Life, Liberty and Better Schools for All 

Here he comes to save the day! Steve Schuck, the knight in shining armor on his white horse of vouchers ("Citizen Schuck," Feb. 1).

Pull those kids into the castle of private schools, schools that can raise the drawbridge and shut out kids with discipline problems, special needs, low achievers, minorities and different religious beliefs. Create a homogenized education system free from the hedonistic influences of the outside world -- mandated curriculums, teachers' unions and diversity.

A sterile group of kids in a sterile controlled environment. The trouble is, there is no correlation between this artificial structure and the real world. Teamwork is needed in the real world, and public schools provide this like no other institution.

Frankly, as a public school teacher for the past 28 years, I find the unfounded intellectual arrogance of people like Schuck who have not spent time in the classroom to be demeaning, frustrating and irritating. They don't have any idea how capable educators are, what motivates them or anything whatsoever about the problems that beset kids these days. Schuck has spent his days in the business world where personal gain is the name of the game every day. Anyone who teaches for more than a week knows that personal gain is nonexistent in the classroom. You don't think about how much you made today, tomorrow, or your future financial worth. You spend your time encouraging, cajoling, prodding, disciplining, pleading, demanding, sympathizing, loving each and every student regardless of race, color, creed or wealth.

Indeed, if Schuck really wants to help kids, he could get off his high horse and help out in some of those "god-awful schools of DPS, District 11 or District 2" and join the rest of us who are dedicated to making kids' lives better. Instead of helping a few kids who can take advantage of his voucher offer, he should get involved financially and personally in some of these struggling schools.

He could also stop making unfounded and derogatory statements such as "god-awful schools where 9 percent of the kids are functioning at grade level." The fact is the District 11 literacy results and CSAP scores for grades K through 7 range from 55 percent to 70 percent. Inaccurate statements like his call into question Schuck's true purpose. Is he trying to help kids or dismantle public schools?

On the one hand, Mr. Schuck doesn't question teachers' dedication, but if they are union members, they are suddenly "not focused on education, but rather focused on self-interest." This from a man whose entire life has been focused on self-interest, making him millions.

The real motive here is allowing every kid the option of private schooling at taxpayer expense. This back door ploy is necessary because voters across the country, including those in Colorado, have repeatedly rejected vouchers, now referred to as "choice." Just this past year, California and Michigan rejected voucher schemes by huge margins. Poor minority children are out front just to give vouchers a kinder, gentler, more caring face.

Besides, vouchers don't work. It's ridiculous to think we can improve struggling schools by making them poorer. Look at California, which used to have the best public schools in the country. Years of sucking away resources have turned them into some of the worst. In Milwaukee, there is no significant difference between voucher students and their public school peers.

The truth is that vouchers are not about improving kids' education. They are ultra-conservatives' attempt to weaken a hated enemy, the teachers' unions. They are the religious right's opportunity to proselytize kids on the public dole. They represent politicians' attempts to squirm out of their responsibility to adequately fund and maintain a quality education system.

I agree with Schuck that there is something special about America, and that something is public education. Even with its problems, the American public school system is still one of the best education systems in the world. I believe we can solve the problems without destroying the system.

In 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established the first public education system with a goal of education for all. That's the way it should continue to be.

For 28 years I have dedicated myself to that philosophy, as have thousands of other dedicated and caing public school teachers. I invite Mr. Schuck to come join us.

Michael Merrifield teaches choir at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs.


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