Recently, amid much chaotic, heart rending anguish, tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth from ex-pats, alumni and current students alike, the school mascot at my childrens' school, the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, was changed from a unicorn to a phoenix. Kids still give the index-finger-to-the-forehead salute to each other in solidarity with their past unicorn-y days. I suspected the unicorn was too "gay" a symbol, and that some folk wanted to de-rainbow CAPA's image a bit by picking a more "macho" mascot. I mean, phoenixes burst into flame. Anything associated with fire has a bit more manly panache than a mythical creature only accessible to virgins. (Sorry-- but that's the story. Don't believe me? Check it out: Unicorns and Virgins) For that reason, I was disappointed in the change...but lately, I've been feeling much more inclined toward the phoenix.
Why? Because the Pittsburgh Public Schools are going to have to rise from the ashes of our Governor's policies to continue to excel. Something needs to finally scorch some damn sense into the general public to turn them into a Wisconsin-style mob on the front lines, soldiers protecting their children's right to a great education. Because like a shrieking bird of prey ON FIRE, outrage needs to flow throughout the state's plumbers, housewives, EMT workers, garbage collectors, teacher's aides and all other ordinary citizens, turning them into marching, voting, screaming, occupying, sit-in-ing, representative-calling, activated advocates for education against the insanity of the Corporate Corbett regime..ESPECIALLY in the Republican-voting "T" middle section of our state not-so-affectionately referred to by Pittsburghers and Philadelphians as "Pennsyltucky."
Today the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's article outlining Corbett's proposed BILLION dollar give-away to oil and fracking interests in the wake of his BILLION dollar cuts to education in Pennsylvania is the best thing that could have happened. (Check it out: Post-Gazette 6/5/2012 Billion Tax Break for Shell )Who could possibly miss this Governor's true interests now? Oh-- let me tell you-- plenty of people. LOTS of misguided folk, with little to no interest in the public welfare, and even less in public education-- that is, those who will profit by the continued effort to privatize public education, break the teachers' unions and make money from the burgeoning prison profiteering movement, among many other things. And those who blindly vote Republican. And those who blame immigrants, poor people, etc. for the worlds' ills. Those who want to stick it to the fat-cat teachers and their paid vacations, union salaries and lazy ways.
Do I sound bitter? I am. Let's make the political personal. I am not the only one who feels about ready to explode in flames about the war on education in America. I became a Librarian with all my heart. I was molded to the Gospel of School Libraries and the good work to be done there, although certainly I couldn't do this work if I wasn't born for it. I have given my literal soul to doing my job well, and in the process, I have helped kids who hated to read find books they love, turned as many lessons into celebrations of childrens' beautiful artistic, intellectual, spiritual and creative selves as I possibly could, braved angry colleagues as I challenged things I felt could be done differently and better, emailed and called a million parents about their kids' behavior, good, bad and especially indifferent, sweated and hurt myself as I schlepped thousands of boxes of people's old books to Used Book Sales to earn money for new books for my library, gotten into grave trouble with supervisors advocating for kids and services to those kids, neglected my personal children because of the outpouring of love, attention and physical energy necessary at work, tried to make magic-- literal magic-- for my students, sometimes 800 strong in single year. This is a tenth of what my job requires-- and this, my friends, is what teachers do every. damn. day.
So, yes, I am bitter that this profession- one for which a person is born, not made, that demands one sacrifice the richer salary, benefits and personal glory available to other professions--so one can teach first-graders how to tie their shoes, say thank you, say "please," teach parents that their adolescent IS different at school than at home, impose limits, demand excellence-- is under attack by the oligarchy that our country has become. I am angry that my friend Kari, a brilliant math teacher, for whom middle school students use their last few cents to buy presents at the Used Book Sale, who coaches sports and cheerleading and does administrative duty on command-- is furloughed now and will have to look out of state for employment. Oh, wait-- there are no teaching jobs. Anywhere. But there continue to be plenty of children who need people who love them-- who can teach them math-- and who invest in them everyday.
FLAMES. They should burn in our hearts. We have to fight against this war on our kids. NOW. And send Corporate Corbett and his buddies in search of the long-extinct, mythical unicorn in the Land of You're-Over. The good news is that, like Katniss in Mockinjay, by Suzanne Collins says, "Fire is catching!" And parents are starting to organize. I daily read the wonderful blog of Jessie B. Ramey, Ph.D, mother of two Pittsburgh Public School students.This blog, I've decided, is required reading for education advocates. Yinzercation is gaining followers and notoriety, and has been noted and quoted by national and international press. Read it. March. Teach your kids about the cuts happening now. Watch the Upper Darby videos I've linked to, below. All of the beauty of students engaged in gym, music, library, art, marching band-- the beauty of talent and hard work and community and effort and lessons such as: sacrifice pays off, others can be learned from/especially if they are different from you, turning frustration, fear, anger, boredom, aggression, ambition into art-- all of this will be LOST if the Upper Darby system has to follow through because of Corbett's cuts and eliminate ALL of the specials it offers. This is coming to a school district near you. And if you aren't frightened by the specter of poorer kids than yours missing their library, art, gym and music at school, you will be. Because the streets you, your kids and your elderly parents walk on will be filled with those same kids when they haven't learned the lessons arts teach. What happens to a dream deferred? It explodes.
Save Upper Darby Arts
Upper Darby Drum Line
Public Education Under Attack