2019

Colorado dog-eat-dog education

Two recent reports dealing with education paint a grim picture of attitudes about it. Statewide, Colorado children are being compelled to attend school in squalid buildings unfit for human occupation. Nationwide, super-wealthy, socially-insecure parents are cheating and lying their scions’ ways into elite colleges and universities.

A recent Washington Post article drew national attention to Colorado’s indifference to children, especially in poorer school districts. It pointed out that statewide classroom and infrastructure needs now stand at $14 billion.

In Manzanola, a farming community southeast of Pueblo, children are expected to learn in a near-century-old elementary school with substantial cracks in the foundation and asbestos floating from a broken ceiling. Their older peers witness and smell raw sewage backing up into their school during downpours.

In Brighton, students use outdated textbooks and equipment in an over-crowded building. It’s a common refrain throughout rural school districts.

The low regard for teachers is shown vis-à-vis their compensation. Colorado ranks dead last when it comes to comparing teacher salaries with their professional peers. Due largely to its inadequate compensation package, the Clear Creek’s turnover rate runs high. The starting salary is $33,000. As one first-year teacher succinctly said it, teaching in Clear Creek is a “good start.”

The state’s fiscal Gordian Knot—TABOR, Gallagher, and the School Finance Act—lies at the root. Exacerbating it, though, are the rejections by voters to increase public school funding via statewide initiatives. Over the past 13 years, voters have thrice rejected efforts to address the gross inequities among the urban, suburban, and rural districts.

It’s not as if we cannot afford it. As Professor Bruce Baker, a member of the Rutgers University Educational Law Center’s research team that wrote “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” says. “They’ve—Coloradans—got the ability to spend more. They just don’t.”

Like Baker, Brighton’s Superintendent Chris Fiedler is diplomatic in his comment: “I call that Colorado’s broken promise to their kids.”

I am blunter. Coloradans have subscribed to a creepy paranoia when it comes to taxes and spending. The reason? It’s easier and better to blame government for one’s woes than America’s secular religion: Neo-liberal capitalism.

It’s a question of Haves v. Have-nots, a caste system of extreme self-interest, of cold-hearted, Randian community-indifferent libertarianism, the ethos that has developed in America over the past four decades.

The underlying message of Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The ten most feared words: I’m from the government and I am here to help,” is “It’s all about me as I compete to survive in a brutal dog-eat-dog economic world.”

Americans have bought into the hogwash that with hard work, right planning, and manipulation, they can be the next Jeff Bezos or Howard Schultz, living the grand life as their erstwhile peers do their bidding, processing packages and pouring lattes. It’s become an article of faith.

That delusionary belief has found its way into public-school funding. It’s the reason why we’ve replaced the joy of learning with the dread of test-taking, done not to demonstrate need and supply support, but to point the finger, to blame others for their plight. And to brag. “See? I did it!”

Competition. Survivalism. A Mad Max world of public education.

The rationale for Coloradans cold indifference to their poorer neighbors’ plight: It’s not my problem.

This disregard for Colorado youth boggles the mind and challenges the conscience. It’s not bad enough that children with financially well-off parents have a major advantage over their peers; some of their unethical parents have resorted to illegal tactics to get them into elite schools. A scandal? Yes. Just like Colorado’s attitude towards public education.

Public education is more than about developing skills. It’s the underpinning of a culturally-diverse democracy. It’s about opening the mind, where students learn socializing skills, awareness of others, problem-solving, and many other life skills.

And in Colorado, students learning their “proper place” in a dog-eat-dog America.

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