Schools and Education: Not the Same Thing

Have y'all heard about the new Ambassador Hotel cum high school in Los Angeles? Would you like to?

According to my friends at the Boston Globe (my source for all things SoCal-- the Globe grabbed the story off the AP Wire, BTW):

"With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.

The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the crème de la crème of 'Taj Mahal’ schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting architectural panache and deluxe amenities....

At Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, the features include fine art murals and a marble memorial depicting the complex’s namesake, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool, and preservation of pieces of the original hotel."

Well, that sounds pretty neat. In a way.

Let me go on record in favor of the construction and maintenance of grand social spaces replete with Diego Rivera murals (FWIW, the late painter was unavailable to help with the RFK schools). Libraries and rotundas (rotundi?) should be plentiful and made of limestone or better.

Speaking of large urban schools, I remember trips to play the Minnesota High School League Presents: Quiz Bowl! at Minneapolis North. In some of the classrooms the students' chairs appeared to consist of whatever had been dragged in from the curb. Everything wobbled. Ancient books were held together with duct tape. Tables (some of the fancier rooms had desks) were held together with duct tape.

I won't say that North was literally held together with duct tape, but there was a lot of the stuff. I like duct tape. I like how it holds my car together. I'm not such a big fan of it holding society together.

Crumbling half-assed schools send a variety of messages to students and the community. The Board of Education is broke. The Board of Education is broke because we don't have a tax base, on account of your community is broke. The Board of Education might not be broke if anyone cared about you, but, well, you know. Your community might not be broke if anyone cared about you too, but, yeah, that too. Just try not to go to other neighborhoods, lest other people call the police, okay? Also, stay in school, 'cause it's totes important to your future.

State of the art swimming pools represent an improvement. Among other things, they send a message to students and communities that they are important, and that schools are important.

Schools, education, whichever.

Call me an AFT member (I'm an AFT member), but there's something missing here.

"The pricey schools have been built during a sensitive period for the nation’s second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, and the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall, and some schools persistently rank among the nation’s lowest-performing."

I see a trend in how we address education. The trend is, well, trendy. Affluent do-gooders throw money into urban charter schools in order to feel good about themselves, or make some point about bootstraps or My Fair Lady or whatever. Colleges sink money into fancy rec centers and dorms. The US government rewards states for synergy or hopey-change or whatever.

There's more to education than trendy facilities, cutting edge business models and swimming. (What is it with you people and swimming? I didn't learn to swim until I was in my 20s, and I turned out as a perfectly happy roller skating atheistic transsexual lesbian socialist lady).

We need libraries that have decent selections of books. And are open when students (and others) wish to use them. We need teachers to do the messy, time-consuming work of teaching students. This takes money that, evidently, we don't have.

Schools and education: they're not entirely the same thing.

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