Thursday, May 5, 2016

DETROIT SCHOOLS MAY BE AN OMEN FOR THE REST OF US

Detroit is in the news and from a distance the implications are scary.  My only experience with Detroit was driving through on the way from Flint to Windsor, Ontario.  Our two children had been involved with the CANUSA Games and made a few friends in Flint.  Detroit, although having a few impressive skyscrapers also had a lot of boarded up buildings.  Flint, too is in the news as the result of short sighted budget restrictions.

I grew up in Oshawa, a town dominated by General Motors, like Flint and Detroit.  My father, an independent trucker and a champion rally car driver distained General Motors.  In fact Oshawa prospered anyway.  Not so much Flint or Detroit from what I could see.  My father thought General Motors was very arrogant and not adapting to the future.  I heard these opinions over 60 years ago and so was not surprised hearing of their financial problems developing over more recent decades.

Perhaps Detroit and even Michigan had allowed themselves to become too dependent on the auto industry.  After 2008 some very difficult decisions were made that allowed General Motors to survive, but at the expense of many jobs.  Detroit's tax base has eroded.

When tax revenues decline more difficult decisions have to be made.  It is unfortunate that too many governments think education is one area where a lot of cuts can be made with minimal fuss.  Republicans especially seem to hate unions and that especially includes teacher unions.  Teachers have had to knuckle under like many of fellow citizens, but they have fought back not only for their job security, but for working conditions.

At one point they were asked to choose between their salary being distributed during the academic year or spread over the whole year.  Apparently over 2/3 opted to be paid over the full year, but more austerity measures threatened to cut off income over the summer months.  Forbidden to go on strike the teachers opted  to call in sick in large numbers effectively closing most schools.  As with any big school system shutdowns lead to all sorts of personal problems with parents having to arrange childcare.

It is unfortunate that many problems are not dealt with until they become painful for others.  As I understand it there will be some government aid arriving to at least stabilize the system temporarily.

What frightens me is that too many governments see education as a factor that can be minimized safely.  Perhaps with aging populations fewer parents are involved.  Perhaps anti-unionism has successfully painted teachers as greedy incompetent devils.  Perhaps poverty has actually made teachers' jobs more difficult.

My contention is that education should be the number one priority as it affects everything else.  Our future is in the hands of our children.  The skills and attitudes they bring to their adulthood will affect everyone directly and indirectly.  They will run our businesses, decide how we deal with the rest of the world and take care of us in our old age.  They will have to compete against the rest of the world, much of which does value education.

Education is a big challenge.  Teachers are a critical part of it and they need to be thought of as engineers of our future.  Getting a youngster to read and understand numbers opens up doors.  Developing innate talents can lead to skills needed by the rest of us and even to innovations that will improve our lives.  Critical thinking skills will assure that future citizens understand what is really important and make better decisions.

Taxation needs to be increased.  We don't need to pay lot of attention to the effects on the "job creators" as the real job creators are those who spend money at the grassroots level.  The real future will be determined by our children and teachers will have a lot of input.  There will be resistance to increasing taxes, but at the very least education needs to rise higher as a budget item

Teachers cannot do it alone, but if they are respected and appreciated we will all be better off.  We should make the profession one that is desirable with money, working conditions and most critically with respect.

One education expert I respect is Diane Ravitch and you can learn more about how she thinks at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/02/reign-of-error-what-direction-should.html

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