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May 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 8

Save Our Schools?

    Instructional StrategiesInstructional Strategies
      This year, I was supposed to start my freshman year at Whitney Young Magnet High School. I got psyched up all summer. I was excited about starting high school and playing in the orchestra. Music is one thing I like about school. It gets me through the long, boring day.
      School opened two weeks late, and unfortunately, our school didn't get enough money. The shortfall caused cuts in programs, including our award-winning orchestra and the positions of some of our best teachers. My science lab period was cut, as was almost every class considered nonbasic, like art.
      State funding problems regularly bring our school system to the brink of collapse. This past year, the main slogan I heard at street rallies was, “Save our schools.”
      The idea of simply saving schools troubles me. Saving them as they exist seems like a bad, if not impossible, plan. The status quo is the last thing we need to preserve. Most students are not succeeding in Chicago's schools.
      I have some idea about why. On the first day of school, instead of being warmly welcomed, I was sternly warned about breaking any of 28 rules and regulations. In most of my classes, teachers delivered long, boring lectures or had us memorize in preparation for tests.
      We are also discouraged from ever questioning the textbook or teachers. Once, outside my history classroom, I told a friend that I objected to a reference in our textbook, which called Native Americans “savages.” My teacher overheard me and told the whole class that I was “judgmental.”
      Why save classrooms that discourage student involvement? That seat students in assembly-line rows to be lectured at and tested? Where, if we question, we are put down. Where, if we need more help, we are put in special ed or fall through the cracks and drop out.
      Now, halfway through the school year, there are some signs of hope. The orchestra has been reconstituted, and our great orchestra teacher has been rehired.
      But the best I can hope for is keeping the status quo. So, to return to the original question, can our schools be saved? I honestly don't think so, but even if they can be, saving what we have isn't good enough for me.

      Amanda Klonsky has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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