When I taught seventh-grade economics, I worked with students to create their own monthly budget.
I “gave” them $2,000 for the month, and had them search for apartments to rent, cars to buy and utility costs.
One was disappointed that he couldn’t afford a Maserati. Another group of three boys teamed up to rent an apartment so they could budget for the latest sneakers.
Life is already tough for my students. Many have parents working two and three jobs just to put dinner on the table. Most come from single-parent homes. Some come to school hungry. And yet, in doing this assignment, my students were shocked to discover how tough life can be.
It’s true that without the good jobs President Obama spoke about this week, my students’ lives will be tough. But without a great public education, that core promise our nation makes to all children, they won’t have the preparation they need to get a good job and grow our economy.
There are no computers in our classroom, besides the one I use to track grades and print off assignments. There are not enough textbooks to go around, much less to have a classroom set.
The implementation of the Common Core State Standards is creeping up quickly, and yet there has been no training. No preparation. Our kids don’t even know it’s coming.
Now, I know Kansas City public schools are better off than many other cities. In Philadelphia, the community is fending off draconian cuts. In Chicago, the community is fighting the closing of 49 schools and layoffs of thousands of school employees.
And on Capitol Hill, Republican House leaders just pushed through a bill that would starve our schools and students of much-needed resources.
In Kansas City and across the country, we must reclaim the promise of a great public education. We must reclaim the promise of neighborhood public schools that are safe and welcoming.
We must reclaim the promise of classrooms that have the best resources and teachers who are well-prepared. We must reclaim the promise of giving all children the fair shot they deserve.
I want my students to go to college. I want them to get good jobs. I want them to be able to buy that fancy car or new pair of shoes they dream of, and I want them to be able to care for the families they have yet to dream of.
I want them to use the innovation they show in the classroom to help invigorate our community and our economy. But I know that preparation starts now, in their public school.
Only when we reclaim the promise of a high-quality public education will we be able to rebuild our economy and revive the middle class.
Jason Roberts teaches ninth-grade world history at the Central Academy of Excellence and is a member of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel, Local 691.