I was sitting in the barbershop the other day. Naturally, there were quite a few children coming in for haircuts, being that it's back to school time and all. A woman, who had been sitting in the shop for a couple hours waiting for her two preteen boys to get their haircut, made a comment that kind of upset me. After they received their haircuts, emphatically she blurted out, "I wish they would all just run away!" Hearing this immediately knocked me off my square. How could a mother say something like that about her own kids and with such emphasis? I'm sure that her comment was made in jest. How does the saying go? "There's some truth in every joke."
I tend to extrapolate and maybe over analyze some issues, so, I may have delved too deep into her horrible attempt at humor. The statement got me thinking though. My mind, almost instantly, raced to the very tragic situation the city of Philadelphia and the School District of Philadelphia is facing...ever-increasing debt that is crippling the educational system in the already financially strapped Philadelphia. The school district is mired in longtime debt, that at one point eclipsed $300 million, which was critical in the decision to close dozens of schools over the last three years and the firing of vital teachers and other school personnel. Not only are schools being closed; but, arts and athletic programs are no longer being funded, the security of our children is at great risk due to the lack of employees who filled those positions, and children are being forced to attend schools in neighborhoods where they are not accustomed to. The latter is just a few of the consequences our innocent children are having to deal with because of inept politicians and policy makers, the very people we trusted to protect those who can't protect themselves. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but aren't arts and athletic programs good for our children? Aren't proper class sizes critical to the comprehension of the material (even if a lot of what they learn is bias or missing information) being taught? I guess, what I don't understand is why do the children have to suffer? How does it benefit them that very important tools and individuals are being stripped from them because of what will ultimately boil down to misappropriation of funds? Keep this in mind as we discuss the solutions and effects of these failed policies.
Some of the solutions I've heard are enraging. William Hite, president of the School District of Philadelphia, has, in effect, held the schools hostage by demanding that the teachers make certain concessions in their labor or contract negotiations. Sir, are you serious? This isn't Sweden, the leading country in terms of education, where teachers routinely earn in excess of $100,000 with excellent benefits. How dare you even insinuate that the teachers take anymore losses? These teachers make less than $40,000 in some cases and work in the most deplorable conditions. Teachers in the United States of America quite often use their own hard-earned money, after working extra hours mainly worrying about their safety, to provide useful tools and materials to enhance the "education" deemed acceptable by the school district. You want them to take more losses Mr. Hite, Mr. Nutter?
Speaking of Mayor Nutter, he's no better or more enlightened than the next guy or last guy. His only solutions seem to be taxing the poor. If it's not a soda tax, it's a cigarette tax. Hahaha, one of his solutions was to ask the School District of Philadelphia, who were currently facing debt in excess of $300 million, to sell the land and property of the dozens of schools that have been closed at an enormous discount. In fact, just today, I was made aware of a counter proposal that would require the parents of every child in the PUBLIC school system to pay $600 in order to help offset some of the debt. These are our children and, yes, we all should chip in where we can; however, did the hardworking parents of these innocent children create this debt? I find that very hard to believe. So, why in God's name are you trying to hold the people responsible for your lack of discipline and execution?
Philadelphia is a city of two dynamics, the impoverished and the well-to-do. Like much of America, the middle-class, the spine and central nervous system of the economy, has virtually disappeared. There no longer exist employment where the ability to provide a modest, yet comfortable, living for your family. I'm not referring to the "good ole days" where a man could solely provide for his family; nowadays, a two-parent working household continues to struggle to provide basic necessities, let alone a living. Despite the fact that these concerns still plague our city, Philadelphia has shown little to no effort to provide jobs or encourage job growth amongst the blue-collar working class. In other words, it's the same old adage, the rich get richer on the backs of the poor who only get more poor. Don't let them fool you! They'll tell you that the unemployment rate is under 8% and falling until they are blue in the face. They leave out the fact that thousands of people are dropping out of the workforce due the futility of trying to find a job in this economy. Philadelphia is a predominantly African-American city. What's their unemployment rate? As a whole the unemployment rate for all black people generally is double the national unemployment rate (about 16%) and for black men it is even worst (probably around 25%). You want to increase taxes on these people? You want to ask these people to pay money for their children to attend PUBLIC school? How naive and ignorant do you think we are Mr. Nutter, Mr. Hite?
Now that we covered the solutions our elected officials have so brilliantly thought of, let us cover some the "positives" Philadelphia has been involved in. In Philadelphia, crime has been an exponentially growing problem. Drugs are everywhere and with drugs murder is usually on the horizon. The bodies are piling up and the national attention Philadelphia is receiving has caused the administration to act hastily. Again, their only solutions seem to be an attack on the people. Hire more cops, build more jails and arrest/convict more people. After all, there's no point in building the facilities (not schools or shelters but prisons) if you're not going to use them. At times, Philadelphia has seemed like we are under Marshall law. Cops roam the streets arresting people for not having identification. Cops are allowed to use whatever force necessary to get their jobs done (I.E. the cop who visciously slugged an innocent woman in the face was suspended and then reinstated, essentially being given a paid year off from work). The city "decriminalized" the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana only to then ratchet up the use of the civil rights violating practice of "stop and frisk." By law, they are allowed to issue a summons and send the violator on their way, yet, it seems the more common practice is to arrest and haul that person to jail. Hmmm, I wonder why? They say their goal is to attack crime. What causes crime? More then anything, crime is the direct result of poverty. Why not attack poverty? Why wouldn't we throw money at the schools and build shelters and provide better employment instead of building jails? What's the purpose of all these cops or these civil rights violating practices if the city still has to face increasing crime?
Of course it's more practical to use taxpayer money to address the societal needs of the people on multiple fronts. The problem is practicality has never been the strong suit of politicians. I am all but sure that politicians lack the creativity and fortitude required to properly govern a people. Why else would you continue to allow schools to close and instrumental programs to die and put our children at risk of gang and other unsavory activity? Idle hands are the devil's playground! So, instead of making positive changes for our children in Philadelphia, you decided to build an enormous juvenile detention center in the middle of West Philadelphia. What message are you sending to these uneducated, poor, tired and hungry children other then, "Hey get in trouble. It's okay. We've got a nice warm bed and three meals per day for you...in jail!"? Again, we wonder why the crime rate is so high in Philadelphia and why way too many of our youth are lost or have no respect for the sanctity of life.
The two day concert event, Made in America, recently concluded its second year of performances in Philadelphia. The concert was held in the heart of the city and largely funded by a group of investors headed by musician Jay-Z. As is customary, the host city also allocated tens of millions of dollars and many resources (security, police presence, traffic, etc) in order to ensure that this great event went on with success. Could the children have not used that money? "This is good for Philadelphia" you say. Why didn't Mayor Nutter, during the negotiations, demand that all vendors used during these events must be located and operated in the city of Philadelphia? That demand would've directly benefit Philadelphians, yet, the idea most likely was never pushed. That was a grand opportunity to inject some cash flow into the pockets of many Philadelphians and yet it was overlooked.
Who is really looking out for the well-being of our children, our future? There's no way that recent policies and practices are promoting an air of care and concern for the very people they are ultimately attacking. You can't say you care about a person's well-being then arrest them or close their child's school down or fail to provide employment. Reducing crime seems to be the main agenda of our lawmakers, yet, they are encouraging an environment where crime is the only viable option. I know that sounds crazy to insinuate; however, I am a pragmatist and I can't help but to call a spade a spade. The time of the policies of the failed, unconstitutional (yeah, I said) War on Drugs (aka War on Poor People) have been over. We as a people need to band together more and demand that our politicians listen to us before they listen to the corporations.
Despite this doom and gloom message and the consequences that may follow, a silver lining presented itself. The kids didn't wait for us! The kids didn't rely on us! They made me and many others so proud of them. The children of Philadelphia, young and old, all gathered down City Hall and the School District of Philadelphia to protest and march. They chanted, they sung and they made their presence felt. The children of the children of the civil rights movement invoked the glorious spirit of their ancestors and proclaimed "We are here and we deserve better!" It is the responsibility of the parents to stand up for their children; however, when parents walk around with the "I just wish they would run away" mentality and their elected officials are creating avenues that lead to a life of exploitation, who can we rely on to save the children? Thank God the children aren't waiting around for anyone to save them...they put the onus upon themselves. We could learn a thing or two from the little guys and gals!