Saturday, January 15, 2005

Old Stuff -- More Reading II

Letter to the Editor of the Baltimore Sun

To the Editor,
I want to thank the Sun for publishing a fitting tribute to the "Severna Park moms" ("Artist, author have impact on schools," 2-28-02) who have worked so hard to make sure their children weren't deprived of the art, music, and cooking classes they so desperately need for a well rounded education. It doesn't really matter what the parents of other children in other county school districts want for their children after all. Hey, if they can't read, well, it's not the Severna Park moms' problem. And after their kids leave middle school? Who cares? As long as these two fine, accomplished artistes have indulged themselves and their children. Right?

The art accompanying the article was appropriate: a section of a twisted mass of snarled vines or roots. The observer is compelled to ask from whence they come and whither they go? Questions that obviously never bothered our moms whose only concern was with a short section of a similarly snarled education system, and then only for one particular generation.

And what have they wrought instead? I recently sat (stood) through the result of their hard work at the Severna Park Middle School. What started a year ago as a simple extra reading period has mutated into something that Rube Goldberg himself could never have contrived. Learning how to trade currency derivatives would be easier than figuring out how to balance 'A' days and 'B' days with core classes and 'encore' classes for half the year as opposed to the whole year. The timing of classroom changes alone is now being studied by NASCAR pit crews.

And I don't blame these ladies. They defended themselves and their kids like good mothers everywhere. They never really knew to what sort of monstrosity their cute little elementary school was attached. All the children there were reading and writing well and the moms were no doubt comfortable with their painting and writing, going to book-signings and exhibitions with little care of public school education problems. Until it hit home. Incensed, at first, that Johnny was tagged as an underachiever, a poor reader, they lashed out clumsily. OUR children don't need extra reading. THEIR children do. They retreated briefly when the Us and Them argument easily translated into Haves and Have-Nots casting the Severna Park moms in the role of Marie Antoinette. Time to get a lawyer, a class-action catalyst. And so a coalition was born.

And to what purposes was all this now-billable time and effort put? Why, to harass and intimidate, of course. That's what coalitions do best. Like a good machete, it's indispensable for cutting through snarled limbs and vines. A coalition's sharp underlying subtext is thinly veiled. It's not a precision instrument either. Like the machete, a coalition is driven with brute force to achieve quick results. You don't hire a lawyer and form a coalition to figure out why Johnny can't read and write well enough. Coalitions don't sit around pondering what is wrong with the education requirement, the system designed to fulfill it and the test for determining whether that system has worked to meet the requirement.

Why does a county school policy have to apply to all the schools in the county? If some schools are doing better than others why not concentrate county policy on the failing ones? Better yet, why not provide each school district with local control over their budgets and curriculum? These are questions that lead to real change. These are questions that are asked by our leaders in public office. Not by coalitions which form in the absence of leadership, crudely attempting to fill a void.

The only thing the Severna Park Moms have accomplished is to throw yet another monkey wrench at the old public school boiler and managed to get it working again... for them. How imaginative. They haven't really changed anything, just the number of monkey wrenches piled up around the boiler.

Again, these ladies are just passing through. It is not theirs to see that the system works efficiently to the academic benefit of all. They vote and pay their taxes like good Americans.

And, if nothing else, perhaps they have done us a service by exposing the cravenness of our politicians and the frailness of the public school system. How little it takes to make the system sway to and fro; how little regard the system and our "leaders" have for the past and the future students.

Mike Netherland
Severna Park

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