When the community steals from its students



by Christopher Paslay


Over the past decade, education advocates and community groups have been focusing their attention on school equity—the idea that all students, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, should receive an equal education.


As a teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I agree wholeheartedly.  All children deserve a quality education.  The reality, of course, is that not all schools are equal, and often times the neediest children end up in schools that are struggling to achieve.


Many advocacy groups blame educational inequities on the quality of teachers.  Others suggest it’s about race—that the District needs more African Americans on staff to reach minority students in order to close the achievement gap. 


Still others talk about the absence of resources, and insist schools in impoverished neighborhoods lack books, computer equipment, and other supplies (members of the Philadelphia Student Union recently met with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. to talk about the lack of resources at Overbrook High School).


The irony (or tragedy) is that when you take a closer look at schools like Overbrook, you’ll often find that these schools did have adequate resources and materials at one time, but they somehow disappeared from circulation.


Unlike the situation earlier this year with textbooks, it’s not the District or school administrators who are responsible—it’s the community.             


The very men and women who are supposed to be making a contribution to education in their neighborhoods are actually taking away from it—by stealing valuable educational equipment.    


According to a report by CBS 3, nearly $5 million in computer equipment has been stolen from the Philadelphia School District since 2005, most of which has been taken from impoverished neighborhood schools.        


In the 2008-09 school year,12 laptops were stolen from Overbrook High School, 33 from Strawberry Mansion, another 30 from Bok, and a total of 104 from Furness (after three robberies). 


How have community groups and education advocates reacted to the reprehensible behavior of their fellow citizens? 


Besides a short-lived plea by Philadelphia Police to return the stolen property, mum’s been the word.  Not much of a peep by anyone.  The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a self proclaimed champion of educational equity, hasn’t said much.  Neither have activists working under the Education First Compact or the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign for School Reform. 


Neither has the Philadelphia Student Union, for that matter. 


It speaks volumes that those who claim to care about public education in Philadelphia have failed to hold their own community responsible for stealing from our city’s children.  It’s also telling that not a single “education activist” has started a campaign to raise awareness about the crime being perpetrated against our students. 


It takes a village to teach a child.  If our own community is stealing resources from our children (and not being held accountable), what hope is there for pubic education?    


This is yet another example of how the educational system is the result of the community, not the other way around.


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