I recently learned the High School I graduated from in 1977; John F Kennedy in the Bronx has finally closed its doors. I say finally because it has taken an ugly journey all too common with government run programs.
I was in the second graduating class of JFK. I was one of only a few in my neighborhood that attended a public High School. Most of my friend’s parents paid for their kids to go to Catholic High Schools known for teaching and discipline that graduated students competent enough to get a job or go to college. Most public High Schools in NYC were incubators of failure. But JFK did not start that way. That is one of the reasons my parents risked sending their oldest son to the school.
The school was approved for funding based on promises made to the neighborhood residents that surrounded the campus. Our families were told that JFK would be different; if the school was built the neighborhood would be guaranteed a good education, and would not suffer the fate of most of the other public schools in the city. The school was built, and for the four years I attended, many of the promises were realized.
The first principal of JFK High School was impressive and he took a no nonsense approach to education. Show up or get thrown out. Teachers were encouraged to teach and supported in their efforts to do so. Security was heavy to ensure “kids” with ill intent were kept out of classrooms and not allowed on the school grounds. He kept some sense of order.
The kids from the neighborhood came from decent family backgrounds not typical of most students in the inner city. The advantage of having interested and engaged families that supported the principal’s goals was a good foundation for the school’s academic success. For a little while the school operated with relative success for a public High School in the Bronx.
Over the years the school exploded to house over 6000 students. It was built for approximately 4000. The neighborhood changed and the parental engagement was replaced with gang activity. Eventually this activity resulted in a student being murdered at the school. The school achieved the ranking of being the worst High School in New York City. An achievement that I am truly sad to report being an Alumnus. An attempt was made to take the school and divide it into 6 different schools with a focus on different disciplines. The attempt to salvage the school with this effort failed.
So the inner city is left with a building built with hope and promise sitting empty. The public school system has failed another generation of inner city kids that will have less opportunity than their peers. It is heartbreaking to watch. It is really personal for me having seen it first hand and knowing that the answer is to allow private institutions to teach these kids. The answer is not to keep rewarding public schools with our tax dollars. The answer is more complex than just poor schools but if we don’t change the schools we will never break the chain of hopelessness for these inner city kids. We will pay tenfold for the failures of these schools and government dependency.
When will enough be enough? I’m not talking about money because NYC public schools spend in the vicinity of $15,000 a year per student, well over the countries average. When will we face reality that we need a solution that does not count on government bureaucracy? When will we let educational entrepreneurs take a shot at educating these kids? What have we got to lose?
Government run schools and programs always start with good intentions. Government programs always deliver the same results; failure. The government has no soul and cares nothing about the lives they destroy as long as politicians and bureaucrats get paid and keep their jobs. Government has proven test after test that they don’t understand the material and will continue to fail no matter how you mix up the questions on the test. Government does not deserve our trust or the trust of these victims within our cities. They are the most vulnerable because they can’t pick up and go to a better school in a better neighborhood. We need to bring better schools to them through private organizations with a passion to teach.
Trying something new is the least we can do for these kids. As public schools become havens for gangs, drugs, and danger these kids are left to the squalor of government and politics. They deserve a better effort on our part and what is the worst that can happen? These kids get an education that can save them from a life of dependency on a government that has failed them for generations…