions. And there are no answers. Not for me. But I am proud as anything that some kids had the fight in them to stand up and demand some sort of answer to these very questions.

*My school requires a student to take three years of one language or two years of two languages. After that, it's optional. I'm in Spanish 4.  

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