Slice of Life, Chapter 22

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

I’m slicing into the local news today, focusing in some smaller stories that seem to have some bigger reverberations in the world. I suppose we could all do this kind of slicing and allow the local to become an inroad into the global. Such is the power of the Slice of Life concept, right?

So here goes:

Slice One: Our city may be closing one of our elementary schools. I don’t teach in the small city where I live but my kids go to school here, and so my wife and I are following these developments quite closely. I was a newspaper reporter here in this place the last time an elementary/neighborhood school was shuttered and it was not pretty. The reason for all the talk by the mayor and School Committee about ending the life of one of the four elementary schools is, simply, money. The school budget is about $800,000 out of whack for next year. We have consistently been on the wrong end of the state’s calculations under a School Reform bill from about 10 years ago because we were already supporting our education system to a fair degree. Those are the districts that got punished under School Reform. The poor districts got an infusion of money. The rich ones didn’t care. The rest of the middle has been mostly left to fend for itslef, and that has meant cuts every year since I can remember. Teachers are laid off, left and right. The arts program is reduced to rubble. Textbooks are out of date. (you probably know this story well)

I don’t think the school where our sons go is on the list for getting closed but larger class sizes, more disruption and other intangibles are certainly part of any package for an infusion of an entire elementary school across the district. There is a lot of distress in the air.

Slice Two: At a neighboring town, the middle school administration has decided to clamp down on the student newspaper. The middle school journalists were concerned that students were having no voice for change in their school. They developed a survey. They administered the survey. They collated the data and created charts. They were about to publish the results (which show that almost 80 percent of the kids at the school feel left out of all decision-making) when the principal yanked the newspaper from their hands. The administration apparently told the students that the wording of the survey and they way they gathered data was faulty and unethical. The ACLU has stepped in to support the students. It is a bit ironic that the students create this document to show how voice-less they are and then they are stripped of their voice. An update in the newspaper says that administrators were really most concerned about the quality of students writing in the article. Can’t you see them with their big red correction pens, standing over the news and chopping out word after word? Perhaps that is unfair to stereotype the administrators, but when it comes to freedom of the press and student expression, I have some pretty strong feelings.

Slice Three: Finally, on a positive note, a local band is making it big! And they ain’t young pups either. (And, alas, it is not my band). The Young @ Heart Chorus is a group of elderly residents of our city — led by their energetic and young music director — who has toured the world and they now have a documentary movie that has been made about them. The movie is being released this week by Fox Searchlight Films (which is apparently a wonderful movie, according to David Ansen of Newsweek, who wrote about the flick this week and gave it kudos for entertainment and emotion). The Young @ Heart Chorus is not your traditional elderly chorus singing traditional. They choose hard, modern rock songs (they’ve covered Sonic Youth and ColdPlay) and make them something different with their life experiences. It is so heartening to see the possibilities of music transforming people — both the performers and the audience. They also have a wicked sense of humor, as evident by this cover of The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

See video here:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in rockin’ out the years),

  1. Nice to allow for some balance there. But wow, is that depressing. I hope you keep up with first two. This is a packed slice, oozing…

  2. Love the music clip at the end!! What a great spirit those people seem to have.

    Unfortunately, I think the problem in your first slice is starting to be common one. It’s a shame to see schools closing because of class sizes plummeting only to see them sky-rocket somewhere else. I think people don’t quite realize the impact just a few extra kids can have on a room. We are currently teaching 27 and in a high needs area that is just beyond what we can really do. There is no end in sight either.

    I am glad you are keeping on top of it by staying informed!!

  3. I will have to look up the Sofa Kings on my next sourjourn to the Pioneer Valley (just spent four days there w/fam) Cool video of Young@Heart. Made me laugh and want to send video off into cyberspace to family/friends right away. On a serious note… what ever happened to developmentally appropriate anything? Middle school students aren’t going to sound/write/express themselves like professional journalists… they are going to sound like middle school students. I wish them luck. I heard about the local cuts. Sister in law teaches/lives in area. Class size to me is one of the ways we can concretely impact learning. The side effects of increasing student-teacher ratio as you mention can be great. Thanks for the slice tapas today.

  4. The video was awesome thanks for sharing! I work at a school that has benefited from school reform work. Still, CA funds it’s school at something like 48 out of 50, so we are a sad example for the nation. I wish both parties could see funding public schools as a “family value.” As for the newspaper, what a cool learning experience for those students. In the end it just might work out in their favor.

  5. As a former journalist myself, I understand your thoughts about the middle school that is censoring the student survey. It’s interesting to me that they are telling the students that they didn’t use proper survey form. Knowing the town and school system this is taking place in, I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this issue!

  6. Wow, this is an amazing slice. The school closing piece is really distressing, as is the piece about the school newspaper. I felt myself getting so angry as I read it, so outraged for those students. I was impressed by the work they’d done to pull off the survey and then to see their paper snatched out of their hands by the administration … totally unacceptable. Cool that the ACLU’s involved, hope something comes of that.

    The video is great! There are a bunch of senior bands now, aren’t there? I saw another clip of a band from England performing “My Generation,” which was also fabulous. It’s pretty heartening, especially as I start to get older …

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