By Ruth Gadebusch
Of all the services that government provides, public schools are at the top of my list. Everything else depends on education. We educate to develop an appreciation of how a democracy functions, not just to benefit the individual. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what was and never will be.”
Everyone has an opinion about how the system should function. With a diverse population that makes for a challenging situation because each child, even within the same family, has a different need. One size does not fit all. Nor do we channel anyone into a specific direction at an early age.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, many ways are provided to increase quality of life in our various “Special Education” programs for those with limited ability. I know of no other nation that makes as strong an effort to reach all children.
This is not to say that all the efforts are successful because there will always be differences of opinion in goals and their accomplishment; however, I contend that, despite the shortfalls, the system is more successful than any other. I often point out that our public school system is the one institution in this vast land with its diverse population designed to develop commonality.
Believing that public funds are for public uses, I am a 100% believer in the system and inalterably opposed to charter schools. We can ill afford the teaching of narrow views, be they religious or otherwise not part of a cohesive nation. Though not charter, private schools—professing to be for educational purposes, not religion or race—abounded in our American South following the desegregation court decision. Although there are still vestiges of such schools, they are not in the numbers immediately following that court ruling.
Lest we think such prejudice exists only in the South, look back regarding initiation of the Fresno desegregation program. I believe it is more than coincidence that many schools formed then no longer exist. Never has a system done more preparation for an impending change. Although integration still waits, the goal was correct. Nor should it have brought the exodus to that district on the east and north of Fresno. Likewise, any difference in the quality of the education between the two districts is exaggerated.
Public schools in the United States largely began in religious settings. As the nation evolved, the value of education for all was recognized and communities took over the responsibility. The schools were somewhat elitist and held in high esteem. Criticism so prevalent now began when schools were asked to implement some of the high ideals of the society that found talk easier than action.
Arguably, the most profound example was the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education requiring a change in the near sacred neighborhood school setup eventually bringing the above–mentioned Fresno plan. Of all government agencies, schools are the closest to our hearts because our children are the dearest things in our lives. Therefore, we get excited when education gets unfavorable headlines.
Fresno Unified is not immune. School financing is extraordinarily complex as well as always insufficient for the need, so it is not unusual for a losing bidder to question the process as happened recently. What is surprising is the board response with several of the members appearing to have difficulty receiving full information. Board members often disagree on decisions made from the information but that is the nature of a board. No one not privy to the closed sessions can be sure of what actually happened, but it does appear there is room for concern.
I have not heard any board member, or the superintendent, refute the statements of three members that they cannot get requested subjects on the public agenda. Normal procedure is for any board member’s agenda request to be honored where those who object to the issue can vote no. The superintendent as an employee of the district provides information. Most disturbing of all is the assertion that the district’s attorneys were not given honest, reliable information for the defense.
We, the citizens, cannot know the dynamics of the board and the superintendent but from our view it does not look good. It behooves us to observe closely and recruit and vote for candidates accordingly.
Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.