The school where I teach is very large and in the center of the complex, there is a small courtyard. Until last year, the courtyard was lined with maybe half a dozen large, healthy oak trees. I could see them from the window in my classroom, and it was nice to look out on in the spring and late summer. Our school is one of those built in the 1960s to accommodate the baby boom. These schools were built quickly and cheaply and they mark a stark line in the construction of school buildings. Before the boom, schools were often beautiful buildings made of limestone or brick. You’ve seen them somewhere. Think of the most beautiful school or former school building you’ve seen. Odds are, it’s from before the baby boom.
So, our school is in’t much to look at, and that always made the trees that much nicer because they blocked some of the view. They greened it up a little. Made it feel a little nicer. In my experience, trees do that.
Since last year, they’ve been slowly cutting them down. The last one is being taken down now. The branches have been taken off one by one. Soon, the main forks will come off and, in a day or two, the trunk. I don’t know the official reason for this, but given that the tree were perfectly healthy, there can be only one – the fear that a storm may come along and blow one or more of the trees down, thus resulting in costly damage to the school.
The result is a decidedly less enjoyable place for me, and, I assume, the students. The grounds look bleak now. All cheap brick and corrugated metal roofing. It is hard not to see this as a metaphor for what is happening in education now. Math. Reading. Math. Reading. MathReadingMathReadingMath. Public school children, is a factory, and you re the product. You are the worker bees of tomorrow. Enjoyment is irrelevant. Self-examination and growth. Creative expression. These are also irrelevant. Your comfort does not matter. We must avoid risk. We must produce a product as consistent in its quality as a fast food hamburger. Never mind the taste.
Am I pushing this too far? Maybe I am. But then, I’m a teacher, and I know what’s going on in schools. I know that electives are being cut. I know that extracurriculars are being cut. I know that our trees are being cut.
Now, I have a task for you. The next time you drive past a private school, take a look at it. These are the best schools we have, much better than public (at least, this is what many legislators are telling us). Do you think they have electives? What about extracurricular activities? What does the school building look like? Do they have trees?