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Md. gubernatorial candidates exhibit 'gross irresponsibility' regarding education

Imagine the CEO of a local hospital calling her surgical team together and announcing that recent budget mismanagement has left only enough money for the purchase of spoons, but that operations should proceed as usual, and in fact, expectations for measurable outcomes will rise. Or picture, if you will, a sales manager gathering this team together and announcing that sales quotas will increase, but that there will be no money for marketing, supplies and samples or travel. If they are really driven to succeed, the manager tells them, they could reach out to their social networks and ask their friends and families to make up for the deficit, or simply cough it up themselves.

These scenarios are obviously ludicrous and would never occur in the private sector, yet nearly identical situations are taking place in faculty meetings at public schools across Baltimore. Teachers are being told that to move the data, they will be given less and will be asked to do more. As usual, it is the teachers who open up their wallets to cover the cost. Somebody's got to.

So you can understand how, after watching Larry Hogan and Ben Jealous bumble and insult their way through a rather stupor-inducing debate, I was left shaking my head at the gross irresponsibility on both sides of the aisle. It seems we are unable to think of ways to address spending without linking it to some legalized vice, as if our children’s brains are an afterthought to adult indulgence.

Maybe you would need to have bought food for students who have gone hungry for a week because someone at home gambled away the grocery money. Or maybe you’d need to have known a child who lost their father to a street crime that involved a gambling debt they couldn’t pay. Then you might see how irresponsible it is to promise to fund our schools by encouraging the desperate among us to lose their paychecks at nearby casinos. As we all know, at the casino, the house wins. In Annapolis, the House reappropriates.

And although I will vote for Mr. Jealous come Election Day, I still can’t understand how it is “progressive” to suggest we fully fund education by legalizing recreational marijuana. What does our responsibility to educate the next generation have to do with the freedom to get stoned?

Sure, legalize it, but don’t pretend that such actions are motivated by the needs of children. Maybe we should be talking about a responsibility gap on the part of adults in this state instead of the achievement one pundits are so keen to point out. Maybe if we close the former we can finally do something about the latter.

When it comes to education, platitudes abound, but there is a genuine dearth of actual responsibility on the part of those in power who are tasked with adequately funding the work required to prepare our children for participation in the world outside of schools. It’s strange how otherwise mature adults are willing to ignore research that shows over and over again that children in poverty experience extreme biological damage due to the environmental stressors they must endure. What few people outside Baltimore understand: Most people watch the news. My student’s lives are the news.

We know that fetal stress damages the amygdala and causes it to produce more stress hormones later on in life, often making it difficult for students to focus in class and nearly impossible for them negotiate the treacherous interpersonal waters of high school.

We know that the development of executive function, so crucial to self-regulation and so predictive of future success, is deeply influenced by early childhood experiences.

We know that the single most predictive factor in a child’s ability to score highly on a standardized test is the income level of their parents.

We know these things, yet all we do is pay them a tepid lip service and then turn our education system over to “reformers” armed with glossy whitepapers filled with charts and graphs claiming that more testing, rigorous standards aligned curriculums and more teacher professional development opportunities are the answer.

And if our students don’t pass, just blame the teachers, those who willingly bear witness to the damage society has inflicted on the young and who attempt, ill-equipped as we may be, to provide a remedy.

Our politicians seem to lack steadiness of purpose and anything that resembles follow through. I guess they’d rather gamble with our children’s futures.

Daniel Parsons (dedalus055@gmail.com) is an English teacher at Frederick Douglass High School.

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