Monday, May 7, 2012

And Then Again...Every X Is Sacred...
Boy was I in a terrible mood when last I ranted at you. I really did feel that way though, and likely would again if I reread it now, but now I also feel a good bit chagrined because I am pretty sure that I probably really offended some friends of mine who then may not return to read this post. Sigh.

I went without really giving weight to the "well DUH" side, except to chastise myself as a hypocrite. I was all about my own individual self who wanted no additional requirements at the expense of the individuals who would be the recipients of the gap between what is budgeted for public schools and what is needed to give the level of instruction students really deserve and that we expect. How convenient.

Not to excuse this, but it occurred to me this afternoon that there is an unexpected link between this subject and my former work life in wildlife management.
That link is the parallel that can be drawn between wildlife managers tasked with managing an ecosystem and their sometimes conflict with animal rights organizations such PETA or a Humane Society. Managers may find that the needed action that benefits the habitat and species at the population level is to control the population of a particular species that is impacting the area's natural resources more than it would in an undisturbed and balanced ecosystem. An overpopulation of deer, for example, may be over-browsing a forest habitat in an area where large predators like wolves and mountain lions have long since been exterminated. This degrades the habitat, reducing cover and food for other species and may result in die-offs of species or abandonment of the area by other species, leaving even more vacant ecological niches and further throwing the ecosystem out of balance. A typical solution for this problem is to cull a certain number of deer in order to bring the population back down to a level the ecosystem can support without degradation. This means allowing a certain number of hunters to shoot a certain number of deer with an appropriate weapon as decided by the local authority. Individuals are arbitrarily selected and taken out to benefit the population despite the impact on the lives of those to be killed.

On the population level, this action accomplishes the goal of bringing things back into balance, but it means the extinguishment of a certain number of individuals. Enter the animal rights organizations. These people are concerned about the fate of the individual animals that would be killed. It is human nature to favor the individual over an unknown group. Admittedly, for those individuals to be sacrificed, the plan would not be an improvement for their particular individual health! But if they are not impacted (i.e. those arbitrarily chosen individuals are not killed and removed from the population) the overall health of the entire population is at risk as is the quality of the habitat for other species. It seems to me that this runs parallel to the reason for public school fundraising. The choice to favor the individual hurts the population. Granted, each year monies donated may enhance the learning of one or several years of individual students, but the overall problem degrading the schools and hurting our teachers remains unaddressed. The band aid helps for a short time but doesn't fix the problem and plans are made for next year's fundraisers because we now depend on them.

So what, are the deer to volunteer to be shot in order to aid the larger group? Of course not, and the cull will take out both healthy and young and old and sick alike, not like the natural predators that would have taken only the weak and sick out of the population. Of course no one wants their child to be affected negatively by any management choice in the school system. Like I said, "well, DUH." if the community can help the school and themselves (either because they care about a student or gain advertising visibility), of course they will.

So what do we do? The managers may gripe about having to deal with the animal rights people and also about having to arrange the culling. It's not the fault of any of those involved that back in the day the uninvited foreign settlers didn't want their kids and animals taken by wolves, right? (Don't even get me started on the outrageous treatment of the Native American nations.) If the animal rights group were there then they would have demonstrated against the extermination of the wolves I suppose. The settlers wouldn't have appreciated that.

So I don't know. It's not like I can actually expect school fundraising to stop and force administrative change by showing the ridiculous gap between what public schools need and what they get, but I worry that it's never going to get fixed and the deer are going to get less and less and less fit, I mean, the quality of American schools is going to continue to rest on the backs of individual and unpredictable contributions from students' families. Can't things at least be restructured so that the money given in fundraising efforts by the community is simply collected en masse at the beginning of the school year as some kind of user fee? I suppose there would still be parents doing fundraisers to help get something they don't have. Maybe then though when you paid your user fee you could opt out (or not) of that year's campaigns? I think that's what would suit me best.

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