Herb Paine: Literacy And Larceny In Public Education

Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 5:05am
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I’ve been reading to 3rd graders in a Title I school (so-called because the kids there are deemed “at-risk” because most of them are low-income) because, the truth be known, we still have separate and unequal education. 

I read to children for whom 30 minutes of reading is a special gift, because research shows that kids at these schools are less likely to be read to at home. I tell the boys and girls how I love to read, how books are gateways to new worlds. I read them stories that have to do with giving and dreaming and new frontiers of possibility. 

But we do not discuss the roadblocks they will encounter in fulfilling their dreams. They are the faces of innocence. Their inquisitiveness and eagerness at the age of 10 are too pure for me to sting with the truths of Arizona politics.

These children have no less potential to thrive than their counterparts in wealthier districts. It’s just that our policymakers have played schoolyard games with their future. Games like “hide the money and seek short-term fixes to long-term problems."

So, I leave their classroom every Friday morning, angry that their pockets are being picked, their futures being robbed by characters in a very different storybook called state government. Where men and women who should know better develop their own fictions to justify acts of political pick-pocketing, who wittingly rob Peter to pay Paul and shortchange these kids.

The latest example of such shenanigans is the proposal to draw nearly $2 billion from the State Land Trust Fund to compensate for government’s chronic failure to pay the price of decent education for all Arizona’s children. What has taken decades to erode will not be undone with quick fixes that evaporate after five years.

The notion is a cynical abdication of responsibility that does little to elevate Arizona from its bottom rankings and only kicks the education can further down the road. 

In the face of such failure and the enormous human price we will pay for such neglect, I am left to wonder how those who govern can sleep at night. 

Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant and social critic.

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