Monday, May 28, 2007

Why public schools are shameful

We watched Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tonight. I don't know that it was a particularly well-done movie, but its point was certainly incontrovertible and impossible to argue with. Impossible with which to argue, I guess. I'm not sure where you can go with that kind of story--the villains are clearly the villains, the dispossessed clearly the dispossessed. The whole thing makes you feel unbearably sad and in utter despair. In utter despair because there is absolutely nothing you can do except keep that story alive as an example of earthshattering injustice.

I did get to the end of the movie, though, feeling vaguely like Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies: "Jed, you cain't trust those guv'mint men, them revenuers." There are so many people in this country who don't trust their government, in ways big and small, rational and irrational. I am among them. My own upbringing in Northern New England gave me that back of the mind feeling of suspicion when dealing with the government--social programs are wonderful (sometimes), but the very method of our government makes them false promises. There are excellent reasons not to trust the government. The charlatan U.S. Senator in the movie, who seems at points to be balancing a genuine desire to help the Indians with his own need to hang onto power & compromise with his colleagues, issues a classic line as the Indians walk away from the reservation's bargaining table: "I can't guarantee that price in six months because there's going to be a new Congress." And what really is courage in Congress, anyway? It doesn't exist--it's all for show--the Democrats are still kowtowing to GW the school yard bully.

When Robert entered a government (county/state) preschool program for children with disabilities, I had that naggling feeling of what am I doing turning him over to the government, you can't trust them, they won't have his best interests at heart. Of course they don't. Despite various victories, I'm still deeply resentful of everything that was done TO Robert--like I should be grateful they provided him with a dry erase board and a marker as a communication system? The school system purposefully screwed him over for years, denying him a proper education and appropriate access to communication, hoping we'd just give up or enough time would pass that it would be too late to educate him.

Yeah, I'd like a blanket without holes for him, as well as a full ration of grain. I try to go show up at the school from time to time because it's in the best interests of my daughter--but if I had the money to get her away from our vaunted Montgomery County Public Schools, I sure would. None of them give a good goddamn about my son, despite occasionally putting on a good show--which makes me understand that they could really give a crap about my daughter, either.

But this is Montgomery County, Maryland, where the county council will probably tell the commercial developers next year that it's just fine to put a shopping complex where my kids' school is--the kids can be on the second story--with boutiques selling $300 t-shirts on the first floor, and luxury condos on the second floor.

The Supreme Court decision giving the parents of special education children the right to represent their children's interests in court without a lawyer is both a victory and a defeat. The public school lobbies have been trying to prevent parents from adjudicating their IEPs by insisting that only the child can represent his or her own interests in court (yeah, right, a disabled five-year-old), and that if parents want to complain about the kid's IEP, they have to get a lawyer. Which, of course, prevents the majority of special ed parents from adjudicating anything because they can't afford a lawyer. Our public school system hard at work, defending the rights of its constituents. But, in reality, what parent is really going to understand the law on their own? We know what isn't right and what isn't fair, but our legal system isn't about what's right and what's fair. Our legal system is about who's got the most money and who can best manipulate the rules to their advantage. So letting the parents of special ed kids go to court without a lawyer is kind of like a battle front where some people have cannons and some people have pistols. The public schools in this country have cannons. And they're not afraid to fire them at the system's poorest and most vulnerable children.

I'm about ready to move to Idaho and live in the paranoid counter-culture up there.

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