Of Ferris Wheels and Donkey Poo

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It’s not often that I post on back to back days, but I fear my days as an educator in constant contact with students may be numbered so I want to get as much discussion out of my system as I can before I return to being a cog in some Man’s machine.

One thing I’ve always noticed about educators is most of us seem to have a two year old’s desire for things to be “fair.” That’s fine, as long as we all realize one thing my daddy taught me long ago. “Son,” he said, “fair is where you go to ride on rides, eat cotton candy, and step in donkey poop at the petting zoo.” That was immediately followed up with the sage declaration, “Son, get it through your head right now — life never has been, is not now, nor ever will be FAIR.”

So, let’s explore this idea of educational fairness. First comes the sainted desire for “everyone to have an equal opportunity to succeed.” Okay, that’s great as far as it goes, but it’s never going to happen. Call it Original Sin or negative karma or just plain old bad luck of the draw but, Jeffersonian assertions and American Dream drivel to the contrary, all people are not created equal.

A child born to a wealthy Manhattan banker has it made for life cradle to grave as long as he or she doesn’t do something colossally stupid and even then, a tall enough stack of Benjamins can cover a great deal of stupidity. By the same token, an AIDS orphan in sub-Saharan Africa or a dumpster diving child gang member in Guatemala City doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of anything much more than a short, painful and nasty life. The banker’s child will be educated beyond his ability and the poor children will die of disease or starvation having never learned how to write their own name. Sadly, neither will ever likely stop to think, “Gee, this isn’t very fair, is it?”

Now, lest anyone be decieved, not only is that the way it is, but when it comes right down to where the rubber meets the road, it’s that way because we tolerate it. You see, people don’t REALLY want fairness and equality. Educators are no different. What people, including educators, want is for the world to be fair TO THEM. For instance, I know a tremendous teacher at another school whom I had the opportunity to speak with at some length. This teacher waxed eloquent about the perils and perditions of the children along the I-95 Corridor here in South Carolina who go to school in abject poverty in schools that were built, at best, during the Wilson Administration. So, I took the teacher to task and asked, “If you are so passionate about the cause of these children, why don’t you leave the Upstate and go down there to Williamsburg or Lee county and teach in those schools. They could really use you!” The reply? “I couldn’t ever live somewhere like that!” Hypocrisy? Not really, more like plain old honesty.

The way this “fairness” thing works is for the underadvantaged to have more, the overadvantaged have to have less. That thinking runs completely opposite from the way we good American Capitalists have been brought up to believe. Here’s another example. In Greenville County, raising property taxes one mille will net the county and by extension the schools over a million dollars. That’s one mille. The same one mille increase in a county like Jasper will barely bring in five thousand dollars to the educational coffers. Now, a few years ago, the idea was floated around about making things “more fair” by taking ALL the property tax money earmarked for education and dropping it all in the same pot then doling it out according to need. People came UNGLUED at the very idea! Anyone who supported the idea was practically branded a Communist. The reaction I heard most often was “how dare they take money from MY CHILD’S school and send it to THOSE SCHOOLS.”

Now, is that fair? Needless to say, the plan didn’t get far so for now, if you have the unmitigated bad luck to be born in Allendale County instead of Anderson County, you are, as my student patrons like to say, S.O.L. Of course, I hear these people say, “Well, if a parent wants what’s best for his or her children, they will be willing to sacrifice and move to a better school.” So, if you have the unmitigated bad luck to be born to a crack addicted mother or an uneducated teen mother or just a poor family in general you are, once again, S.O.L.

As long as we are a state and, farther up, a nation, and farther up still, a world where some people unthinkingly eat caviar costing $1K an ounce while others scrounge around in a garbage heap  to find lightly rotten fruit to stave off hunger, equal educational opportunity will be a pipe dream of the first magnitude.

So what does all this have to do with NCLB? Well, is it “fair” for a child born in poverty and neglect to be held to the same standard as the child born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth? Is it “fair” for the teacher teaching the first child to be held to the same standard as the teacher teaching the second? Is it “fair” for the school that the first child attends to be held to the same standard as the school educating the second? Well?

The saddest part of the whole equation is the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way. Enough resources are available to ensure every child has an equal opportunity, but those resources are not distributed equitably or, as some would say it, “fairly.”

To put it bluntly, No Child Left Behind is a farce and a joke. As long as one child goes to a palatial new school brimming with newest technology to be taught by the best and brightest who were attracted by the highest pay while another child goes to an ancient brick monolith where a dry erase board would be considered bleeding edge technology and be taught by a brand new teacher trying to pay off a student loan or a burned out teacher too tired to be effective and too close to retirement to quit, as long as that situation exists, the very idea of “educational equal opportunity” will continue to be a laughingstock in every teachers’ lounge in this country.

I said a paragraph ago that the saddest part is the “unfairness” behind the distribution of resources; I was wrong. The gravest and saddest part of the equation is that people who could initiate change are too wrapped up in their own agendas to try to change things or too unwilling to risk a little hardship to care if things change or not.

So, I’m going to have a candied apple and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl then I’ll wash the donkey poo off my feet and go home safe in the knowledge that I was treated as “fairly” as I’m ever likely to be.

Once again, I love y’all, but I sure wish things could be different. Unfortunately, as Daddy always said, “If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.” Or at least a “fair chance.”

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