Admit It: You Couldn’t Care Less About Philly Public Schools

Think you'd notice if the whole district shut down?

Last week, fellow Philly Post contributor Victor Fiorillo and I blogged about Joe Paterno’s death. We dared to come down on the side that the sky is not blue and white because God is a Penn State fan; therefore, flags shouldn’t fly at half mast for Paterno, and Penn State enthusiasts could do better to be a little more sensitive to the living victims of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse. Both pieces were popular; Fiorillo’s “Joe Paterno Wasn’t a Hero,” more than mine. They’re still racking up the Facebook recommendations, but I was the bigger blasphemer because I’m a Penn State alumnae.

In the meantime, there were also posts about the Philadelphia School District’s budget plight, and about the catastrophe that is public education in general. It’s all really, really bad, yet, by the barometers that measure blog popularity—comments and social media recommendations—these pieces were a big yawn. Joel Mathis’s poignant and important post about the district’s cuts scaring off quality young professionals with little kids only had two commenters and 15 Facebook recommendations. My post two weeks ago, “1+1=3,” a narrative about teaching ninth graders who got to ninth grade believing that there are nine months in a year, and that 100 multiplied by 12 is “a lot,” got no comments and 25 recommendations, but most of those were my own teacher friends.

Shouldn’t the financial bankruptcy of public schools be the last straw? You don’t even have to pretend to care about kids to be furious; what about how much we personally pay to fund this circus? This is not a rhetorical question; it’s for real: Where is all of the money going? Go ahead and take a shot at teachers’ unions. That’s okay with me. Get it out of your system that “those damn teachers get their summers off, but want to be paid for year-round work.” People feel entitled to dis teachers, mostly because of the summer thing, but if public schools were an episode of The Sopranos, teachers would be on the other end of the pay phone when the call came in to “dig the hole.” Click.

Citizens should be foaming at the mouth that teachers in our so-called first-world country worked without paychecks in Chester-Upland. Teachers are not missionaries or volunteers. How many of us would willingly go to work for no compensation? We should be storming the Bastille about a lot of things, like the fact that students can and do curse at and threaten teachers and fellow students in public schools and somehow it’s the school’s responsibility to figure out “appropriate placement” for them so he/she is not deprived of his/her “entitlement” to public education, or that school administrators receive golden parachutes as if they work for Fortune 500 Companies when they are actually public servants. None of this is cheap, nor has any of it benefitted students one bit.

You don’t have to be an economist to notice that just as the recession has socio-economically hit from the middle to the bottom, so has it hit public schools. The list of Pennsylvania schools that are out of, or are almost out of, cash reflects this—Chester, Allentown, York, Philadelphia, to name a few—and it’s not because people in those communities aren’t paying their taxes. Wealthier districts should think again if they think they’re immune. It’s possible that school districts will start closing or merging. Even if the schools are out of money and gone, it doesn’t mean the students will disappear too; they’ll have to go somewhere.

In the middle of it all, it’s a very fair question for us to ask why it’s costing a hell of a lot of money to pump out a generation that isn’t prepared for much, and yet are disillusioned enough to think that minimum wage jobs are beneath them. We can hardly blame them though because we’re the ones in charge. We should know better, but what are we doing? Jumping up and down about whether or not Joe Paterno should or shouldn’t be buried like a head of state.

As the kids would say, our priorities are “mad whack.” Are we’re so burned out on corruption and failure that if Philadelphia public schools closed, it’s possible that no one would even notice?