OK, here's some skinny low-down about schools. For the first time in over half my life, I attended high school graduations in the past week. I was fifteen when I graduated and that was seventeen years ago.
I don't have any kids of my own as yet, but my older cousin, with whom I was close as a child, she got herself into troubles early in life and got married very early, and was a mother less than nine months later, if you follow that. She has five kids, and... well, lots of details I'm going to skim over, her family does OK but they're on the poor side of things. So over the years I would take them boxes of food to help them out here or there, a few times a year, and I'd spend the afternoon/evening with her kids, rather like an uncle, give them some of my time and attention and be a positive influence in their lives.
Her oldest boy just graduated (wow where does the time go?) and made a point to invite me even though I haven't seen much of him in recent years.
My local taxes go to support the schools. Property tax. I don't complain, and I don't have any input into the schools around here. My own high school graduation took place in the Capital Center, in Maryland, where the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) played basketball and the Capitals played hockey. What? Some 13k seats or so, even in a class of 550 students, plenty of room and no need for tickets. Not so up here in PA. There are no local major indoor sports arenas, so the commencements are held AT the school, and of course there's not enough seats to go around. Blech. My second cousin then lacked seats even for his own family, some of his sisters had to give up their so his grandparents could sit in the auditorium, and yes I was also part of the "overflow". So I'm in the "cheap seats" in the cafeteria, there's a seedy camera and a pull down projector screen with grainy detail, and the sound speakers couldn't handle the volume so everything was distorted. I couldn't hear about a third of the goings on for distortion or lack of volume or both. If the district had more money, they could be doing better than this. Certainly down in the city, graduation was... less amateur of an event.
Still, there was something good about these small town local graduations. My own graduation was just a ceremony, just going through the motions. There was emotion from some of the girls, but not much. We were mostly happy to be getting out, and the commencement speeches were so dull I literally don't even remember the topics or themes or speakers, much less the content. We weren't handed our real diplomas on the stage, we had to hand our cap and gowns back in to get those. The stage was just for show, for the families.
This graduation last week was different. The speeches were all from the kids, and they were creative. They were even inspiring. I could not help but have a critical eye about the writing, the forms and content and flow, and even about the speaking. I guess it's been a long time since I was a hesitant child, speaking quietly. I still speak quietly now, most of the time, but contrasting where I stand now to where even these fine kids stand coming out of high school, I realize adult life has reshaped me more than I thought. Still, these kids did really well. There was a quality to them that made me proud. The speeches weren't platitude nor were they canned nor phony. They were truly good! I was impressed. And as I sat there listening, I'm thinking that all across the country there are small schools like this one, probably many underfunded and some much worse off than this, where there are sincere and quality teachers mixed in with the larger number of warm bodies lacking passion or skill. Everything is a mix, but there is much good and something exceptional in every community, every school.
There was a good variety in the speeches, too: some inspiring, one very humorous, one solemn. Good work, truly. I was both happy and comfortable participating as an observer.
There was a second graduation, too. Not a cousin's child, this time, but a first cousin, one of the youngest I have (only his lil bro is younger). I've been part of his life, too, even more than the other boy. He's gotten even more of my time and attention. My mom's family are all from Pennsylvania and all still live here, while my Dad's are from DC and are scattered all over and some of them dead. I've lived here in PA my whole adult life, which, strangely, is pretty much the whole lives of these boys. They don't think of me as the relative from Maryland/DC, even though that's how I think of myself.
Anyway, his school is a bit larger, being in the county seat. Its commencement was more polished, but same deal: at the school, and for lack of seats I'm in the cafeteria again, only this time watching TV's. There were half a dozen TV's hooked in, and the school was a bit richer in that regard. Better technology and more of it available, but oddly, less of a homey and friendly feel to the festivities. The seats were lousy, being not chairs but standard lunchtables with hard-assed little round stools to sit on. (Is it something about an inversely proportional relationship, the size of the town and the size of the graduating class, presenting an ever more polished but also ever more sterile graduation?)
So these kids had their own individual stamp on their ceremony. The top of the class were ALL girls in this class (my cousin's a bright lad, but he's also a bit restless and rebellious now, and no doubt slacked off in his later school years). They had an interwoven set of speeches, very creatively managed yet also still effective. Some of them got very emotional and cried a good bit. The principle, a young man (about my age, maybe younger!) was in just his second year, and he too gave a speech, and it was very heartfelt and inspirational and personable. His love for his job and his charisma and commitment to the students came through very clearly, as did the freshness of youth, and after seeing him in action it made a lot of sense as to the identity and direction of the commencement. His stamp was all over the school, and that was a good thing.
Two for two, Doc. 100% of local schools sampled in my graduation survey came off way better than I would have expected. It was refreshing and deeply heartening to see LIFE in these schools and classes. I can't imagine these being the exceptions. Some schools probably do stink and there may even be a few with nobody talented or engaged at the wheel, where all the teachers stink and all the students are stripped of their hopes rather than nurtured in them. And as with your schools, there are schools who are poor and deeply suffering for a bit more budget (or a bit less corruption in spending the budget). But the money isn't the most important thing. It's the teachers. I know you need better money to attract and retain better teachers, but if you want to get to know the real condition of your local schools, you need to get to know the teachers better. I'm sure they could use a stubborn ally of your caliber in their corner.
Can you go in and talk with the teachers? Get a sense for who has any sense and who may not? Find out what they are lacking that not only would be "nice" to have but what they are lacking that truly hinders and hampers them in their jobs. Don't overrely on your own judgement: find out from the real sources what is needed and wanted, and find some allies. You sound like the sort who would go and pay out of pocket for something your own self if you thought it would matter. There have to be some teachers like that around, too. Or I sure hope there are. If you don't have any good people down there, then yes, your kids are in a whole mess o troubles.
Fact is, history ain't changed since the 1970's, so a history book or math book written back then can serve just as well, long as it's not a course that is supposed to include recent history. New books might help, but they may not be the most urgent priority. Find out from the teachers what is needed most and push for THAT. You'll go farther with it. It's even possible that what's needed most is not more money at all, but some moral support, some encouragement or inspiration or effective leadership. If these folks here in my area can assemble decent schools on low budgets, folks in your area could too.
You didn't get a warm reception, and I can't speak as to whether or not you're on target with the suspicions and accusations of corruption. I can say, if you hold all these folks to standards you yourself can't even live up to, you may go in with good intent but only disrupt and destroy, burning everything down in the process. The Magician may serve you here, but the Warrior may serve you better. Go in with precision and discipline, seeking and bringing clarity, to blow through and refresh and renew all in your path, to focus and to strengthen and to defend. If you rumble through and burn it all down, you might still get a net positive result, but... don't go that far if you can achieve more through destroying less. Tread carefully, and don't be blinded by the money.
And yes, dammit, even play some politics. If you are really there for the kids, you'll do whatever puts you on the path to having the most impact, and NOT what fits best with your personality. You don't have to be the activist here. There MAY be a place for that, but make sure before you commit. Think more. And if it helps, think back on my Scientology crisis. There ARE times when a frontal assault is not the best option.