Sing Children--While You Can

     THE CHILDREN sang, but I seethed.
     At my grade school's final assembly of the year, the choir performed three wonderful songs, "I Believe in Music," "My America," and "Bright Happy Day," often with intricate counterpoint and harmony. Amazing!
     The loveliness of the music, expressing so eloquently the beauty of the children singing it -- American kids of myriad races, creeds and backgrounds, so full of naive joy and hope -- was enough to bring anyone with a warm heart to tears.
     Yes, tears of immense gratitude; but also tears of blind rage. You see, as those priceless children, jewels all, sang their own warm hearts out, so many adults in this nation were at that very moment conspiring against them.
     Take U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, for instance.
     At his request (Oh, the irony!), the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) had reviewed the best educational programs in the world. Its damning conclusion: Duncan's blueprint for education reform had been, at best, a monumental waste of precious time and money.
     While Duncan had been touting shortsighted quick fixes such as high-stakes standardized testing, merit pay, vouchers and charter schools -- guided in defiance of all research by a business/competition ideology -- nations such as Finland, whose schools currently rank first in the world, had implemented much more common-sensical, forward-thinking even revolutionary strategies.
     Most importantly, leading nations had recognized how an educational system can never be any better than its teachers, and so had transformed their teaching professions into one of the most competitive and prestigious. (Finland recruits its teachers from the top 10th percentile of college graduates; the United States from the bottom 30th.)      Then, Finland and others had distributed their teachers and funding equitably to all schools and communities.
     They'd eschewed once-a-year fill-in-the-bubble testing in favor of broader (including science, social studies and the arts) less frequent evaluation, focusing on in-depth knowledge and the ability to apply it creatively.
     And they'd discarded an archaic age-grouped assembly-line approach to education.
     True to form, however, Duncan merely gave lip service to the NCEE report, then called for Congress to reauthorize a revised version of No Child Left Behind.
     In other words, he chose more of the same, but with some adjustments. He thus doomed the United States to fall even more swiftly from its already precarious eminence.
     Arne Duncan betrayed the kids in that choir -- again.
     Oh, but he was hardly alone.
     Banks continued to foreclose on their parents, corporations to send their future jobs oversees and the hidden oligarchy of the nation's giga-rich to diminish their hope for a middle-class life.
     Meanwhile, Republicans nationwide, clinging so tenaciously to their no-taxes-except-for-war/lower-taxes-for-the-rich ideology, were at that moment arguing for catastrophic cuts in schools everywhere, as well as the evisceration of unions and environmental protections.
     Will my school even have a choir next year? Will more than just a few of the youthful singers be able to afford college? Or a home, for that matter? What kind of contaminated world will they inherit? Will there be any Social Security or Medicare for them when they retire? (If they can retire.)
     For the first time in this nation's history, the kids in the choir could expect to live fewer years and at a lower standard of living than their parents.
    I wish all the powerful people in this nation -- who, because of their unbridled greed, thoughtless ideology or inexcusable cowardice, were betraying the next generation of Americans -- had been required to stand by me that morning as my school's choir sang.
     But, no, like the pilots of the B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War, they didn't have to look into their victims' innocent eyes.
     Sing children, I thought. Sing of your oh-so fleeting "Bright Happy Day," and of the "My America," which long ago ceased to be anything more than a legend.
     Yes, sing -- while you still can.

Published July 4th, 2011, in The Argus and The Daily Review (Bay Area News Group)

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