The Worst of Times

A couple months ago I wrote about an interaction I had with my son following a displacement meeting for my school district. At the time, I was facing a one class reduction which I ended up picking up at the visual and performing arts K-8 feeder school. While any kind of change can be unsettling, this has turned out to be a great thing for many reasons. That entry primarily focused on my decision to live in the arts, the resulting cuts that my career has inevitably faced, and the fact I would still make the choices I have made to get here. This one, is about the secondary point of that entry- education.

My school district is facing a $25 million deficit, I have heard 300+ lay-off notices will be distributed, and more than 55 jobs will certainly be lost. The cuts will impact teachers that have been in the district for 15 years. We all know about the debates in Wisconsin and Ohio. Michigan is quickly joining the ranks in actions against collective bargaining, freezing wages during contract negotiations, and so on. The fight is not pretty and I can’t help but feel deflated, discouraged, and in some amount of despair. The part that troubles me most is not necessarily the loss of income that would come with paying more for insurance, or a freeze in pay (hey, I am in the arts remember- I have to support my family but I don’t do this strictly for financial gain) but the tone with which all of this is being handled. It isn’t being handled. It is being forced. And there seems to be no thought for whom this will ultimately hurt- the kids. You know, our future. Of course I don’t want to lose my job. No, I don’t think I do get paid enough for what I do compared to what I could earn teaching the same amount of hours in other dance settings given my experience, credentials, and contact time with students. But that, for me, isn’t the point.

I choose to be in the public schools for the connections I am able to present to students outside my discipline alone. I choose to be there to help them find a voice to express themselves and an opportunity to explore what they might want to say. I choose to be there to assist them in thinking outside the box which will help them solve problems on many different scales and in many different contexts. I choose to be there because I genuinely care about them, their successes, and their failures. So, when my profession (one or both- dance, education) is so viciously attacked by people (and shall we go ahead and acknowledge that many of them are parents), I feel disillusioned and alienated. I want to say, “you don’t have to value me, but I would hope you value your child.” Since teachers play such a large role in the development of children, the two hopefully go hand in hand.

I get the hard facts. I see the deficit. I understand the issues at hand. I don’t, however, see how many of the debates being battled are fixing the problems. I just see bullying.

Sigh….And then I listen to David Brooks be interviewed on the Diane Rehm show and am reminded again of the exciting possibilities in education, including arts education- If anyone other than the teachers cared.