As we head toward another school year, Philadelphia public schools may not open on time because of a lack of money. Allentown as well as Philadelphia has laid off hundreds of teachers and other public school staff due to insufficient funds.
When it comes to our children’s education, we just check the box. It’s time to look, think and act outside the box. I want to suggest that we focus on pedagogy, the science and art of education or how we learn and how we teach! Of course, we then must look at the real costs of educating a child.
Special needs children come with many different strengths and challenges. Some have physical and/or learning issues. Others who are labeled as “developmentally delayed” are often identified with very low expectations. My niece Rebecca is now a special needs adult and developmentally delayed. Over the years, as I have communicated with her and looked into her eyes, I have seen a certain sense of understanding that I do not believe all of her teachers realized or took the time to nurture and develop.
During my years as a community organizer and as a consultant to non-profits, I have had the opportunity to work with out of school youth and with young people who are considered mentally gifted and with young people just making it in our public school system and everyone in between. There are some common ways all young people learn. There are some unique learning characteristics for each of our children. We need the public will to understand the spectrum of learning and the capacity to adapt how we teach.
Every school year the focus is “structural reform.” Centralization and decentralization and school committees and regions and strategic partnerships and magnet schools and charter schools. It is time our politicians and education leaders engage in a public conversation centering on pedagogy. Teaching and learning should lead the way not structural reform.
Now let’s talk about money. If we are really committed to providing the best education possible to every child, what would it mean? Here is our present reality. In Allentown, we spend a little over $6,000 per child annually on education, one of the lowest in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, e spend a little over $14,000. In some of the suburbs of Philadelphia, we spend over $24,000 per child. The formula is always based on property taxes. It should be based on the real costs of educating each child. This would mean a dedicated funding stream from all levels of government. We would all have to abide by a “costing out study” which should be driven by a public conversation on pedagogy.
I know people will say this can never happen in our economic and political system. Many people said the same thing at one time about child labor laws and voting rights and health care. We must have a vision for our children. Gil Scott Heron, a great musician and artist, wrote and sang “Save the children.”
“We got to do something to save the children. Soon it will be there turn to try and save the world.”