Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I attended middle school -- we called it "junior high" back then -- nearly 40 years ago. Entonces, being childless, there was no reason for me to pay attention to children's education until Michael came into our lives just four months ago. And let me tell you, I don't recognize this effin' terrain mislabeled "public education."

The thing with knowing something only at point A and then point B 40 years later is that you have two specific environments to compare. The result of educational deterioration between my point A and today's point B is stark. Stark, stark, stark -- and I can see this easily as one who didn't get inured to said deterioration by living through government cutbacks of public education over the years.

As I write this, I'm in conversation with my best friend who happens to be educating, among others, an 11-year-old son at what is considered an excellent public school (hi M!). She's talking about (hitting mostly financially strapped parents for) fundraisings for basic pen and paper supplies. She's talking about California public schools narrowly focusing their students to pass STAR tests (thresholds in math and reading) so as to maximize government funding; but, check this out: if a school tests well, it gets more funds while schools who don't test well get reduced funding -- does that make sense? And, as M also says, "What happened to infusing the love of learning itself?" Extra tutoring after school (at least for those who can afford it) is now the norm, rather than the exception if parents really wish students to understand a subject.

M notes that she would be reluctant to send her son today to the same high school she and I once attended! I am unsure, as I write this, that the public schools M and I attended would be able to prepare children for attending (for example) Ivy League institutions. They did so for M and me. And we managed to go to these universities without extra tutorings in subjects because they were successfully being taught at the schools, or extra tutoring for college prep tests like SATs.

Couple this with some of the idiotic expectations we get in response to my ex-orphan son with currently limited English. We hear things like, "Just get him through high school and that's already great for him."

Speakers like that reveal their lazy belief that since my son was "saved" from such a bad situation, everything is gravy. He possibly wouldn't have gotten a high school diploma as an institutionalized child in a financially-poor country, so the fact that (i) he's now in the great Estados Unidos is great, and (ii), his education, regardless of its quality, is good enough for being better than what was available to him pre-adoption. When I talk college planning with some of these folks -- and they are supposed to be "educators" -- you can see the expressions shift on their faces to hide incredulity at my naivete.

What's worse is that their reactions are colored by their own low threshold for the "normal" (non-adopted) students (I'm talking about their regular student body, kids who don't have the academic disadvantages that an adopted immigrant has) -- that is, if these kids get to community college (and, hey, is that the "New Normal" under Obama or what?), that's supposedly a home run.

People, if my son ends up a working at a fast food restaurant because that is all he is capable of, BUT HE IS A GOOD PERSON, then it's a home run for me. But until my child indicates that such is all he is capable of, my job as a parent is to maximize his education and assume he is capable of attending the best university that exists in the world. And it's my job -- and should be as well a school system's job -- to help nurture this potential. Beset in pragmatism defined by misguided political decisions on how to spend tax revenues, expectations for children are being lowered at exactly the place where expectations should be high: schools.

I talk like this and I'm greeted as an effin' anachronism.

And since this is a poetry blog, if you believe poetry is marginalized in today's (U.S.) culture and want to know why poetry is marginalized, it's NOT BECAUSE POETS ARE WRITING IRRELEVANTLY. It's not because poets aren't writing about what's "important" to write about like politics (what's "important" is subjective, yah?). It's not because poets are writing "elliptically". It's not because poets are writing "narcissistically". It's not because poets are "writing to each other." It's not because poets are flarf-in'. It's not because they're too "quiet" or too "avant". It's not because too many poets write "academically" or got their MFAs. It's not because poets aren't doing their job -- anyone who feels they can define a poet's "job" is generally just arrogant or looking for a way to grab attention for himself (yes, it's usually a him).

If you believe poetry is marginalized (and that is an "if"), then poetry is marginalized today in large part because K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th grade) education has, in too many cases, eliminated the relevance of the arts....including any notion that a particular art form can be expanded beyond what is inherited by an artist.

It's ironic because, speaking of the effects of the dollar (or euro, or yen, etc), poetry is one of the greatest preparations for facilitating something as bottom line as "business vision". (Hello -- does the economy suck due to forces beyond the usual business cycle?) To simplify the articulation of this matter, many of Poetry's approaches facilitate one's ability to think outside of the box, to look beyond the obvious and discern patterns which foretell how a particular industry might unfold, to manage complicated infrastructures and unstable human resources, et al. (If you want to know the source of whatever modest success I had in my ex-finance career, it ain't because I can add; it's because I was good at concepts...and I left it up to computers and calculators to add.) It's not a coincidence that in my time I've met at least one successful CEO out there who has poetry books in his office bookshelves!

As regards public education, I'd like to say Rome is burning while the politicos are playing the violins. The problem, of course, is that if these politicos were educated in public school, they probably wouldn't know how to play a musical instrument. The arts have been cut back and music, after all, is merely part of the "arts".

Blah. And as I end this, Schwarzenneger's California continues to be bankrupt. Blach.


Update: I don't, of course, believe that Obama means that community college is as high as we should aspire; I wrote that tongue-in-cheek. Having said that, M notes that that today's budget compromise includes "cutting cut another $9.5 billion from public schools and another $2 billion from the state’s higher education system,... " Where was I...? Oh yeah: BLACH!

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