In Dire Straits: Philadelphia Schools

“ ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…’ ” (Deut. 6: 6-7).

The Philadelphia School District is in dire straits.  The latest financial crisis has closed schools and stripped those remaining of nearly all personnel but teachers and principals.

A full twenty percent of the district’s employees have been laid off.  Among these are classroom aides, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, secretaries, assistant principals, and lunchroom staff. Evidently, these were considered superfluous.  Why would inner city children need the help of a guidance counselor? What good could a librarian do children not reading at grade level?

Class size will undoubtedly increase. There has been talk of combining grades to reduce the number of teachers still further.  In the birthplace of liberty, we may be headed back to the one room schoolhouse.  That is hardly likely to improve Philadelphia’s 50% dropout rate for high school aged African American and Latino males [1].

Charities and corporate donors are actually being approached to support the school system. Without their help, tutoring and afterschool programs once underwritten by government will simply vanish.

Philadelphia and impoverished cities like it are on the forefront of the battle for the future of this nation. We cannot produce informed citizens, capable of facing fresh challenges, if we do not provide our children – all our children – a quality education.

Those who drop out or graduate without a basic knowledge of history, literature, science, and the arts will all too soon find themselves unemployed and unemployable. We have no right to destine those young people to failure.  It is the sacred obligation of one generation to educate the next.

The nation cannot afford to lose those young minds, and what they might create.  Nor can it withstand the drain on resources of an ever growing underclass [2].  If nothing is done, we may all someday find ourselves in dire straits.

1 The African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce Report (September 2, 2010), .

2 Violence must be part of that calculus.  Crime may seem a tolerable evil to those at a distance from it.  Not so to those whose lives are daily impacted.


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Filed under Justice, Politics, Poverty

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