Blaming the kids for Philly school-funding crisis

DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO Until someone has a better idea of how to educate kids from tough circumstances, Ronnie says we need to pay up.
DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO Until someone has a better idea of how to educate kids from tough circumstances, Ronnie says we need to pay up.
Posted: September 05, 2013

THE SCHOOL-FUNDING crisis in Philadelphia is bringing out the vilest haters in the 14 years I've been writing this column.

These are people who traffic in venom - whether in emails and phone calls to reporters or in the despicable comments that run like a snail trail beneath our stories on Philly.com. And the worst of the haters are the ones who blame children for the sad circumstances of their lives.

Like the gutless, and typically anonymous, JohnnyB.

"If the parents did their jobs and civilized their kids so that they came to school with at least a basic education and they didn't try to kill each other," JohnnyB wrote in response to one of my columns, "the district wouldn't have to waste money on school aids, TA's [teaching assistants] and security guards."

Word to JohnnyB: Not every public-school kid is "uncivilized." I challenge you to visit any Philly public school and find a building where not one child is sweet, earnest and trying hard to please his or her teachers or family.

Still, JohnnyB has a point. Too many children in the city are, indeed, so emotionally, intellectually and/or socially neglected at home that they do, indeed, come to school unprepared to learn or to behave in a manner that allows for orderly and stimulating classroom instruction.

And if this weren't the case, it's probably true that fewer classroom aides or guards would be needed in our schools.

But so what, JohnnyB? What is your solution for kids who had no say in how they were raised, and by whom? What is your real, tangible and implementable solution, right now?

Not later. Not years down the road. But right now. Because these children need help if they're to grow into adults who are capable of "doing their job" and "civilizing" their future kids - the way JohnnyB wishes all parents would.

The truth is, it falls to public schools to level the playing field for children who are not lucky enough to be born into families in which their needs are so amply met that they hit the ground running when they begin formal education.

With enough resources, schools can and do bring these children up to speed. Perhaps not to the degree we'd hope, if family circumstances are chaotic or dire. But for these kids, their odds of succeeding in life increase exponentially with each year of quality education they receive.

To deny this to children based only on the circumstances of their birth is immoral. If JohnnyB cares to be this bloodless in his personal opinion, that's his right, I suppose.

But how have we come, as a citizenry, to hold children in contempt for the actions or inactions of their parents? How can we look at them and not see small human beings who deserve a level playing field at school - the one place where who your parents are shouldn't matter?

Philly's public schools educate the bulk of poor children in this city. They come to school with huge needs - for meals, for extra attention, for counseling and for services whose need is often not apparent until the child is evaluated by a competent, qualified teacher or administrator.

Such intervention costs money. And until someone has a better idea of how to educate kids from tough circumstances, we need to pay for it. If not because it's the right thing to do, then, at the very least, because it's a matter of enlightened self-interest.

The struggling children we marginalize today will become the adults whose burdens society will shoulder later.

Still, reader NoBs has a chilling response for that.

"Life is about responsibility - self responsibility," writes NoBs. "You have to cover your own a*s, and cover your kids as*es too. Teachers can mold kids, but they can't raise them. Parents have to raise them. People are tired of throwing money into irresponsibility. It's not the teachers' fault, it's the parents. And the bottom line is if parents are not going to be responsible, money is better spent on prisons.

"If kids parents don't care," NoBs asks, "why should the taxpayer, the city, or the state?"

Um, because the day we abandon kids simply because their "parents don't care," is the day we tell kids, "You should've done a better job picking your parents."

It's the day we cease to be human.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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