‘Tis the season . . .

The news from a local KC school district was sad, but not entirely surprising. After three years of major belt tightening and lots of consultation with a community advisory committee, the district put a levy increase before the voters.

It lost. Badly.

Never mind that enrollments are up and staffing levels are down — a lot. Never mind that this is one of the best districts in the state. Never mind . . . lots of things.

All that matters now are cuts.

The board met earlier this week, and slashed, sliced, and cut deeply into the programs of the district. More teaching positions will be cut, either by retirements or outright firings. Fewer extra-curricular activities will be offered, and more of the expenses for the surviving ones will be shifted to parents. Fewer school nurses, fewer special ed and gifted teachers, fewer library staffers, fewer maintenance workers, fewer IT people, and fewer music people. Purchases of new textbooks are being deferred, purchases of new school buses are being deferred (that one that slid off the icy road is just fine, thank you), and general maintenance to the buildings are being deferred. No more summer library program, to keep kids reading while school is out. (Who cares how well it helps kids retain the progress they made during the year in their reading abilities?) Salaries for everyone are frozen for the third year in a row, with no prospects of that changing in the years ahead. All that matters now is cutting the budget, and cutting it hard.

And the tea partiers cheer. “Stick it to the union — they’re overpaid and lazy.” They cheer now, until they realize that this is their school and their kids that pay the price for their knee-jerk reaction to a  stereotype that bears little relation to reality. They cheer now, until they realize that if the school district suffers, so do their property values. They cheer now, until they realize that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

It’s not just on the Missouri side of greater Kansas City that this is happening — it’s in the Kansas suburbs as well, and it goes far beyond KC. Wisconsin Governor Walker’s anti-union actions in Wisconsin are aimed in part at teachers, and districts around that state are preparing for massive layoffs. Providence RI just fired — not laid off, but fired — their entire teaching staff in a similar anti-union, anti-teacher move. Los Angeles is letting 5000 teachers and educational staffers go, Austin is passing out pink slips,  San Antonio is cutting staff, and so are dozens and dozens of other school districts around the country.

Damn.

I come from a family filled with teachers, so this hurts on that level. But even more than that, I’ve been blessed by dozens of teachers in ways that I am still only now coming to realize, and seeing teachers like them demonized across the country hurts even more.

On this Saturday morning, the news about teacher layoffs and firings makes me very grateful for the teachers that I have had . . .

  • The math teacher who pushed me to do what I was capable of, rather than letting me slide with doing “just enough.”
  • The English teacher who taught me to love poetry, though my grades in her class didn’t reflect that. (Years later, she heard me preach on one of the psalms, and told me “Wow — you *were* paying attention when we studied poetry!”)
  • The first grade teacher who not only put up with but encouraged my endless questions and curiosity.
  • The history teacher who graciously admitted defeat when I proved that a portion of the textbook was wrong, and who also didn’t rub my nose in it (too much) when the mistakes went the other way.
  • The speech and debate coach who stood up for me when competition judges screwed up.
  • The government teacher who put up with interruptions and hypotheticals and arguments over exam questions.
  • The fifth grade teacher who taught me that history was not about memorizing lists dead, dry names and dates, but was about the living stories of real people — and who made Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address come alive. (I still get goosebumps when I see/hear the phrase “With malice toward none . . .”)
  • The kindergarten teacher who taught me to share and to help, and to accept help from others.
  • The econ profs who taught me to pay attention to my assumptions.
  • The music teacher who taught me the joy of being part of a harmonious group, where individual gifts blend to create something beautiful that no single person could do by his or her self.
  • The German teacher who helped open my eyes to the rest of the world, and also to seeing my own country in a new and different way.
  • The art teacher who showed me the wonders of communication through sculpture, painting, architecture, and more.
  • And most of all, the librarians. As Spider Robinson said, “Librarians are the secret masters of the universe.” Librarians are the ones who size up each kid who comes in and guides each one to a particular shelf, saying “there’s something here I think you might like.” (Drug dealers could take lessons from the librarians that got me hooked on books and learning. Seriously. “Just try this one . . . and it’s free.”) Librarians also have a low tolerance for BS, though with kids they often rephrase that a bit. They taught me to respect knowledge, and how to dig for more of it.

I dream of a day when Wall Street traders lust after the money that teachers are paid.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go return some library books. That, and write some thank you notes to some former teachers, whose profession and livelihood are under attack more and more each day.

(photo h/t: thanker212)