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i have not the words

February 26th, 2005

More education stories in the paper today, about how the state has more money than they thought. No, not really, cuz there is even less money now for schools. (Well, which is it?) More teachers will need to be fired. The school year will be shorter. But the district is hiring seven people to do PR and “communicate.” So they apparently have the money for that. I cannot communicate well about any of this. I guess I wouldn’t deserve one of their $100,000 + a year jobs, since i am unable to communicate about this subject that is so near to my heart.

The editorial board recommends keeping Smith and Edwards (SW and SE Portland school) open, but to go ahead and close down the North Portland schools because They Care A Lot at Smith and Edwards. Plus they can afford to all go out and buy matching sweatshirts, and show up at school board meetings, in tears, because They Care A Lot. (So this means they’re better parents, and their kids deserve an education. Whereas poor kids, who have less advantages, and whose parents are not as well-organized, do not.)

We care a lot over here, too. And if I, Wacky Mommy, the most verbose girl in the neighborhood, has not the words to express her sadness and sorrow over the divisiveness, the petty in-fighting, the depression that’s set in over this part of town — i have my doubts that other moms and dads in North/Northeast can find the words, either.

Especially if they’re not “Miss Einstein,” as my granny has dubbed me, and don’t have English degrees. Maybe they don’t have computers to fire off e-mails. Maybe they don’t know how to write, or spell well, or speak English, even, and are embarrassed. Maybe they don’t know their goddamn rights.

True story: A Hispanic mom, M, came to me this fall, and wanted to know how come I was allowed to volunteer in our kids’ classroom and she wasn’t? She had told the teacher she wanted to volunteer and the teacher told her she wasn’t needed (this was at our former school, not our current school). I showed her how to fill out the volunteer form, told her no, she didn’t need to put down her Social Security number for the criminal check (which was good, cuz she didn’t have one) and that her driver’s license alone was OK. (And I later talked to the volunteer coordinator re: illegal aliens wanting to volunteer in the classroom,
but not wanting to have INS problems. What to do?)

Then i introduced her to the teacher and said, “This is M, she’s your room parent! You didn’t know that?” smiled, and left. What could the teacher do but say “Welcome.” I mean, I’m a PTA mom who helps get things done, she couldn’t very well tell me no, could she? Could anyone?

So now M volunteers almost every morning, before she leaves for work. Her kid is so happy to have his mommy there. The Spanish-speaking kids are thrilled to have a Spanish-speaking mommy there. It’s good. As Raymond Carver would say, “It’s a small good thing.”

True story: I could do this because someone told me I could, and because my mom was a PTA mom and taught me these things. True story: PTA turns 100 years old this year. Women started it because they couldn’t vote. And they were Wacky Mommies and wanted to lobby. So they did.

Also true: Poverty makes you ashamed. It makes you feel dirty and worthless and like you’re a failure as a parent, because even though you’re working two or three jobs, they’re minimum wage jobs, and you can’t afford music and art lessons for your kids. God, you can’t even afford groceries, how can you afford ballet?

So maybe when “they” say they’re closing down your neighborhood school, you don’t know who “they” really are. You are disenfranchised. You don’t know that it’s your right to write. To blog. To pick up the phone. To hop on a schoolbus with other parents and go to Salem and lobby. Maybe if you miss work one more day your boss will fire you. You don’t have the luxury of being a Wacky Mommy, who spends some of her free time (“You have free time? Fuck you.”) every day blogging and venting and talking to her girlfriends and Wacky Daddy about Why Things Suck and How in a Perfect Wacky Mommy World, we’d be entitled to a free education at a public school in our own neighborhood. Where we would find awesome things like art classes, and music, carnivals and field days and field trips.

That we would deserve this even if we were poor. Or not white. Or unable to afford matchy-matchy red sweatshirts and show up to school board meetings (“I had to work! How could I go?”) Or if we were unable to find the words.


  1. Helga says

    Watching the PPS board meeting with the Smith parents last night, I felt vaguely elated and nauseated all at the same goshdern time. These parents knew what they are talking about. They pulled out facts and figures, they had emotional speeches, they are educated and smart speakers. Phillips was visibly shaken. They were driving their points home.

    But, of course, I couldn’t help but wonder about all those “other parents”– the ones that aren’t well-educated, the ones who don’t have the luxury of time to prepare and compile and become polished, sharp, and “good representatives” of a community. What about them? Oh yeah. They are losing a battle they aren’t even adequately able to fight.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, my friend. And, as so many of the Smith parents lamented:”We have to consider private school now.”
    What about those other parents that don’t even have that as an option? Makes me ill.

    Thank you Wacky Mommy for addressing this situation with heart-felt words. It’s appalling and yes, unspeakably sad.

    February 26th, 2005 | #

  2. poetmom777 says

    Well, I live in the Smith School neighborhood, but my son isn’t quite 2, so in that sense the potential school closure isn’t a huge personal issue for me. I did sign the petition in favor of keeping it open, based on the glowing review I got from the mother who was circulating the petition. I just want to say thank you to Helga for that bit about parents who might need to consider private school now. Personally my husband and I don’t make enough money to even think about sending our child to private school, much as we’d love to be able to for his sake. Maybe if we lived in North Portland, we’d be able to afford it. Living in the Smith School neighborhood, pretty much everything we make, both of us working full time, goes for the mortgage, daycare, and basic living expenses. So I want to say keep Smith open, so my son will have a really good neighborhood school to attend when the time comes, and because what sense does it make to close a school that has an excellent rating, etc. On the other hand, judging from the average house size in my neighborhood, most Smith parents can probably send their kids to private schools and not call it a financial hardship. I don’t know where my son will end up going to school–a lot can happen in 5 years. I do know that closing more schools in lower income neighborhoods is not going to improve the already rocky and tenuous lives of the kids who go to those schools and it’s not going to improve what I consider our culture’s already very dicey future. It’s hard to say it, but if closing Smith means keeping a school in North Portland open and finding some funds to improve the education there, it’s the obvious choice. The kids of parents who have enough resources and free time to canvas the neighborhood and do all the research obviously are going to get a first-rate education one way or another, along with all the other advantages of not having to worry about money.
    I just hope that when my son turns 5 there is a really good school somewhere in Southwest Portland he can go to. In closing, I want to say a big Thank you to Wacky Mommy for initiating this totally awesome blog thingy and to also say to her, I got your phone message! I promise I’m calling you soon. Our son’s birthdays are coming up!

    March 1st, 2005 | #

  3. Roxie says

    Dear W.M.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, especially about the lower income working parents who leave the house at 6:30 a.m. and come home at 7:30 p.m.. It could be any one of us. What saddens me is that people feel defeated without even putting up a fight. It’s more like “here we go again”.

    On the flip side, I am excited about having my school become pre-K through 6. We will get new parents and retain them. Our voice as one school will be much louder. Another thing that I have longed to see is some desirable magnet schools in North Portland. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “I want my kid to go to Divenchy, but there are only a few openings”. Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn that around so people would say the same thing about Ockley Green? Let’s attract people to North Portland for a change. Give the PPS population what they want, based in North Portland. If it is appealing enough many folks would jump at the chance to go to “our school”. For years I’ve wanted a K-8 school. The environment is nurturing. The kids are “tight”. Everyone knows everyone. The idea of 7-12 is scary. However, I’ve talked to people who attended and also sent their kids to 7-12 schools, and they raved about it. They said the community feeling was there as well. Maybe I’m just a dreamer. But wouldn’t it be nice if it all worked out?

    Now, as far as cutting teachers and shortening the school year, um, bite me Ms. Phillips. That really blows. It’s an insult to anyone in Multnomah Co. paying the extra tax already. We pay more, but are getting less. People are already fed up. We were promised results, but things haven’t changed; not enough to make people want to cough up the money again. We The People are pissed!

    March 1st, 2005 | #

  4. Helga says

    Okay, I watched another PPS meeting last night- is it all about gentrification? The brilliant speaker, the King PTA president, asked: Is this an example of a master plan of disenfranchising a particular population? Specifically, with Alberta Arts District and Interstate Max, the new influx of young career-minded white people that will need schools in oh, say, 7-10 years need room. Get rid of the schools now, ship the unfortunate kids out, effectively and maybe eventually ship the families out, and therein resides the new wave of N. Portlanders, comfortable. And, lo and behold, there will most likely be new “improved schools” for the new community with new money, new rents, new property prices, new stores.

    The problem is so complex, so state-wide, and to a lesser degree, nation-wide, that is difficult to analyze. But the N and NE Portlanders are “bearing the brunt of it,” as one impassioned speaker noted.

    The difference between the Kenton speakers and the Smith parents was note-worthy, of course. There was soul. No power-point presentations. No perfect poses or smiles. But there was pure hurt and disappointment and misunderstanding. It hurts too much to even be living here sometimes with this sorrow surrounding. Why wouldn’t a family that is self-protective consider moving?
    What is the answer? No matter what happens people that have built this part of Portland are getting screwed. And it’s not only now, but it’s also later. That’s the really sad part because it leaves no hope for the fabric of this community.

    March 3rd, 2005 | #

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