Monday, May 06, 2013

Problems We Could Solve

Red Queen in LA:

No one’s child should spend their day sitting in such grunge and grime. It is disgusting. It is wrong. It is unhealthy. While researchers spend millions to parse the determinants that contribute to our epidemic of pediatric asthma in Los Angeles, I have to wonder about the contribution simply of sitting in dusty, moldering, deteriorating portables. Just walking in to the room induces a sneezing fit; imagine then rag upon rag saturated with blackness from just a superficial cleaning. This is settling into the lungs of your children and mine.

Why are the classrooms so foul? No doubt someone will have the temerity to blame a teacher for this, but the ultimate explanation is neither complex nor derivative. The classrooms are cleaned twice per year, because there is insufficient personnel to do so more frequently. Never mind that in some rooms there are 500 trips across a classroom threshold per morning – yet these receive cleaning every five months. In some cases there are fewer than 200 occupants in the room per day, though this room, too, will wait five months for cleaning.

I know the state of my house after just one week with merely four occupants diluted throughout a fairly large space. Imagine – just imagine – the accumulation of grit in such close quarters shared by hundreds of young, energetic bodies. I have little doubt that if I were to clean my house just twice per year, Child Protective Services would remove my children from my care. How then can it be that vast swathes of children are sent day after day to sit in government-provided classrooms that no responsible adult has cleaned in months? Where is Child Protective Services? The health department?

Of course, there has been some extracurricular cleaning in many classrooms – undertaken by your own children of their classroom, and by your child’s teacher. I am appalled that my children are sent to school, underage for employment of course, to be asked to clean their classroom. But the alternative is more horrifying in fact, that they should stew in this mire unremediated. As a taxpayer I am also upset that my tax dollars are invested so inefficiently that the salary of a teacher should be squandered on cleaning. This latter is an unskilled job and traditionally, our democracy has supported a system of remuneration that tracks skill. My tax dollars are hardly optimized when overqualified people are tasked with cleaning. Not, that is, unless that labor is extracted for free.

So while legions are unemployed, desperate for a job, we opt, as a democracy, not to pay anyone to clean these classrooms. Instead, every other conceivable work-around is employed: volunteer labor from parents and the community at-large, conscripted, unremunerated child labor, unacknowledged, unremunerated teacher labor. Worst of all is if none of this is utilized; the crud instead just accumulates relentlessly.

Let’s take stock here: Cry for the children marooned in filth. Cry for the adults crying “uncle”, relegated to cleaning for no compensation. Cry for the workers, displaced and unvalued.

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