I’m starting on a possibly Quixotic campaign to sell the Durham community on the idea of spending as much as necessary to raise our public schools to “world-class” level. As an introduction to a discussion of what that really means, and how we might go about selling it, I’d like to talk about some basics. Like, why do I care? (And why should you care?)
Actually, schools are just part of the picture, though a big part. “The picture” is really my vision of the kind of community – and world – I would like to live in, and this campaign seems just one route, but a possible one, toward realizing that vision.
I’d like to live in a community where people are safe, healthy and well-informed, where they feel equal (even if they don’t have the same amount of money), because they know they are treated equally (in health care, courts, job opportunity) and they have had equal opportunity (meaning an excellent education from pre-K through 12).
And I believe that education is a key to all the rest: If every child is prepared adequately for each grade level (with extra tutoring when needed, excellent teachers, and community support to deal with family problems), and no child is allowed to fall behind (even if not all advance at the same pace) or to drop out, and almost every child graduates, ready for the next stage, then we would drastically reduce all sorts of social problems. There would be few unemployables, few gangs, less crime. There would be little waste of talent – unlike today, when about 20 percent fail to complete high school. (Think how many of that 20 percent might have become doctors, engineers, teachers, computer pros.)
Yes, my vision would also require improvements in other parts of society, but improving the schools would get us well started toward the vision.
I always read every proposal for social change, and every campaign promise of a candidate, with one question in mind: If implemented, would this move the community closer to my vision – or not? (How about your candidates? Will their programs move us toward your ideal world, or not?)
If we want to improve our Durham schools, it makes sense to start at the earliest age. As I said above, every child should be prepared for each grade. This means that, since many disadvantaged children are not ready for regular school, we need a well-funded universal pre-K program, so that every child entering kindergarten is ready. And then we need to be sure that kindergarten is well structured and excellently staffed so that every child is ready for first grade. (It is my understanding that, as things are now, many children are already behind when they start first grade.)
And then we need to continue the process year by year. To accomplish this, we need – of course – enough excellent teachers (well paid and treated as professionals), but also arrangements for social workers and other professionals to work with parents, if home situations are making it hard for children to do well in school.
I’m hoping a coalition of Durham civic groups will endorse a campaign to make this a reality, to convince local leaders that the community will support the extra costs involved. I believe that over the years, a project such as this will save so many social costs – crime, addiction, unemployment – that the net cost might be close to zero. And we would all live in a much happier, healthier community.
And that’s why I hope Durham will commit to raising our schools to world-class level. Tell me how you think we can make it happen.
Longtime Durham resident Christopher Sanford, retired, feels he cannot delay any longer getting involved in the vital issue of Durham’s education.