I want to write about the devastating funding cut that’s looming large over my program and about 40 others in the city. I want to write about how awful it is that our city can’t recognize the importance of funding education for adults, doesn’t appreciate that adult education supports families, makes people more employable, makes it possible for them to secure living-wage jobs that improve their lives (and the tax revenue of the city). I want to write about the fact that our relatively small program has a waiting list of over 800 people who want to learn English but there aren’t enough slots for them. I want to write about the fact that the teachers in our program are smart, funny, dedicated people who work so hard every week, who care deeply about their students and craft lovely lessons that blend language acquisition with health and financial literacy, civics, history, and math. I want to write about our Student Leadership Team which is a beautiful group of smart women who have projects that touch our school, our community, Haiti and South Africa. I want to write about Maritza, who — because of the things she’s been learning about herself as she works in our program — has begun to reshape her emotionally and verbally abusive relationship with her husband. I want to write about every beautiful, wonderful thing I can think of about our program, help you see how special and important this work is, help you understand why it shouldn’t be erased … even if I can’t convince the Mayor.
But instead, I’ve spent the whole week trying to think of something else to say, something else to talk about about, something that isn’t so huge and awful hanging over my head.
Instead, I’ve tried to work on the story I want to submit for next month’s workshop, but I haven’t been able to do more than read over what I’ve already written and stare at it blankly.
Instead, I’ve tried to organize my brain enough to plan for the three-week math intensive I’m going to teach next month, but all I’ve been able to do is think of it as my last chance to work with those students … and those classes aren’t even in jeopardy from this cut.
Instead, I’ve tried to focus on the strategic plan we just started working on, but I keep running up against the wall of “What’s the point?” If three-quarters of our program disappears, all this grand planning will mean so much nothing.
In the good old days before I was a program director, adult education was part of a city agency that focused on community development. It was run by people who actually had backgrounds in adult education (imagine that), and had an understanding of the importance of a strong city commitment to helping adults learn English, earn their GED diplomas and prepare for the world of work. Then that agency was folded into the youth services agency — becoming a small department in a much larger agency — and was headed first by a woman who had no background or interest in education of any kind and now by a woman whose interest is only in the youth side of our equation. No big surprise that it would be easy for her to recommend complete elimination of a department that holds no value for her. But how can she not see that the precious children she’s so interested in need strong parents, need parents who can get and keep decent jobs, need parents who can navigate the healthcare system, need parents who can be strong advocates for them with the public schools, need parents who can read?
I don’t understand.
And I don’t know what will happen. I’m not worried about myself. Yes, it would suck royally if I were to lose my job. But I’d find another. I am sufficiently skilled that, even in this struggling economy, there are jobs out there that would fit me fine.¹ I’m not worried about myself. I’m thinking about the 300 people who are taking English classes in my program right now. I’m thinking about the 800 men and women on our waiting list and all the people on waiting lists at all the other programs I know. I’m thinking about the fact that there are 1.6 million people in my city who want classes but only seats for 13,000 of them under the city funding structure that’s about to be eliminated.
Yes, there is all sorts of activism and advocacy planned. You can help, actually. You can sign the “Save Adult Literacy” petition and ask everyone you know to sign it, too. It’s a start.
I don’t think complete elimination will be part of the final budget. I’m trying to be confident that the City Council, bolstered by all the grassroots advocacy we’re drumming up, will convince the Mayor to add back some of the funding. It seems unlikely, however, that the entire budget line will be restored. There are so many programs and services facing cuts, so many groups lobbying the Council to restore those budget lines. Adult education is going to take a serious hit, one that it will be long and hard for us to recover from. The dark clouds are overhead for my students and none of us has a big enough umbrella.
¹ Or maybe I’d just cash out my 401K and move to Jamaica already.