Thursday, February 26, 2009

We Can't Quit on Students Like This

When I was watching President Obama's joint session of Congress speech on Tuesday night, I couldn't place the little girl seated next to the First Lady. Of course, the world knows who she is and rightfully so. Fourteen year old Ty'Sheoma Bethea is the student from J.V. Martin Junior High School, who wrote to the President and to her Congressman to remember her 113 year old school next to a noisy railroad track. But she didn't just write about the tragic conditions of the school building. She expressed her ambitions and those of her classmates, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself, and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina, but also the world."
Her letter, after a visit by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, became a metaphor for the plight of poor students in inadequately funded schools and by extension, yet another metaphor for the plight of public education in our country.

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about the school, which was also the subject of a documentary entitled Corridor of Shame.

By now, many of us know that J.V. Martin is located in Dillon, South Carolina. The school district in Dillon is among 36 school districts bringing suit against the state for its failure to live up to its obligation to minimally educate all of its students. Those districts participating in the suit are 88.4% minority (the state average is 48.1%). Seventy-five percent of those students score unsatisfactorily on state-wide achievement tests vs. 17.4 percent of the state's total student population.

Many who would like to see public education done away with, would suggest those schools along Carolina's I95 corridor are representative of the 'children who don't want to learn'. And yes it is true indeed, that there are Ph.D's, great politicians, statesmen and millionaires who had it just as tough. But at the risk of contradicting an earlier post - these are different times. Schools without modern equipment, or with buildings in horrible disrepair, without adequate light, heat or air conditioning and in impoverished areas are at critical disadvantage with children educated in wealthier schools in wealthier school districts. Argue all you wish that money isn't the total answer to public education. I would argue the more money the better - its just a matter of how you spend it. Parker noted in her column, by the way, that some of the rooms in the school were just above 50 degrees. When the documentary was filmed at the school the temperature was 18!

All of the above aside. The line from Ty' Sheoma's letter that I will remember; the line that will remind me that while adults squabble over standardized tests that will make money for other adults and get adults elected to public office because they promise voters continued standardized testing, is the line, 'We are not quitters.'

I hope the adults in charge of her education, and there peers throughout the country don't quit on them.


Anonymous said...

Maybe a lawsuit should be brought against the parents of these unfortunate children! Two reasons;
1. Irresponsibility in brnging children into a poverty environment
2. Not providing education at home to shore up the lack of adequate public education.

Gerald Britt said...

Comments like this show an tragic lack of understanding of what it means to live in areas of concentrated poverty.

A: no one 'brings', children into poverty. Most opponents tend to think of poverty only as the results of laziness. Most poor people work.

B: providing the type of education that an adequately funded public education system can provide is out of the reach of most Americans, poor or middle class.

This type of slash and burn attitude toward every social problem rooted in poverty is counterproductive and useless.

I'm always amazed that people would rather choke off the future of this country with a misplaced bootstrap mentality on the part of those have benefitted from government policy for their boots.

It's really quite unfortunate and shortsighted...

Anonymous said...

Its a ghetto mentality and you know it. These children when grown, are generally doomed to repeat the errors and lack of responsibility of their parents.
Responsibility before and after birth should be a requirement in the home.

Gerald Britt said...

Sorry Anonymous, you'll have to find another blogger to support that kind of bigotry and prejudice.
It's the kind of stuff that's easy to spout when your world view is formed by stereotypical caricatures and your opinions are shouted into the echo chamber of associations which only affirm your prejudices.

Again, it's easy for those of us who have benifitted from government action that has made our lives easier to hurl insults at those for whom the system hasn't worked as well.
But there comes a time when that attitude is not just unfortunate - it becomes tragically sad.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to Gearld. After all, you make your living off poverty