I confess I'm a bit proud of my Journal-Sentinel column from a few days ago. Not the writing, since I have yet to read it start to finish in published form (Why? Because a part of me is afraid it sucks and was published out of pity. I'm a nutjob.)
Instead it's the reaction that brings a smile to my face. I've received nine emails that run the gamut of the profession: teachers, parents, a high school principal, and even a PHD from a Virginia based educational think-tank.
All the letters were positive and most were chock full of 'additional reading' suggestions, links to educational theories and articles, and full out discussions of possible solutions. If I had a mind to I could consume the better part of a week just skimming the information they provided, and maybe I better; two of the letters suggested I do a follow-up piece down the road.
I did take the Journal to task for chopping out one line critical of the School Board member in the piece. His comments about the citizens of my neighborhood are inflammatory and deserve a column-long rebuttal of their own. I also included some suggestions for improving the Community Columnist process.
In response I got a 572 word letter from the editor (yes I counted the words, which finish at 72 more than my own article). In it she explained the decision about the edit was not based on politics but on length, and went on to discuss a whole lot more. The highlight of the letter is her belief that the one year term for the job will be expanded to somewhere between a 14 to 16 month commitment and that the frequency of publication will increase.
Which is good news, no?
For posterity, here's the text of the column:
What's the problem at MPS?
By Daniel Slap----
Posted: Feb. 18, 2009
Recently, I heard a radio ad promoting the safety features on Milwaukee County buses. There are, said the commercial, four camera on each bus, a silent alarm, GPS tracking and rewards for information on anyone who assaults a passenger or driver.
It was an impressive, if frightening, list. While it's probably overkill, if it prevents crime, I doubt anyone will complain. What stuck with me, however, was the general idea that drove the message: that the world is harsher, people are more wicked than ever and Milwaukee has changed.
I don't necessarily agree. Like it or not, the world is what it's always been, if not marginally better, and if people were so grand in the good ol' days, our history books wouldn't have to discuss names like Josef Stalin and Jack the Ripper.
Either way, here's what I find odd. We're very quick to blame the city's status quo for problems such as assaults on buses and the crime rate in general, but we're unwilling to even consider it when it comes to our schools. No, for Milwaukee Public Schools, it's either the buildings, the educators, the superintendent, the curriculum, federal testing requirements or the kitchen sink - you name it.
I am not a liberal, but I'm starting to think that decades of tinkering with MPS just may be a smokescreen to ignore the real problems with the system: that in the end, our schools do nothing more than reflect the nature of the city itself.
We've spent generations pretending that isn't the case. I graduated from Pulaski High School just in time to have Howard Fuller present me my diploma. You remember Fuller, right? He was the man who was going to reinvigorate the "troubled" school system and bring hope to Milwaukee.
I walked across that stage in 1992. Exactly what has changed since then? Sure, it's not all bad. Some schools have high attendance, great parental participation and students who perform well.
But that just bolsters my point. If MPS as an entity was the problem, wouldn't all schools fail? Wouldn't all students have to exert an incredible amount of self-determination and willpower just to succeed academically?
Some people, such as School Board member Terry Falk, continue to believe that fiddling is best. Falk's latest theoretical fix? Potentially scrapping K-8 schools - themselves a recent idea - in favor of grades 6-12 facilities.
Enough already. The fault lines seem clear. MPS is operating in a city with dire problems, where some geographic areas continue to prosper while others operate in a climate of poverty and crime. School performance appears often to follow those socioeconomic trends.
For the record, I'm not excusing the poor performance of students who should realize that education is a path to greater prosperity. And I don't have any bright solutions either. Except one: If we're going to keep the questionable practice of throwing money at the problem, quit wasting it on the wrong problem.
Daniel Slap--- is a Milwaukee native and the father of four