My Rebuttal to the SOTU
I wanted to write a mean spirited rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union. Specifically the school voucher program very badly disguised under the nom de plume “Pell Grant for Kids.” But when I started I writing I realized that I needed to tell this story to explain why, as bad state as they may be in this country I believe that the public school system is the keystone to our government, our Democracy and inherently our society. Whenever the public school system is threatened I think of this part of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”
My Grandmother taught for years in the Catholic school system in the rural area around Buffalo in the 1950’s. She told me many stories about when the school had no budget and she had to buy supplies for the kids on her very meager salary. At the time she was one of the few women teaching in the parochial schools that didn’t wear a habit, thus one of the few making a salary. The Sister’s worked to eat.
She taught English to elementary school kids and then later taught high school kids. She went on to have four children all of them went to parochial school. Eileen, my Grandmother told me of the packed classrooms- over 30 kids for every teacher, during harvest season though many kids didn’t show up, they worked to eat too.
The school shooting scares of the late 90’s happened when I was going to high school, she told me stories of kids in some of her upper level classes coming in with hunting rifles, they would just leave them in the back and take them when it was time for them to go home.
These were the days when a high school diploma was the end all of education in rural America. No one went beyond that unless they were going to Divinity school. Scholarships were all but non-existent for this was still before the Higher Education Act of 1965 which brought us the Pell Grants that our dear President references in this years State of the Union.
Somehow, being raised by a family of devout Catholics, all taught in the parochial school systems I found myself in public schools. My Grandmother, Eileen Reuter taught me what I needed to know about faith- sharing of wealth, kindness, community, love, caring for those lesser off. Oddly, I found all those things in public school. I was lucky the school system I went to was filled with teachers who came from the same educational stock that my Grandmother had. Though younger than Eileen they were brought up in the day’s Johnsons Great Society and their parent’s brought up by the New Deal. A time of idealism in government, a time when the phrase, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” was welcoming, not as Reagan said something to dread. They were liberals I’m sure of it, subtley pushing they’re ideology on me, I had no problem with it, it worked with my upbringing that my Grandmother had taught me- love, kindness… They talked me through many problems, educational and personal, religion need not be involved. They pushed all of us to serve our country, our government, some took that as serving in the military, some went on to be doctors at clinics, some are working in government. I took the path of journalism, in kind of a round about way, through activism which is how I met Greg Palast and came to work for him.
My Grandmother went into the hospital around this time last year, which became a downward spiral of sickness which ended in the spring. Before she passed we had many discussions about my younger sisters not attending public schools, she agreed with me that it would be better for them and for the community. Eileen thought that the country had changed, she worried that her grandchildren would not see what this nation had once been, before Bush, before Reagan before we feared the government. She told me that I would have to be a role model to them, teach them what government, community and this country should do, and could do.
She also worried that my siblings may lose the real faith, the one that she taught me, the one that outlasted he religion that I gave up on long ago. Kindness…community…love…caring for those lesser off. The heart was pulled out of the faith when it was tested on like any other subject.