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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Parent experiences survivors guilt, child went to a good school

By Julie Delegal

I used to have a sense of survivors’ guilt because my children attend the arts magnet schools in Jacksonville. What makes my children so fortunate, I’d ask, at a time when the arts were withering and dying at other schools around town?

Survivor’s guilt has now been replaced with sheer, unadulterated outrage. Programming cuts, forced by our hegemony-holding lock-step majority party in the Florida Legislature, are now strangling the magnet flagship programs, too. Regardless of one's view of magnet school policy, you have to admit that soon, if we stay on this track, there won't be any arts or music programming, period, in Jacksonville, Florida. Don't fall for state lawmakers attempts to pit magnet parents against neighborhood school parents--the infighting only wastes effort at this point. And don’t blame the local district for these cuts—they were faced with choosing not whether to cut off body parts, but rather which limbs they would amputate: an arm or a leg? Left or right?

Draw a hundred mile radius around the high school under the interstate on Jacksonville’s Southbank, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. You’ll find that Douglas Anderson houses the only high school orchestra program within 100 miles of itself. Now, take a short little jaunt south to Emerson Street, into the modest, working class neighborhood known as Pine Forest, where one feeder elementary school sits. I chose that school for my first child back when it was a Title I school, not because of the arts, but because I saw how facile and fluent the teachers were with children from every background.

Inside that school, you’ll meet, as I did, a veteran music teacher transferred there to replace the full-time orchestra teacher at the school this year. Pine Forest’s new assignee now splits her time—as many music teachers now do—between three elementary schools. She counts herself lucky to still have a job, and mourns for the day that she could actually build relationships and rapport with children at a single school.

On the day my daughter and I met her—call it the day the music died, or the day we knew it had been effectively murdered—the new strings teacher was overwhelmed. Her predecessor had also been transferred, without sufficient notice to organize the dozens of beautiful violins, violas and cellos that sit there in the strings classroom at Pine Forest. Most of them won’t be played this year, due to the restructuring of the program and to schedule changes—all the decisions that were made not to accommodate the children, but rather to accommodate the cuts.

These are instruments that were bought and paid for by the hard work, grant-writing, cajoling and sheer sweat of many individuals: Ralph Coleman, Carole Morse, Terri Wester, Bill Lotowycz, Janelle Wagoner, Denise Ahearn, and before them Jane Congdon, Jackie Cornelius, and others. These people have dedicated careers to transmitting the values of self-expression—and all the contemplation, analysis, synthesis, and teamwork that goes with it—to our next generation.

Make no mistake: teachers of the arts are the torchbearers of an entire culture. To murder their work in this manner is nothing less than a sin before God. To hear state lawmakers focus on which grants they’re going to be sending back to Washington as they rail against profligate and reckless “waste” is a hypocrisy I can hardly bear. To leave these instruments bought for the hands of children unused, to "surplus" young teachers whom we so badly need to forge connections with our children, to wipe the efforts of hundreds of teachers, business people, parents and students off the table as if they were crumbs--all this is nothing less than an abomination.

Shame on the Florida Legislature, for not valuing our children’s education as paramount, as they have sworn to do under our state constitution. They put partisan pledges and lock-step loyalty over their sworn duty to our children. Shame on them, also, for blaming the recession with one hand, as they preserve a long list of tax loopholes with the other. And shame on them, once more, for using “choice” as a subterfuge for cutting funding for public schools, where the vast majority of our children attend school. The evidence is in. The past decade’s generously funded privatization policy has failed. The studies show that in Florida, charter schools and voucher schools do not provide better outcomes for our children. The only thing they’re truly effective at is draining any remaining life from an already hemorrhaging public school budget.

Shame on republican lawmakers for serving up Privatization Kool-Aid. And shame on the pro-voucher, pro-charter democrats, who drank it up. You are all responsible for re-segregating our schools with your privatization schemes, and you are doing so without providing any empirically measurable benefit to the children who have left our public schools.

And shame on all of us, citizens and voters, if we don’t watch the redistricting process very, very closely. If we want a values shift among those elected to serve in Tallahassee, we’ve got to elect different people. And if we want to elect new people, we’re going to need fairly drawn, truly competitive districts—not the gerrymandered ones that the dominant party drew in their “one for you, three for us” packing-and-bleaching horror show ten years ago. Now, as they spend taxpayer money to litigate against the will of their own people on Fair Districts, there is only one thing left to do: Shame them. Our children deserve better.

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