September 13, 2002

Commentary

A School System Barren of Love is What We Really Want for Our Children?

by Ernie McCray

I turned my TV to Channel 16 the other night just in time to catch Ed Lopez, the board of education’s vice-president, bragging about the district’s improved test scores.

And I thought: if the scores truly are up in an autocracy like San Diego City Schools, just imagine how high they would be if our school system was run in a respectful caring loving way.

Then flippantly Lopez says to critics of the school system: “We’ve heard what you wouldn’t do. What would you do?” And I’m wondering: Who is going to listen?

Hey, in an effort to get the school district to consider my take on what should be happening in our schools, I’ve appeared on television and the radio, had opinion pieces and letters published in local papers and magazines, and spoken up at educational forums and conferences. Practically non-stop. And about all I’ve gotten, literally, for my efforts is a soul handshake and a phony smile - from the man himself, superintendent Alan Bersin. Once. And I happen to know a whole lot about teaching and learning, especially when it comes to literacy, the district’s focus.

Much of my time is spent involving children in literacy via my passions, via writing poetry and prose, via writing scenes and plays and then staging them with singing and dancing, via laying the world bare for analyzing. So, putting an end to ignoring people who have something to offer would be one of the things I would do to change this school district.

A little later Ron Ottinger, the president of the board, pops up on the set and admonishes his fellow trustees, regarding the rancor among them, with: “We’ve been an embarrassment.” He got that right.

Nothing has been more embarrassing or perplexing than watching him, Ed Lopez and Sue Braun support a school system, with no questions asked, that runs counter to American ideals, a school system that allows the citizenry no meaningful involvement. And they chastize their peers, John de Beck and Frances Zimmerman, for daring to ask a question or two, for daring to express an opinion, for daring to want to tweak some proposal with which they are uncomfortable. It doesn’t get any more embarrassing than that. So, stifling imploring minds would no longer be part of San Diego City Schools if I had a say because there can be no dynamic learning environment without healthy debate.

“We need to pull together,” Ottinger continues as though he hasn’t played a major role in creating a system where “pulling together” really means that parents, educators, teachers, students, and interested community members will do what they’re told, how they’re told, when they’re told. Together.

Is this the kind of school system we want for our children? Do we really believe that a focus on high test scores will enable this generation of children to confront the kinds of global situations that stretch across the horizon of their futures?

Our children need a meaningful relevant education. They have to survive a terroristic world. They have to save the last of our rain forests. They have to find paths to peace. They have to feed the hungry and the homeless. They have to rise above the world’s heterosexual superiority mindset that endangers the lives of gay and lesbian citizens of the world. They have to consider that libraries might serve them better than downtown ballparks and Charger ticket guarantees. They have to create an environment wherein the so-called pillars of society, like those in San Diego who used their wealth in an attempt to discredit Frances Zimmerman, who fights endlessly to deliver a holistic education for our children, wouldn’t even try such a thing. They need an education that might instill the kind of basic moral values that CEO’s in companies like Enron and World Com lack.

If those of us in this community who are excited about learning were allowed to work together, concentrating on helping our children understand their world with all that’s happening to it, we might be surprised at how high the test scores would be. That doesn’t mean throwing out all the methodology that the district has invested in. That’s the nuts and bolts. The basics.

But the soul of what we do has to honor the talents and interests of all who are concerned. San Diego City Schools does not embrace such acts of love and human respect and therefore is extremely limited in contributing to the making of a better world.

Again: Is this the kind of school system we want for our children?

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