My last column caused quite a stir and elicited a number of responses. Many readers agreed with me, but there were also plenty of detractors who took issue with my assessment that the public education system in Montgomery is severely underfunded and in dire straits if we don’t provide the adequate dollars needed to educate the future of Montgomery.
I’m by no means an expert on education, but I have been in several of the public schools over the last few years, including spending time at Vaughn Road Elementary and teaching Jeff Davis sophomores the process of applying for college grants.
Sure, I saw kids who didn’t give a damn about school and I’ve watched as teachers’ grade 10th grade homework that my elementary school daughter could do. I have also visited schools that didn’t have working heat and visited classrooms where students shared textbooks that couldn’t be brought home – not very conducive to learning.
I have had conversations with students still managing to hold onto the ideals of a better future, eager to learn of ways to apply and afford a college education. Plenty of these children do exist and we are failing them.
What I didn’t see at either of these public schools, both of which I attended for my education, were white students.
Lots of the feedback I received mentioned the lack of parental involvement and I couldn’t agree more, it’s a legitimate concern. But we can’t just assume all of these parents don’t give a damn and we can’t legislate parenting. I can only imagine the difficulties some of these parents face, but maybe with some help and encouragement along with educating the parent on the importance of their contribution a difference could be made. It isn’t a child’s fault their parent doesn’t know or isn’t willing to take the necessary steps to ensure them a proper education.
I had one reader call me a bigot, although he obviously didn’t understand the definition of the word; another who was upset students received free lunch and several who don’t trust the school board with their tax dollars.
Other readers made some very astute observations that I’d like to share.
"One problem than can’t be fixed with money is the ongoing intellectual segregation inherent in our magnet school program. Unlike other comparably-sized cities, such as Roanoke Virginia, where magnet programs exist inside regular secondary schools, Montgomery incubates its top talent in standalone magnet schools. As you already pointed out, our burgeoning private school system siphons off a considerable portion of middle and upper-income students. Your mention of Park Crossing is a perfect example. Blount Elementary is a high-performing school and East Montgomery parents fight to securely ensconce themselves within the boundaries it serves. But the outlook worsens after elementary school when the magnet programs enter the picture. These schools lay claim to the best and brightest students in the area, robbing regular schools of their student leadership cadre.
"If students with great leadership potential are incubated, they will be hard-pressed to exercise this leadership in the real world, once their education is complete. Worse, the vacuum created by removing top-performing students from the general population will be filled with pernicious influences such as drugs and gang activity. By contrast, if students are given the opportunity to develop and practice leadership in a truly diverse student body, they will have the skills and perspective needed to serve their fellows far into the future. Reform within Montgomery schools must remedy the shortsightedness of the current magnet system, which rewards academic achievement with elitist protection at the expense of the welfare of the general population."
Another reader wrote:
"We shot ourselves in the foot, then the stomach and finally the head since 1969+/- when integration began in full measure. We have been racist idiots later followed by short-sighted and selfish folks all of whom don't realize what their inaction has done not just to our school system but to the entire City.
"With "white flight" everything fell apart. Fast at first then slow like a cancer. All of the money, power and influence went instead into the private school fiefdoms.
"I have 4 kids who I told do not come back to Montgomery. None of them did so."
Merry Christmas to all. I’ll be back in two weeks with more to say, focusing on the Magnet program and the encouraging news of Montgomery’s first charter school system. Until then, have a Happy New Year and remember not to drink and drive.