On the evening of Easter Monday, I sat down and composed this letter to the editor of the Jacksonville Times-Union. They “trimmed” it down and published a much shortened version today, May 16, 2011. I’ve been asked to share the original.
What a lovely holiday weekend we all have enjoyed. I almost – for a moment – forgot all about the dread that I’ve grown accustomed to carrying with me over the last few weeks. You see, I’m a teacher for Duval County Public Schools. Additionally, I’m a parent of two young children.
The fear that dwells in the pit of my being right now is rather familiar. It’s like the monster mutant germs that we, as a culture of germaphobes and antibacterial junkies, have helped to strengthen over the years. This new fear has been growing, ever so slowly, over the course of the past five years or so. Except now, it has reached the Red Alert Stage — like December 31, 1999. We [educators] are all waiting in fear to experience an inevitable, catastrophic, systemic crash that will change our reality exponentially.
It’s not just a reduction in pay masquerading as furlough days, increased health care costs, frozen pay scales, reductions in per student funding, and more. It’s not just the possible butchering of our school weeks from five days to four. It’s even more than “just” the loss of quality art, music, and P. E. education for our children – the neurological benefits of which I’m sure you are aware. In fact, it’s still more than “just” the innumerable effects today’s students will suffer after losing the vast number of QUALITY, EXPERIENCED educators whose jobs are poised beneath the guillotine as we speak.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering what it is that I am dreading.
My greatest fear, sir, is that for the future of my own children and the future of our city, state, and country. My fear is that – while countries like China are busily wooing and nurturing their own budding middle classes – we are killing our own. We are robbing our children of quality educations – educations fit to make them competitive in an increasingly global economy. The trends are clear – the jobs for which we are preparing our students today do not even EXIST yet. You CANNOT create forward-thinking, self-motivated, technologically savvy, independent learners without placing a political and fiscal priority on education.
I urge the elected officials of both Duval County and the State of Florida to consider the long-term implications of their present day decisions. Are they weighing these budget-balancing options carefully against their impacts on our world, say…ten years from now? Or how about twenty? Do they even understand the impacts? What is THEIR vision for our future? Do they think sabotaging a generation of Floridian’s education is going to move us closer to making that hope a reality? This is the burden with which they’ve been granted: not just to promote the general welfare TODAY, but securing these blessings for our posterity.
If we do not invest in our schools TODAY, we will invest in our prisons TOMORROW.