an override save our schools?
High/Byline Ryan Galer
Thursday, May 25, 2007
Editor's Note: This column was written before the May 22 special
the City of Newburyport voted in a special election about the tax override.
This was my first vote ever, over an issue dear to my heart, constantly
in the forefront of my mind; therefore, it had special meaning to me,
and the decision was not easy. My increasingly frustrating experience
from kindergarten through twelfth grade has led me to question our system
of education, not only in Newburyport, but also throughout the rest
of America. I have observed and discussed with my friends and family
their educations and schooling (which, sadly, are often unrelated),
leaving me with impressions of how school systems affect diverse persons.
My younger sister still has five years left in the Newburyport schools,
so I feel particular concern for her future. With all this in mind,
it was difficult to make my decision, while balancing my principles
A few years ago, I would have supported this tax override unquestionably.
I once thought that if only the schools had more money, they would be
great, rather than just alright. Some time during my junior year of
high school, I realized that having few real choices and being bored
much of the time was not for me. Still, I thought that we needed money
for change. Finally, through reading, writing, thinking about, and continuously
facing the day-to-day drag of school life, I discovered the blunt truth
of the matter: we've been paying to reform schools for years, spending
lots of money, and nothing has really changed. No amount of money alone
will ever change a broken system.
Besides my general attitude towards schooling, I have some other less
obvious reasons for not supporting the override. When the "Yes
for Newburyport" pamphlet appeared in my mailbox, I tried to read
it over, and then was distracted by charts of MCAS scores. While these
tests might provide an easy way to measure student "progress,"
as a high scoring soon-to-be-alumnus, I can assure readers that MCAS
scores have little to do with learning, let alone freethinking and happiness.
I also understand the plea of elderly people. I am not one to judge
whether they can afford the override; that is not my business. However,
I do wonder, what reasons do they have to support it? They do not have
children in the schools, nor do they interact much with students. Why
can't school resources be for everyone? How much do schools offer to
senior citizens? While the Newburyport Adult Ed program exists, even
that is not an opportunity for senior citizens and teenagers to enjoy
learning together. Our community is splintered, and no amount of money
can fix that. We need fewer locked doors and more interaction between
ages, so that we can understand each other and support everyone's wants
and needs. Perhaps we could even learn more history from our elders
than from a book. I know my knowledge of the past is certainly enhanced
when my relatives talk about their youth.
Yet despite these arguments, I think of my sister and her friends, and
I want them to get more from their education than I did- not less. I
feel fear knowing some of the subjects that made my school years worthwhile
will receive serious cuts. My favorite has always been Spanish, although
this class only became challenging enough for me during my senior year,
thanks to a passionate teacher. Thus, I am lamenting the impending cuts
to the foreign language program. In addition, it hurts me to see French
eliminated, because while I have never taken the class, I love the language,
especially its music and literature. (For those more pragmatic, French
is also the official language of forty-one countries.) Finally, while
I have not focused on the arts myself during school, I know that many
of my friends have found them to be their most worthwhile experience
at NHS. Complementing athletics, the arts bring life to our school.
In a recent interview I had with Superintendent Dr. Lyons, he constantly
emphasized the importance of critical thinking. I agree with his assertion,
for thinking is probably my greatest academic strength. Paideia seminars
over controversial issues and difficult texts have definitely helped
me to develop this skill. As Dr. Lyons and I discussed my English classes,
he seemed quite excited to hear that seminars are happening, even leaving
lasting impressions. If the override does not pass, Socratic seminars
will become very difficult as class sizes grow. Often the best discussions
I have are one on one or in a small group; thus I cannot imagine a seminar
with thirty kids, which would leave each kid three minutes to speak
in an hour and a half class.
If we expect our school system to create an informed citizenry of critical
thinkers, we must first think and debate critically among ourselves
how to do that. Nevertheless, how many people will consider whether
they actually support the deeply rooted reasons for our education system's
existence? Until all students, parents, teachers, and politicians rethink
the purpose of schooling and its place in society, if any, we will never
create an adequate means of education for the American people.
Last Tuesday's vote was not the end, but merely the prologue. We have
not even begun to identify the fundamental flaws of our education system.
Do not consider your civic duty performed just because you voted yes
or no. Do not forget about the schools. Citizenship is about thinking
critically and making real choices, not deciding between two unacceptable
offerings. Whether the override passed or not, please do not think the
school's problems are solved. Our efforts after the vote must demonstrate
true commitment to radically changing our schools. I pledge to continue
my efforts in that direction and I hope my readers will, too. The futures
of our children and our world are at stake.
Galer is a student at Newburyport High School, to be graduated with
the Class of 2007. Other related articles are archived on Comity.org
website can be found at this link