Our View: Graduation-season advice for everyone except graduates
There's a timeless but tiresome tradition of newspapers offering advice to high school graduates, this time of year.
We suspect graduates are up to their eyeballs in advice (find a career you love; be nice to people; don't get involved in a land war in Asia; don't serve cheese with fish...) and they aren't in need of any more.
So we have some graduation-season advice for everyone else involved in the education system.
To our educators:
You can't fund everything. Stop trying. So as long as you have to pick and choose, make sure your students leave with a world-class understanding of civics.
Every year, we hear from people who say, cut whatever you have to, but save band. Or sports. Or chess. Or vocational tech. Or math. Or physical education.
We believe there is nothing whatsoever wrong with band, sports, chess, vocational tech, math and P.E. If you can save them, do. If you can't, it's going to adversely affect some students. No matter what you cut, it will hurt some kids. Every program can be the program that keeps that one specific kid in school. But every aspect of a child's life, of a family's life, of a community's life will benefit if more Americans understand how government works, how taxes work, how to influence the system. Give students that, and they will make superior decisions for the rest of their lives.
Cutting some programs hurts some students. Cutting civics hurts all future students, because people without knowledge vote against their own self interest.
Former Oregon Congresswoman Darlene Hooley said one of her great frustrations in office was the fact that grown people, with good jobs and post-secondary degrees, often didn't know the difference between the Legislature and Congress. We see people go to rallies with signs that read, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," because they don't know Medicare is a government program.
In this legislative session, State Sen. Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, a liberal Democrat, and former Sen. Bruce Starr, a conservative Republican, both have championed a bill to mandate civics education. And there's our point: two guys at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both of whom want smarter voters, smarter residents.
To parents, we offer this advice:
Change is coming. That means new schools and new school boundaries. And moving students from one school to another is traumatic.
But usually not for students.
It is estimated that Washington County will see a population influx over the next few decades equivalent to modern-day Beaverton, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin — combined. The boundaries between school districts, and between individual schools, will be shifted. And when the pin-maps are completed, entire neighborhoods that went to School X for decades now will be in the School Y region.
When that happens, parents will go ballistic. It happens every time. We will hear near-apocalyptic tales of how unfair it is to move boundaries.
To be clear: Not all proposed boundary changes make sense. Districts always make the process public, and they request input from residents. If you're a parent: Go. Participate. Make sure your voice is heard. Make sure the boundary change is in the best interests of the entire student body of the district.
But when the change comes, relax. Students are remarkably flexible. They adapt quickly. Not all, of course. Some won't do well in another school, but then again, some won't do well if boundaries never change. The boundary change itself is rarely the deciding factor in a youth's unhappy education.
Parents, when you get the notice that says your kids' school boundaries are in flux: participate, don't panic.
To lawmakers, we say this:
Fund schools like they were national defense.
Congress, we're looking right at you.
Our nation made a decision, right around the time of the War to End All Wars, or maybe the one after that, to fund national defense to an extraordinary level. No politician ever did poorly by promising to "boost defense spending." At a time when America has the finest military on Earth — by far — and most of the other great ones are our allies, we continue to "support our troops" by pouring vast sums into the military. And for the most part, voters either applaud or don't notice.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2015, the second- through fifth-highest spending countries were the United Kingdom at $56 billion; Russia at $65 billion; Saudi Arabia at $81 billion, and China at $145 billion. Then comes No. 1, the United States, at $597 billion. That's almost twice the other four, combined.
That's how the nation should fund public schools: At twice the level of the next four (or five, or 10) countries combined.
Would it be expensive? Yes. Would it require new priorities in Washington? Yes. Would it require new taxes. Yes. Would it secure our nation's place as the leader of the free world throughout the remainder of the 21st century. Certainly.
Newspapers usually end the ubiquitous advice-for-grads editorial by quoting a president, or scholar, or poet. We're not quite that fancy. Let's fall back, instead, on screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who once had a character say:
"Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense."
Like the character, that's our position.
We just haven't figured out how to do it yet.