Everyone gripes about the public schools in Seattle. Parents want more control of curriculum, educators want more parental involvement in the learning process, students would like to not be treated like idiots, and public administrators want higher test scores from students.
Recent surveys have revealed an “education-economic gap,” meaning that poorer students tend to have lower test scores. (No! Really?) 43% of Seattle’s school children live below the federal poverty line, in a city where the cost of living continues to skyrocket. It’s beginning to worry Superintendent John Stanford, who’s sensitive about keeping up his image as the General Schwarzkopf of the public school system.
Stanford recognizes the obvious facts: “For many kids, we have to buy them clothes, see that they eat, ensure that they have transportation, that they can get clean, get psychological help, physical therapy. Once we get through those things, we get to the academics.”
But he quickly switches gears and starts talking the same PR crap that won him a hefty book contract. He ignores the “economic gap” and cites solutions to what he calls the “achievement gap,” including standardized tests, new academic programs, special tutoring, summer schools, teacher training, toughening the curriculum, etc.–all the usual garbage we’ve heard before. Nice ideas, but they’re cough medicine for a hemorrhaging economic wound.
Other politicians and legislators are the same. They all want higher test scores, while ignoring the problems posed by poverty, racism, and the needs of bilingual children. It’s time to challenge our legislators to do something really daring…more daring than the new astronauts arriving at the Mir space station. More daring than thousands of Christian airheads praying to Keep their Promises on the White House lawn.
To all the lazy public figures out there, we should say: “Hey, you guys…” (they are still mostly male) “…it’s time to prove that you’re real men. Senator Slade Gorton, stand in the gap!”
We mean the poverty gap, of course. Some politicians call it the “wage gap.” Whatever. Our national congressmen just voted themselves a $3,000 pay raise, while the bottom 20% of us had our pay drop in the last decade. Because of our congressmen’s inflated incomes–not to mention the lucrative lobbying careers and corporate board appointments to come–folks like Slade can really make a difference. Hey, Slade, if you give up $130,000 of your $137,000 annual salary, you could close that gap between you and the poorest children in the U.S. Stand in the gap!
Let’s not stop at lawmakers. Corporate CEOs, corporate managers, and shareholders must do their part, too. What has Bill Gates done for poor school kids lately? Not much.
Recently Bill set up a foundation to help schools serving low-income students purchase computers. Not good enough, Bill. The first schools to take these computers have suffered from problems with staff (the teachers, staff, and administrators have to pay for expensive training classes), access (one or two computers for how many kids?), and the usual problems with substandard software (Windows, of course). Clearly this was Bill’s way to capture a niche market for Microsoft, not an effort to do anything for children.
But Bill had another plan to help. He bought Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks and arranged for their display at the Seattle Art Museum. That, of course, ensured poor kids would be turned away, except on “Free Thursdays,” when they have to elbow past starving adults to get a look at it. This does not cut it, Bill.
Not one to miss a photo-op, Gates invited our daily paper, the Seattle Times/P-I, to snap pictures of him surrounded by a selected group of fifth- graders. They got a special, wide-eyed preview of the exhibit, wherein Gates extolled the wonders of becoming pre-adolescent Microsoft consumers.
Barf! Bill, I dare you: stand in the gap! How many billions in stock options can you cash in and then give away within a 24-hour period? Can you teach those fifth-graders something besides outright prostitution, after having used them to bolster your public image and sell more software? A real man wouldn’t use porn to recoup the fortune he spent to acquire a work of art. He would give it away for free, then dip into his bank account, get rid of all his extraneous billions, turn his palatial house into a shelter for abused women, and move to Federal Way. He would stand in the gap!
Craig McCaw, founder of McCaw Cellular, recently gave away $1 million to a foundation that teaches high school students to tutor younger children in basic reading skills. C’mon, Craig, a measly million? What’s the deal!? You’re worth hundreds of millions. Details of the divorce proceedings with your ex-wife, Wendy, showed that you’re not the self-made millionaire you always claimed to be. You actually inherited your first millions from your parents, then set up your telecommunications empire. You could at least show these poor kids the same respect and generosity Mom and Dad showed you. Start giving and don’t stop till you’re down below the median income of $30,000 per year, Craig. Stand in that gap!
Just because the gap’s as wide as the Grand Canyon–and is getting wider every day–is no excuse. Until rich folks start jumping in to fill that mile-wide poverty gulch, they better keep their mouths shut about “educating the poor,” and the “achievement gap.” First things first.