Too Broke to Pay Attention

“GINGRICH WINS BIG IN S. CAROLINA” greets me as I stumble out to grab the Sunday morning paper.

“Well, that ought to make someone happy”, I think to myself, “even if they’re not paying attention.”

It is my burden that I tend to do so.  But before we return to Gingrich though, this will get somewhat convoluted.

It was back in the Fall of 2010, and I was working a Cal table at a College Fair in Orange County, on the day the Athletic Department announced we were cutting the baseball program (since saved), among others.  Naturally, the first kid we had that night had asked about the baseball program being slashed. He was in disbelief that the budget issues has reached the level to where we slashing a collegiate sport. I then had to talk to him about how much a Cal degree would cost, using budget numbers that were already out of date thanks to the fact that the Office of Admissions hadn’t yet updated the flyers because they were trying to have us use up the older flyers thanks to more budget issues.


The reality remained that he was going to be paying more for his Cal degree.  And, if he wound up applying and was accepted to begin his studies last Fall, undoubtedly he was paying more.  Worse yet, at around the same time, the UC was openly promoting the idea of accepting more out-of-state students, simply because they paid higher student fees.


Last week, in something seemingly unrelated but connected nonetheless, the University of Washington hired away a Cal assistant coach for an annual salary averaging $416,000 a year.  While rumors also noted that this assistant coach also received a boat from UW as part of the package, the raise was nevertheless in excess of his previous salary at Cal of $163,000.  At this point, the story of this particular coach’s departure gets complicated and emotional, particularly given the fact that the coach was leaving his own alma mater for this job opportunity, but doing so in a critical time in the college football recruiting cycle.

Suffice to say that the timing of this news was unfortunate.  On the other hand, it brought to the fore the issue of athletic coach compensation in the era of budget cuts and fee increases at state university systems like the University of California.

Good on UW for having an endowment for its Athletic Department to be able to pay what they’d like for their sports and coaches. They also only fund 19 intercollegiate sports, while Cal, for its part, funds 29.  I am proud of the fact that there are additional athletic opportunities at Cal for its student athletes.  It’s not just about what happens on Saturdays in the Fall months, even though the football program generates the lion’s share of the athletic department’s revenue, in addition to the costs associated with running it.  How would it look therefore, for UC to be paying an assistant football coach nearly half a million dollars to coach defensive line play in an era of funding issues?  Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but the political situation stopped being about nuance an awfully long time ago…

Because in California, the education funding battle remains ugly. As a public school teacher, I have to cheer smaller cuts to the K-12 budgets, while at the same time I’m seeing the fee hikes hit the UC and Cal State systems. I find myself unconsciously and inexplicably relieved that the budget burden gets passed off to the hapless undergraduates rather than coming out of local school district budgets.  I have to be happy it’s not happening to my end of that education spectrum, all while going out in the evening talking to parents and students about UC, addressing how expensive it’s getting.  I am literally rooting for my self-interest against my own alma mater.

Nevertheless, the budget knife is still coming for the K-12 public schools.  To deny the political component of our day-in/day-out reality of my life in the classroom is pure folly.  I see the results of the political decisions over the last decade playing itself out, whether it be the light fixture that doesn’t get replaced, the lack of an adequate supply of copy paper, the broken chairs and loose desks, or the fact that a number of my students are not able to afford the fees to go to 6th grade camp.  I see it when our school has to focus upon raising the test scores of students in lower Socio-Economic Status.  I see it on a cold, rainy day like today, when students come to school without an adequate jacket.

These are the results of political decisions, and deny that one is not paying attention is as heartbreaking as it is tragic…

I had a chance to ponder the relationship between UC and my elementary school when I hosted two Cal students in my classroom 2 weeks ago.  It had been a few years since I had had a pre-service teacher shadow me in my classroom, and with 2 students from my alma mater watching me for 3 days, I conducted a crash course in what I used to do when I worked with student teachers in the past.  Amidst the expected discussion of instructional style, discipline, classroom management, and reading assessments, came the one lesson I have always imparted to all of the student teachers I’ve had work with me in the past:  our students are our constituents.  Without them, we have no career.  As such, we need to be their biggest advocates.  When something in education affects us, it, by definition affects them.

It was in the midst of this reflections therefore, that a colleague chose to use a Newt Gringrich quote for motivation in a Facebook status:  “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

As Katelyn might say these days, “What the”?

The quote itself was innocuous, but I was stunned by the subsequent refusal to consider who it was who delivered this message–especially by a man whose idea of perseverance is to be married 3 times.  Worse, this was a man who, earlier in this current presidential campaign, was openly advocating that schools dismiss their custodial workers:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid…These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school.”

Replacing them would be the poor students at a school, in order to give them a work ethic doing something considered “legal”, given the apparent lack of role models that poor kids have.  I tried to get her to consider this quote, and she agreed that it wouldn’t be good to let our custodian go, but truth be told, she didn’t really pay attention to the politics.

What the?

Newt had himself an inadvertent new fan, which is what he wants.

When he gets power he believes the rules do not apply to him….’People want to hear what I have to say. It doesn’t matter what I do.’ In the Newtonian world, people only care about what he says; the rules are to be followed by the rest of us. This distorted vision of the world also applies to whether Newt is allowed to ignore the facts. He does so with such conviction that, unless one knows the truth, his delivery mandates believability.

So much for trying to explain the ethics violations that had Gingrich removed as Speaker of the House in the late 1990s.  <sigh>

As this past week went on, Gingrich managed to win the South Carolina Republican primary, drawing attention to himself by positioning his campaign in opposition to those who dared question him by pointing out the inconsistency of his past actions.  But more critically, he’s positioned himself as a presidential candidate by attacking the poor, with his claim that President Obama is the “food stamp President” among his distinctions.  Like all Republican candidates this year though, the candidates complain that the President is engaged in the class warfare that they, themselves, are conducting.  And who is the enemy?  Public school teachers, and their unions, along with all of the poor kids who sit in our classrooms.  Of course, it’s also those college kids’ fault, since they have to time to Occupy Wall Street rather than sit in their classrooms.  Finally, in Gingrich’s case, for many of our kids who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), he views their home language, Spanish, as the language of the ghetto.

“We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

So, naturally, it makes sense for a public employee to be quoting Newt Gingrich in light of all of this.  With furlough days cutting into our salaries, not to mention an increasing need to  go into our own pocket to buy our classroom supplies, it would make perfect sense for us to be too broke to be paying attention to politics these days.  Especially since those of us among the 99% are being forced to fight each other for a decreasing piece of the budget pie. The UC versus K-12 is, sadly, just one of those many battles constantly being fought.  If we view part of our role of advocates for our young charges though, it boggles my mind, to not pay attention to the policies that will affect these kids lives.  Even though our state might be close to being financially bankrupt, it is not helped when our jobs depend upon us not being intellectually bankrupt as well.

Author Jonathan Kozol has repeatedly written about the inequalities in school systems throughout the country, rich versus poor, speaking about the very ramifications of the political choices that have been made (or not paid attention to).  Kozol concludes:

“Evil exists.  I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher would call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don’t so they don’t need to use it to help people-that is my idea of evil.”

Pity our schools should Gingrich actually be given that power he’s convinced he should have.


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