Last month, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors meeting began with a moment of silence for four students who had died in the previous weeks. Again. Four kids – school-age kids – dead.
This weekend, MPS student leaders, Mayor Tom Barrett and Peace for Change Alliance gathered for a rally against violence on Saturday, and in a newspaper op-ed piece, MPS superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton asked why we are not angry at the violence in Milwaukee?
“I am outraged because the community is not outraged,” he wrote. “Has everyone simply accepted that this is life in Milwaukee now? No other community in this state would stand so quietly in the face of our grim statistic: four children dead in seven weeks. If four boys had died of the same illness, we would cry out for the vaccine.”
He is right that we should be outraged. We should be outraged at the violence. We should be outraged that we are one of the most segregated cities in America. We should be outraged at the level of unemployment among African-American men in Milwaukee.
We should be outraged that the overwhelming majority of children attending our public schools live in poverty and that more than 2,300 MPS students are homeless.
Like all children, these kids set out filled with wonder and awe at, and curiosity about, the world around them. They can learn just as well as any child anywhere and are eager to do so.
But the burdens they carry from home and from the streets between home and school do not get checked at the schoolhouse door. There is no hallway locker big enough to contain this baggage.
When you see funds siphoned off the public schools, these are the children being left behind even further.
These are the kids that don’t always have access to health care outside school and feel the burden the most when nurses are cut.
These are the kids that need to be fed at least twice a day at school in order to be able to concentrate and work hard.
These are the kids that are the future. They are not responsible for the sins of anyone else. They are as deserving of a quality education, safe streets and a good, rewarding life as any other.
It is our duty to put aside petty politics and one-upsmanship in order to seek solutions. Society can’t turn public schools into social services centers, cut their funding and then ask why children aren’t learning to read.
When, during tight financial times, schools are busy offering eye exams, collecting and distributing winter clothing and serving meals sometimes three times a day, that means learning is forced to the back seat.
If the basics aren’t there, children can not learn the advanced subjects that follow and the spiral begins to eddy more and more quickly as the cycle of poverty and unemployment and hopelessness and violence continues to nourish itself.
You can fix a school here and put 100 kids in a charter there, but that’s no way to solve a crisis that is 80,000-plus kids strong. It’s putting a Band-Aid on a compound fracture.
The first solution for fixing the PS is to fix the M.