Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1214talton14.html

Tallying our losses in the 'education marketplace'
Arizona Republic
Dec. 14, 2003 12:00 AM
Jon  Talton columnist

Live long enough, and you end up in a foreign country, even if it is the country of your birth.

One of the most remarkable changes in my adult life has been the slow abandonment of the public schools. I'm stunned that we've allowed it to happen, when we expend untold treasure and lives to bring democracy to Baghdad and secure cheap oil. I'm stunned that we talk about it so little.

Sure, there are good schools. But that will always happen with involved parents and money. "Education" is the magic elixir for every politician and policy analyst. But every year we seem to lose ground.

God knows, we have heroic teachers. But they are besieged soldiers rather than an honored profession at the heart of the republic.

Arizona's educational deficits are well known - and, contrary to some wishful thinking, they hobble the state in recruiting good jobs and companies.

But on a recent trip to affluent Charlotte, I read about the growing number of public schools with a majority of poor families.

When I say abandonment, I mean something beyond test scores and funding levels. I mean a national loss of heart.

In the turbulent 1960s, my inner city Phoenix grade school provided the same good teaching it had for decades. The continuity mattered - at Kenilworth, we knew that Barry Goldwater and Paul Fannin had been students there, just like us.

Nearly every kid in the neighborhood attended the school - the rich kids in Palmcroft, and the poor kids south of Roosevelt. This mattered, too. The schools weren't a dumping ground for the underclass.

Kenilworth's classic, imposing architecture sent a message that even kids could subtly absorb: Our education mattered. It said that even a kid from a single-family home, with no money, had a fair shot at making it.

My public high school was one of the best in the nation. The faculty at Coronado in the 1970s comprised some of the most gifted teachers I've ever encountered, at any level. If a student chose to study fine arts, he or she received better instruction than at many colleges.

Both schools were at the center of their neighborhoods. Parents with school-age children were a minority, but public education was a commitment happily accepted by the community.

The only fences were built around playgrounds, to restrain an errant ball.

The notion of a daily blur of planned activities, with kids chauffeured by parents, would have been absurd. Outside of school, we ran free and safe until it was time to come home. We learned to solve our own problems. We didn't need counseling or Ritalin.

Talk to baby boomers and older generations. These experiences were the norm.

Little by little, things changed. Most people don't notice giant changes that slip in day to day. Fortress schools and gangs. Anger management classes and White flight. Children mired in family chaos, who will be forever cut off from mainstream American life. Everything turned over to bureaucrats, psychobabble and hidden political agendas.

Don't talk to me about the "education marketplace." America was founded on the notion of public education creating an informed electorate and a citizenry with common obligations. It was not a commercial transaction.

How do you "monetize" the civic consequences of our loss of faith in public schools? We will pay, about that I have no doubt.

Reach Talton at jon.talton@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8464.