I’ve spent much of the past two days interviewing high school seniors in Plainview and Syosset for the 2013 Berkowitz Scholarship, an award created in memory of Leonard and Myriam Berkowitz, she a teacher in Syosset and he a psychologist in Plainview. Their estate provided the funding for these awards, leaving it to the union in each district do choose the recipients. This year, we will award three $12500 scholarships, three in each district.
This is all by way of introducing my point which is that those who think America’s schools are failing should have been with me the last two days talking to the outstanding, well-educated young people the Plainview and Syosset school district have turned. Had these children gone to the finest private schools, they would not have been offered broader educational opportunities, better teaching or sounder academic preparation. In fact, in many ways I suspect their preparation has been better than many of their privately educated peers. Let me be quick to point out, I know, if others don’t, that had I visited many of the school districts on Long Island, I would have found similar, bright, well-educated children, ready to pursue whatever further education they desire.
This morning, however, I found myself wondering how long it will be before we no longer do the wonderful job we’re doing. All over the state and nation, school budgets are being pared down, courses eliminated, teachers excessed and educational opportunities curtailed. Even richer districts like my own are starting to cut back. They tell the public that their kids are getting as good a program as ever, but anyone who thinks for a moment knows that’s untrue.
The simple fact of the matter is America feigns a deep concern for children. In most places, we resent having to pay for quality schools, convincing ourselves that public schools are bottomless waste pits. Our politicians thrive on that claptrap. They all want to brag about cutting taxes. In New York our pompous ass of a governor brags about bringing us a property tax can, a cap which in its short existence has clobbered the ability of public schools to deliver in many places even a basic education. We love our children, but we allow almost a quarter of them to live in poverty, voting for leaders who seek to cut the already meager programs that provide relief to these families.
Yesterday, I was reminded of what we are capable of doing for our children. Today, the world of budget cuts and unmet needs came crashing down on my momentary elation.