THE FORGOTTEN

3/5/03

    One of my students was thrown out of school this week.  On one level, I suppose she deserved to be thrown out.  She did very little work in any of her classes and didnít even attend school regularly.  On the other hand, itís clear that she doesnít function any better in any other area of her life, at home, at work or socially.  Given the issues she confronts daily, itís amazing to me that she ever came to school.  Iím left to wonder why she canít continue to come to school whenever she can.  Doesnít the fact that she comes at all suggest that there is still some hope alive in her soul?

    A colleague, who is one of the most caring and effective teachers I have met in the thirty-four years I have been a teacher, told me just yesterday of a boy she was tutoring at home because he had been suspended from school for disciplinary reasons.  She began her conversation with, ďThis boy is in a class for slow students simply because his parents are recently divorced and he has no one to advocate for him.  Heís new to our district and has been misplaced.Ē  She continued to described a boy who was acting out in school but who was perfectly intelligent, a boy to whom she was able to teach over a weekís worth of school work in under an hour, a boy, who for at least part of their session, was clearly enjoying the intellectual stimulation of his lesson.

    Iíve watched numbers of foreign students arrive at our schools and be put in classes for slower students when they would clearly pick up the language better if they were placed in a higher functioning class.  Iíve seen a high school class designed to help them become acculturated to our society dropped for budgetary reasons while extravagant equipment and materials are routinely purchased for our academic elite.

    I met recently with one of our most experienced Special Ed teachers who drew several concerns to my attention.  Why, she asked me, did she have to argue with her bosses for a textbook for every child in her class when our much ballyhooed science research program was given a very expensive printer on which to duplicate their presentations?  Why, she also asked, are our classes frequently interrupted to celebrate the successes of some of our elite students when little if anything is ever said about the much more heroic accomplishments of some of our young people who accomplish herculean tasks despite the horrible circumstances in which they live?

    Iím prompted to write about these generally forgotten people in our midst because of the terrible economic circumstances we find ourselves in.  Governor Pataki has proposed a 1.2 billion dollar cut in state aid to education.  Also, here in Nassau County, changes in the way the property tax burden is bourn by commercial and residential property are about to dramatically affect our ability to finance our schools by shifting a greater percentage of the tax burden on to homeowners.  This coupled with a staggering projected loss in state aid stands to make this a very difficult budget year, a year in which peopleís eyes will be on what can be cut. The forgotten students in our midst need more not less, but it is precisely programs for these sorts of students that tend to take the biggest hits when school districts are faced with the need to cut expenditures.

    As we go through this difficult budget cycle, let us agree that if we must cut back, we should cut those things which impact children the least.  Let us further agree, that if we have to cut programs for them, we cut the programs of our elite students first, knowing in so doing that while our decision to do so is regrettable, these students can best adapt to changes in their academic program. 

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