09 May 2010

How to Make a Civilization Flourish

A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit.
-Greek Proverb

Usually, people do the best they can with what they’ve got. I try to believe this. As a teacher, I believe my students usually do the best they can with the skills they’ve got. I believe that their parents usually do the best they can to raise their kids. And I believe that the voters of Arizona will do the best they can with the choices they have.

Prop 100 isn’t perfect. It does have flaws and it may not be the best solution to the issues facing the state. But right now, it’s the best choice we have. In my school district, Prescott Unified, serious cuts are being considered to programs that have enormous impact on students. All teachers involved in visual, musical, and performing arts have been notified that their programs are in jeopardy. All physical education programs have been cut. Library services and geography classes have been axed.

Students will lose out on opportunities that could impact their futures. They will miss out on the arts, which researchers have shown to improve learning in language (See Bramberge’s work at MIT and Gardiner’s at Brown University). Strong correlations can be made between music education and language skills. Without exposure to music, students’ reading and language test scores could be predicted to fall.

Athletics are also an integral part of well-rounded education. Through sports, students learn teamwork and sportsmanship. Already students at Prescott High School are required to do fundraising to help pay for transportation and other costs associated with their sport. Pay-to-Play seems fair, but the cost is becoming prohibitive. If Prop 100 fails, many students won’t be able to afford the fees, and athletics would become an activity that only the wealthiest, most advantaged students could participate in.

In addition, exposure to sports and the arts opens many avenues for students. Through diligence and practice they will have opportunities to earn scholarships and awards that can enable them to continue to play, and perhaps even help pay for higher education. The arts and sports help us to become more well-rounded individuals. They help us to connect with one another in ways that transcend class, culture, and other barriers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the PHS Showcase for Haiti. This program was put on by the students and faculty sponsors of the National Honor Society. It was a real treat to witness the many and diverse musical, dance, and entertainment numbers by students and faculty. Through ticket sales and t-shirt sales funds were raised for victims of the Haiti earthquake. In the lobby of the theater, hundreds of pieces of art were on display by the visual arts students at PHS. Their works were inspiring. I felt honored to be in the audience at this event. The arts matter, and without them, we will be left to wonder about the lost potential of beauty, joy, and inspiration. What about the loss of potential job opportunities related to these fields, or the loss of creativity that often leads to new solutions to old problems?

I won’t let all the naysayers of Prop 100 change how I feel about my job. They won’t make me love it any less. They won’t make me love my students any less. In addition to teaching my students a foreign language, I do have another agenda. I hope to impart in my students a love of learning and a vision of how the US is part of the world and not the world entire. I teach them to try to envision the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t see things the same as we Americans do, and that not understanding this leads to fundamental cross-cultural problems with far-reaching effects, like terrorism. I hope to instill a work ethic, responsibility, a respect for one another, and punctuality in attending class and turning in assignments; none of this will change either, because these are essential life skills.

I still won’t let the negativity of the anti-education folk permeate my classroom. However, I would love to invite all of you who don’t believe in what we educators do, to come to my classroom and to those of my colleagues. We could use your help! What great ideas do you have about how we can make education work better? There is always room for improvement. What talents do you have that the younger generation could benefit from? Come and see the great things kids are doing already, and help us make their futures even brighter. Sometimes another perspective is exactly what may be needed to breakthrough and facilitate real change.

I hear comments that kids today don’t care about anything beyond their cell phones. Students at Prescott High School are incredibly active in the community and beyond. Students here have introduced me to the phenomenon of micro-economics and Kiva. People all over the world, including PHS students, are loaning money to small businesses that allow the borrowers to walk down the road to self-reliance and away from ineffective governmental aid projects.

Students at PHS raised nearly $1000 from their peers to benefit refugees in Darfur. They were able to accomplish this even though many adults questioned them, asking, “What’s Darfur?”

Along with the greater community, students at PHS have contributed their time and energies to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. They have raised money for the earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. They have held drives for the Yavapai Humane Society.

These kids are aware, informed, and involved, and I can only assume that the students at PHS mirror the state and the nation. Why have they done all this for animals? For people half a world away? Because they care. Because they were moved by the need of others. Because they felt they could do something, and they felt themselves to be an active, responsible part of the greater world.

So, you ask, why aren’t they raising money for their own education? Well, they are. They do. And that isn’t their responsibility. It’s ours. My education, from kindergarten through 12th grade, was funded by the taxpayers of the State of Arizona. I am still very grateful for their faith in my potential, and I hope that I have lived up to their expectations. I am fully prepared and committed to the education of the next generations because they are my responsibility – our responsibility.

I hear a lot of talk lately about individual rights, but not much about personal responsibility. As a citizen, I have responsibilities in addition to rights. I have the right to vote, which comes with the responsibility to be informed. I have the right to freedom of speech, which comes with the responsibility to be accurate and articulate. I have the right to an education, which comes with the responsibility to work hard and to do my best.

The responsibilities of today’s students are to work hard, study, and learn the skills and information that will enable them to become successful, contributing members of society. It is their teachers’ responsibility to impart the knowledge and information that their students need. It is their parents’ responsibility to ensure that their children attend school, are on time, arrive ready to learn, do their homework, and prepare for tests. It is the responsibility of the community to support its children and allow them to focus on the tasks they need to accomplish great things.

Whether or not you support Prop 100, and whether or not you have children of your own, you are responsible for the next generation. Complaining and posting negative comments on websites do little to affect and make positive contributions toward change.

If Prop 100 passes, the average tax-paying household will pay approximately $400 a year, according to the Goldwater Institute. Other sources say this figure is high. If you don’t trust the schools, if you don’t trust the legislature, would you consider taking that $400 and contributing directly to a child’s development? How about a contribution to the scholarship fund at your local YMCA? Sponsor a kid to play soccer through AYSO. Find a private music or visual arts teacher who would accept a scholarship donation on behalf of a needy student. Make a gift (which may be tax-deductible) to your local children’s theater group.

If you can’t donate money, how about time? Mentor a child. Volunteer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Visit your local schools and get involved. Your local elementary school would welcome volunteers to help with reading groups and other small group activities (you may need a background check, including fingerprints). Your local high school requires parent and community volunteers to serve on committees to assist with the accreditation process through North Central Association, among other things.

Get to know a kid. Get to know a teacher. We’re all in this together, and we can all surely do just a little more to help one another out.

1 comment:

  1. How about if you just run for office if this whole teaching thing doesn't work out? You made me want to go out and do something nice for someone. Nice job.