Concerned about Harford's schools? Prove it [Commentary]

A ridiculously low turnout at the two school budget workshops last week would cause a sane person to ask what was all the finger-pointing, posturing and blame casting about the last two years.

Certainly it couldn't have been about Harford County Public Schools and funding for your children's public education, could it?

I understand a couple of feebly conceived show workshops, held at virtually the same location at inconvenient times (3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, really?) should not be used to indict all of the 60,000 some odd people living in Harford County who are either associated with or have children in the school system.

But seriously, when you add in the children in those schools and their parents and those who work for the school system and others who make a living from it, like bus contractors, you're talking about a pretty big constituency - something on the order of 40 percent of the county's residents, and I'm probably being conservative with my estimate.

And from all those people, only 50 were interested enough to come out and talk about what the schools need in terms of funding well in advance of the next budget being formulated and put into action. Fifty, by the way, is a very charitable estimate of the attendance at the two workshops.

I don't profess to be an education expert. I got mine a long time ago and it was a good one and I'm thankful for it. But, I've been around this game that passes for "concern" about education in Harford County long enough to make a few observations, none of them pretty.

I believe parents are right to demand the best for their kids, while recognizing that oftentimes those demands may well exceed expectations. The problem is that the majority of parents in this county, and I suspect elsewhere, are most concerned that their kids go off to school each morning, come home safe in the afternoon and that someone else is "educating" them while they're gone. Only when one of the above doesn't happen as expected, does the parent become "truly" concerned.

I also believe too many educators - particularly those in positions of authority - are arrogant, self-serving and condescending, a toxic combination when you are talking about molding young minds and playing a pre-eminent role in preparing someone to meet their future. And, let's face it, there are far too many people in the media who are arrogant, self-serving and condescending, so it's not only in education where you find such buffoonery.

You may not agree with what you have just read so far, but here's one more thing you should know. Based on my experience, the way to get something done in Harford County is to put rumps in the seats and keep them there until those in authority respond. School board meetings, county council meetings, school forums - even school budget workshops held at insane times - if you don't show and make your voice be heard, nothing will happen. You'll be a silent majority of nothingness.

It could very well be that most parents truly are concerned about the education their kids are getting from Harford County Public Schools. Who cares about a bunch of teachers, who are always asking for money to some people's thinking, or a few disgruntled parents, whose schedules got disrupted by school time and bus changes? Having to pay to join an after school club or play a sport shouldn't be such a big deal; many families spend much more for kids to be in scouts or to play on rec and travel teams.

That's the kind of message I get when I see all those yellow seats in the photograph my colleague David Anderson took at the first budget workshop that was held in the C. Milton Wright High School auditorium. And, if I'm getting it, you can bet your county elected officials, school board and school administration are getting it, too.

Apathetic isn't too strong a word to describe the situation. And though it's a terrible thing to be said about somebody or some group of people, until shown otherwise, it fits the public perception of our county's school system. Very few really give a damn about it.

If you disagree, do me a favor and don't respond in a tirade of letters to the editor or e-mails. Prove me wrong by showing up and becoming engaged. Or, maybe you think everything is fine just the way it is.

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