PUT THE “PUBLIC” BACK IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

by Cesar Aguirre

As the end of the school year winded down and summer break couldn’t come soon enough I received a call from my daughters’ grandmother, their mom’s mom, to give me the news that my step-son Boogie would be going back to live with them. Knowing that I am very involved with public education she asked me to look into a summer school program for him because he is behind in school.

Jesus, or Boogie as I call him, just turned 16 last month and will start this coming school year as a second year freshman. When his mother and I met he was only a year old. He has always known his biological father but they weren’t very close. Being the parent I am now, many would think that he was lucky to have me raising him. The truth is, back then I wasn’t half the parent I have evolved into. He has had a very rough childhood. He witnessed and experienced much of the destruction and pain caused by my addiction and the lifestyle my ex and I lived. When his mom and I split up he was about 9. About 3 years later he was removed from his mom’s home by cps and forced to live with his father. Though his father’s might have been the better place to be, he had been ripped out of his home, torn away from all that he ever knew, and forced to live with his father which he had a limited relationship with. Since his mother and I split up he has done more and more poorly in school. Now that his mom is staying clean and on her meds his father has sent him back to live with her and her mom. He seems very excited and optimistic.

In looking for a summer program for Boogie, to make up some of his credits and get a better start to the new school year, I found it very expensive. They live in the Sunnyside District and summer high school classes are over $200. I then looked into TUSD and the cost was very similar. There was no way his grandmother could afford it. I was unable to find anything at little or no cost. The only other option he has to graduate on time, or even a year late, would be to enroll him into a charter school. I don’t think it would be the best education for him and am against private companies making a profit off our children through public funds.

Equity in Public Schools

We all know the word “equal,” and hear it time and time again. “Created equal,” “equal rights,” “equal Opportunity,” but are we really equal and do we, as a society, treat each other as equals? American History classes tend to imply that racism is a thing of the past. Inequality throughout history has been based mostly on race, and though I believe it is still an issue, today’s division, oppression, and inequality is no longer based so much on race as it is on class.

In most public schools students are treated equally, meaning that they all receive the same instruction, supplies, materials, etc. That’s all fine and dandy but it only works if all the students are at the same level on all subjects, have the same financial means, educated parents and stability at home. What is really needed in public schools is equity, not equality.

Public Schools are meant to level the playing field, and serve all children to insure that they have equal opportunity while creating innovative, critical thinkers, involved citizens, and serve as the foundation of democracy. Now it’s all about passing tests and making loads of money, tax dollars, off of our kids. The data is out there and it shows that poverty has a direct impact on the achievement of students.

The Economic Divide in Public Schools

There is a huge divide between the haves and have-nots in public schools. When I was a child it was most apparent by the clothes kids wore, toys they owned and the cars their parents drove, but now it’s so much more than that. Now public schools are doing more and more to strengthen that divide.

This year I heard teachers and staff tell elementary students that if they did not have money to pay for their pictures, they had to come in uniform and could not dress up like the other students. As soon as you walk into the school on picture day you can clearly see who has and who does not.

Due to the emphasis on standardized testing, curriculum has narrowed its focus to reading, writing, and math which means that if your child is attending a school that scores poorly on testing (usually schools in poor neighborhoods) then the chances of your child having access to music, art, P.E./sports, and even meaningful science activities and experiments are slim to none. Unless you can afford it as an extra-curricular activity after school, they won’t receive that as part of their educational experience. High school sports charge fees. There are vouchers available, but not every poor child that wants to play gets a voucher, plus they still need to be able to purchase equipment like cleats, mouthpieces, gloves, etc. Because most families in poverty cannot afford to pay for Pop Warner or Little League many of the poor kids that are able to play are many years behind their peers and end up getting discouraged or see very little playing time and are never able to build up their skills. Parents who want to join their children on field trips cannot do so if they cannot afford to pay for themselves on the trip. The price for prom tickets is outrageous so only those who can afford it can go. High School graduates have to purchase their own cap and gown, and if they can’t afford it they can choose to either go without or borrow them, meaning they wouldn’t be able to save it to show their children when they get older or keep it for the memories. Poor kids in poor schools are not counseled to go to college after graduation unless they are financially able or already have scholarships lined up. Instead they are counseled to prepare for the work force, which nowadays pays near poverty wages, continuing the cycle of poverty.

private vs. public

As bad as things are getting in public schools, taking our kids out of them and placing them in private/charter schools is not the answer. In fact, that’s what is wanted so that more money can be made at the expense of leaving behind more and more children. I believe the answer is to put the public back into public education. We parents should not only be more involved, we need to take OUR schools back, support GREAT teachers, and change the system to focus less on numbers, scores and data, and focus more on the individual child and what is needed for their success.  Hopefully Boogie receives what he needs in order to be successful.

This video might help you understand what has happened to our public education system over the years:

2 comments

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Wow! What an article and what an amazing speaker! You guys really called it, including real evidence that details today’s ‘toxic culture of education’. I believe that, part of the reason for the toxicity is that the larger culture in America is also super-toxic:( what ideas do you have for shifting, eliminating, etc. all of the factors identified in the speaker’s address? It seems overwhelming at best, impossible and hopeless at worst.

  2. Please extend an invitation to Boogie to join UNIDOS’s after-school program – totally free, dinner provided – every Monday and Wednesday, 5:30pm-7:30pm from Oct. 20 – Dec. 3. The program is designed to encourage social justice-based education, strengthen community ties and Mexican-indigenous roots.

    UNIDOS is a local ethnic studies youth group formed to resist AZ/TUSD’s ban on Mexican American Studies.

    E-mail unidos.tucson@gmail.com for more info and to register.

    Solidarity,
    Gabriel
    for UNIDOS

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