By Ruth Gadebusch
It is the presidential election grabbing most of the spotlight this fall; however, there are a number of other matters that we ignore at our peril. There are state legislative and executive offices as well as congressional, including a senator. In Fresno, the mayoral election is not likely to be overlooked but there are also what we know as down ballot: candidates for lesser known posts and California’s seemingly ever growing list of propositions, a few bond issues and on and on.
Actually, that mayoral election is a moot point for many of us in so far as casting a vote is concerned. We live in what is known as unincorporated county islands surrounded by the city boundaries. Need I point out that we are deeply affected by the city’s actions, arguably affecting us more than that ever so important presidential election? Once again, I ask, what is the resistance to joining the city? Most of the reasons once given for remaining outside have been resolved. It is time for action.
In much of the area, there are school board elections that deserve far more attention than generally allotted. Let us not lose them in all the hullabaloo of the presidential election. Let us give the office of School Board Trustee all the attention that it deserves. At the same time let us not expect miracles of either the board members or the district’s employees, be they the teachers in the classroom or all those behind the scenes people. It has evolved far beyond the simple operation that so many on the outside seem to think.
We no longer give the deference to teachers that was once accorded them. Yet, arguably, it is still the most important of all responsibilities outside the home. Let us remember that educators work with what we send them. When they fail to deliver all that we expect it is not because they do not care enough. Just as we parents often fail to get the results we aimed for, they too do not have a magic wand. We all work with unique circumstances.
In this nation built on the idea of equal opportunity, education for all, we are aware that we are far from the ideal and are quick to criticize the schools. All this is to establish my advocacy for starting at the beginning of life. How can we not understand that no teacher, no matter how proficient, can overcome the missing parts of early development? There is more than ample evidence that child development begins in the womb. Why do we continue to let so many miss out on that development due to lack of knowledge and opportunity? I refer to every aspect of development: physical care and learning experiences of reading and exposure to such opportunities in our culture. How do we expect the teacher in a few months to bring a child denied such to the same level as those who have had such experiences all their lives?
It isn’t that “those people over there somewhere” don’t care. It is that poverty keeps them so busy providing for the basics that even when they are aware of needs they are unable to expose the child to enrichment. I mean such normal activities as swimming for the more financially secure are not available to those with less. I noted early this past summer when the public pools were first opened access was fee-based, albeit limited. For the poor, even small amounts add up rapidly. Many of our parks are fee-based making them completely out of reach for so many citizens. Much of Fresno’s imbalance of parks is due to the ability of one group with financial resources to assess special taxes to build parks; or a new development including parks because they entice buyers. Thus, older areas may be shortchanged.
The simple everyday things that many of us take for granted, the experiences necessary for full development, contribute to the failings of the schools to produce those desired test scores. Community is very complex.
To some, I seem to have digressed from the subject of this fall’s politics, but these conditions are the ultimate consideration when we cast our votes. The government, no matter which level, does not exist in a vacuum. Nor should it be as partisan as it has become. Casting a vote is a responsibility that deserves serious thinking for we will all live the results far beyond this immediate time. It should not be an us and them situation for we share the area, the state, the nation and, yes, the world beyond.
Voting has consequences. It is our privilege. It is our responsibility. Be assured that one vote has made a difference and will again in many elections. Never, ever say it doesn’t matter because it does. Study those issues, listen to the candidates and then cast your vote in the direction of opportunity, of justice for all.
Ruth Gadebusch is a naval veteran, now a community activist, a former member of the Fresno School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.