Third, the discrepancy in our ideas about education does not extend into our realistic expectations of cost and quality. It seems that people feel the need to demand quality in things that they pay for, but we also understand that we should expect more quality for higher-priced items or services. However, despite a plethora of examples of the public allowing or even condoning cuts in education funding – what, in Alabama, is called “proration” – many people are outraged at the results. This logic makes no sense. No one is surprised when cheap clothes or shoes tear up quickly. No one is shocked when a cheap car breaks down. Why are we shocked when poorly funded schools have problems?
Sometimes, when I discuss what I see as unfair attacks of schools, people often remind me that everyone funds them with their taxes. But a converse notion of ownership does not apply to efforts toward improvement. When it comes time to increase taxes to fund schools or to ask for personal involvement to bolster improvement, I hear retorts like this one from older people: “I’ve already raised my kids so why should I have to pay?” or this one from wealthier people: “My kids go to private school so why should I have to pay?” If public schools belong to everyone, as I hear so often, then we are all responsible for their maintenance and their improvement, since the “product” of public schools – the children who later enter society and are expected to function as independent, responsible adults – affects us all, too.
There are some people whose actions match their words, whose desire for good schools is supported by real action. You may ask any school PTA president how many parents show up to campus clean-up days or other events to improve the school, and he or she will tell you how few – in a school of 500 or more children, see if a dozen parents show up to put action with their words. If a person neglects his house, the paint will chip and the structure will sag; if a person neglects his yard, the weeds will grow and rats will nest the debris; if a person neglects his health and hygiene, he will get sick. And if a person neglects his child’s education, his child will suffer from the neglect, too.
We get what we pay for. And when we have realistic expectations, and when we don’t finger-point anymore, and when we admit that children’s education should be more important than our blame-game, we will continue to get what we pay for. But then, at that point, we will be pleased with what we receive for our efforts, unlike now.