BY SHARON MARTIN
Oklahomans rally. When a house burns, members of the community collect household goods. When someone is sick or a family member dies, neighbors bring food. When the Murrah Federal Building was bombed, the call went out for supplies for the rescuers. One young man took off his own steel-toed work boots and dropped them off at the rescue command center.
We band together against our common enemies, both real and perceived. Sometimes, though, we are blinded to the deadliest enemies slinking among us. There is no enemy as devastating as poverty. It is time to rise up.
If you are of the I-got-mine-now-you-get-yours persuasion, you can stop reading now. Poverty won’t go away without intervention. It has nothing to do with redistributing wealth, although we’ve been redistributing wealth upward for the past half century with our tax policies and government subsidies. It doesn’t require a handout, just equal opportunity.
Schools are the front line in this new war. You can save a few kids who win lotteries to get into charter schools, but it’s a better use of funds to insure that every child gets a good education.
All schools are not created equal, and students start where they are, not where a chart says they should be. For equality of opportunity, some kids need more services. It’s necessary to provide the extras for those who need them if we want to attack poverty at its roots. We tailor education to the needs of the students. School isn’t an assembly line.
It takes money to run this war. Money pays reading specialists and music teachers and coaches. It hires librarians and buys library books. Some schools get all they need. Schools with the greatest percentage of at-risk students often do not. It’s not the idea of public education but our method of funding education that’s broken. Public schools are not the problem but the answer.
The idea of one’s betters is not part of the American ideal. Neither is “us and them.” We are “we, the people” and “all men are created equal.”
We must rise up against the inequalities in school funding, get a handle on dropout rates among at-risk students, and quit chiseling away at America’s finest idea. We don’t have to sacrifice free enterprise or American can-do, but we do have to make sure that opportunities apply to everyone. Poverty and lack of access to opportunity are the enemies, and it will take every one of us, banding together for public education, to win this war.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer