Monday, April 17

Bottled Educators

This post will confirm my belief that frequent posting (short or otherwise in length) is much better organized and has more "literary flow" than obscure posting once a month (summarizing weeks of thoughts and events).

Last Saturday, 9am at Purple Onion's Espresso Expose with Homeslice:

I just ordered a Turtle Latte and two waters. Homeslice and I were thirsty, and I needed something to keep my brain functioning beyond the twelve hours of wakefulness it's used to.

The girl at the register asks, "Bottled?"

**Context in my head: In Bangladesh, the definition of the word, "disparity," is found in asking for water. Tap water can kill you (I'm serious)--assuming you're up in the status of people who can afford to have a home, with a tap, of running water (that's three things). At a restaurant, you would get used to specifying "bottled" when asking for water, going further to ask that it is both unsealed and poured in front of you. Anyway...

The girl is waiting for my reply. I say, "Bottled, please." She begins to walk away to retrieve it...

"Wait!" says I. She comes back to the counter. "It's still in the bottle, right?"

By the time I said, "bottle," I began to smile upon realizing how two very different worlds in my head had overlapped into what just made me sound as though I had damaged my Wernicke's Area (in which the afflicted will speak with intonation and fluency as though they have nothing abnormal about them, only the listener will notice that nothing coming out of the person's mouth is the least bit coherent).

The three of us laughed as the girl at the register said, "Yeah, it's still in the bottle."

The past week, working on coordinating daycare for 7-10 year olds for the Muslim American Society's annual convention:

So I had the honor of working with some of the most amazing, devoted brothers and sisters who volunteered to help care for 150-some 7-10 year old children left at the daycare each of the three days of this convention. These volunteers sacrificed not just their time but rare opportunities to attend lectures by distinguished scholars so that parents of these children could be attending instead.

At a time when Muslims are represented in the most negative ways at every channel, at the end of each night, I fell asleep not tired and worn out but relieved and assured that I'm blessed to be with brothers and sisters who demonstrated the best of Islam, knowing that all that they endured couldn't have been except for the Sake of Allah. There is no material reward for volunteering when everyone else walks away with excuses, no one will say, "Thank you," and you are truly at the Mercy of Allah throughout the entire task, beginning to end. It was beautiful.

Consistent with the existence of all earthly things in dichotomous pairs, I will mention the [very] ugly...

Of all the minorities or groups I've come upon who've been victims of the proliferating kinds of injustices in our world, I've come to the conclusion that no group is more victimized than children.

You're probably thinking, "war-torn countries," "child-abuse," "child pornography," or something along those lines. These are all concerning atrocities (and the ones I've not named by no means should be neglected). However, my greatest concern, particularly after this weekend, is with regard to the lack of respect and care with which we, in the "civilized" country that claims to be the flag-bearer of democracy, freedom, and opportunity, treat our children.

Public education in the United States seems to be first on the agenda of our political leaders when they are in candidacy for an elected position, and last (if at all) on the agenda once the polls have closed. It is tempting to pin the blame on the current administration (which definitely bears a great burden of responsibility and should rightfully be called on it) for our failing, neglected education system. But if we are to speak of negligence, the people who are primarily responsible for educating our children must also be called on for their negligence. No, we are not talking about teachers; Primary educators, regardless of whether or not they realize their roles as such, are parents and family members.

The lack of funding for education is not an issue that appeared on its own. A pivotal precursor was the lack of involvement of the children's families in their education. Somewhere along the way, in the course of the past half century, rose an illusion that we have this "system" which allows us to feed children in and, given enough time, we will be produced with educated, successful, young adults, who know right from wrong, ethical from unethical, truth from lie. Meanwhile, it spares eight crucial hours for parents to be at jobs.

Certainly, somewhere in this matrix is the blue collar worker facing the pressures of a failing economy, the socioeconomically stressed neighborhood at ground zero for the forgotten (or so we're trying?) "War on Drugs," the opportunistic yet oh-so-subtly-so speech writers, the emo artists that sell our miseries back to us for $18.99 wrapped in celophane, protecting the Second Amendment, solving illegal immigration, the QVC shoppaholic, parisanship, the cable news tickers running variations of the same horrifying or irrelevent stories as though wpm ain' no thang...And in the process, raising the youth of our species to learn how to be successful in this trying world, successful in the truest sense, to teach them what to take in, what to invest their time in, what to care for, and the skills they need to attain in order to care for this world, is all brushed under the rug.

Now that I've complained about everything (and in a very disorganized manner, I realize), I would like to bring to attention the voices of public school educators that have been trivialized, if not blatantly ignored, by all of us. Because of the reasons rising from the issues mentioned above as well as others I'm certain we can all think of, school boards continue to downsize staffing at public schools, increase the number of classes and students per teacher, all while language, art, music, and extracurricular programs are systematically disappearing. In states like mine (South Dakota), teachers hardly have any channel to voice their concerns or suggestions. At a time when job security is the elephant in the room in an edifice of economic instability, teachers continue to be discouraged in every legal way to step in. States like mine actually prohibit teachers from participating in protests that would reduce teaching time and from unionizing. With their jobs on the line, most teachers find themselves automatons sharing the brunt of the impact of this quietly crashing institution called public education with the children who've been forgotten from The American Agenda.

School Board meetings are a joke--how often I've seen the superintendent sigh at hearing yet another problem that comes down to lack of funding and lack of community interest which prevents anything from being solved. Don't get me wrong--it isn't as if any of the board members are not trying his or her best. But only so much can be done when parents, grandparents (which is extremely important in a predominantly retired state like South Dakota), fail to care for the education of their community's children. Few persevering principals continue to present the board (and the deaf, absent community) with programs geared towards alleviating at least some of the burden from our teachers. Yet schools like those in my town continue to face "restructuring" that basically places and replaces "administrative" hires, such as principals, assisstant principals, and security guards to execute the hopeless itineraries of some Greater Administration.

During my junior year of high school, some classmates and I had had enough of this nonsense. Unfortunately, it didn't help that the only activists ready to invest in the issue in the entire city was an inexperienced, hot-blooded group of teenagers. No, this did not help at all. And although our efforts (however inefficient) resulted in a few weeks of news headlines and the resignation of our high school principal, we realized that our goal, though attained, was far from where it should have been. We aimed in naivete and were rewarded with a cheap face-lift, a new principal fresh from some southern state that would take time to "befriend" each of us "concerned", and any teachers she assumed who may also have some "concerns." Since this automaton replaced the old, our drop-out rate has soared, and after two of my past, beloved teachers retire next year, the school will have had nearly a quarter of its staff retired, all within the past five years. I recently visted my high school and only found three of my teachers left to visit since my graduation three years ago. This should say something. In fact, if you're listening, it's screaming a very important message--teachers are being frustrated to the point of no hope. They are leaving the sinking ship of children.

Coincidentally, there is an overwhelming number of grants coming in towards increasing the amount of technology available to students. No student in Rapid City, SD, today can say that he or she does not have internet access. Middle schools to colleges, all have been given grants for incorporating more technology.
Conveniently, we now have something to show that we are not in the middle of some educational crisis, that we are in fact growing and improving with the times. See the computer labs and the interactive CD's that come with the textbooks?

So, although I may have a stressed out teacher for each of my courses who is responsible for 119 other students per day (cleverly kept to 20:1 student-to-teacher ratio while my teacher now is mandated to teach 6 classes a day), I, as a sixth grader, can at least take online courses. What?

Trust me, I'm not exaggerating. This is where we are. And if your state's not here yet, worry not--you're headed this way.

There are a million causes out there for us to invest our time, money, voices, and hearts in. I think I found one of mine.

PS The fact that booster club bake sales can contribute only in a limited fashion to funding public education is uncannily not so different than the fact that being encouraged to wear sunscreen and sunglasses apparently addresses a depleting ozone problem we are not willing to work on with other nations. Two words: Banana Boat.


Nuri said...

Very interesting post. Really. It was worth posting Samira... I found some similarities with the situation in Spain, too.
BTW: Is part of your family from Bangladesh? I just met some really nice people from that country and they invited us to visit but learning that "tap water can kill you" was discouraging...

Samira said...

LOL...Well, I'm glad that at least the people you met were nice, b/c it could have certainly been otherwise...Anyway.

Yes, I was actually born in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh. Since the country is only 35 years old, my parents technically couldn't have been born Bangladeshi, though they are. Somehow, it works out I guess.

Travelling always has its advantages and disadvantages, no matter where you go, so perhaps if you have reason enough to visit, you may find it rewarding. Though honestly, one can get killed in many other ways in any nation if it's predestined. It's all really a matter of perspective, and some sensible precautionary measures.

And I would definitely like to learn more about Spain, in general. (especially since the FIFA World Cup is coming up in about a week and a half and I'm a huge fan of the Spanish soccer team...)

Take Care :)

Nuri said...

What happened to your blog? There's no profile, no e-mail... no archives...