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Bake sale for bombs

November 19, 2009

It’s a beautiful morning
to see the sunrise;
It’s moments like this
I wish I could freeze-frame time.

-Brandon Rhyder (Texas musician)

I’ve been getting up early the last few days to watch the sun rise from the hill behind my house. The peace and serenity of greeting the day in this way has been a welcome respite from the tangled thoughts I’ve been sorting through lately.

I’m teaching sociology this semester and one of the books I’m having my students read is A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind. The book traces the life of an inner-city youth who makes it to the Ivy Leagues only to be confronted with the consequences of his paltry educational background. Despite the happy ending, it’s a maddening story about educational disparities in the United States, disparities my students and I are confronted with every day.

It infuriates me that the U.S. government spends 19.9 percent of its budget on the Department of Defense and only 2.2 percent on education. As an educator in a low-income community, I have the choice of not acquiring the skills I need to teach effectively or of acquiring them at an expense that amounts to a third of my annual salary (which, at $27,000, isn’t low enough for me to qualify for federal grants or loans). My school can’t afford to help me pay for my masters degree, so my only option is to take on more classes to earn the extra income for my tuition. Teaching more classes while simultaneously pursuing masters credits means less time for me to devote to each of my students, who, if anything, need MORE time from me.

I’m going to be on an extremely tight budget for as long as I teach at CDKC – and I plan to teach here for a long time – and I’m okay with that. But I know a lot of other teachers aren’t okay with that, and they shouldn’t have to be. An educator shouldn’t have to make the choice between providing well for his or her own family or providing well for his or her students; it should be easy for an educator to provide well for both.

Working at CDKC is giving ME a good education in the difficult realities that a significant portion of our population must deal with from the day they are born. I have to work within the constraints of the college’s limited budget, of the demands on my students’ extra-curricular time, and of the neglect that the rest of the state and the nation afford to our little corner of Montana. There’s no time to think much beyond the immediate, which means that our little corner of Montana will likely continue to remain neglected for years to come; who can plan for major social change when there’s barely time to think about the next lesson plan? All we can do is help one class of students at a time achieve a step up, or at least half a step, and hope that in doing so, we are slowly, very slowly, but surely working towards change.

If ever there was a national security concern, it is the fact that we are going to have a very dumb populace with a huge arsenal of weaponry. Nine times more weaponry than intelligence, to be almost exact.

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