Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Thorny Issue

One of the routes to curing cancer is to follow a course of chemotherapy.  Fundamentally, the practice of using chemo to attack cancer cells seems fairly sound - introduce a slew of chemicals into the body which will target and kill rapidly reproducing cells.  While chemo certainly kills cancer cells, it tends to produce collateral damage as well.  Along with the disease, chemo kills hair follicles, cells in the digetive tract, and cells in the bone marrow.  The result is nausea, hair loss, and a depression of the immune system.  Ultimately, despite the adverse side effects, chemo beats the average on increasing life expectancy for cancer patients, even if the quality of life is lessened.
If we were to approach every problem with the same general method of chemo, we would probably not see the results we would hope for.  Allow me to use a parable to explain.  
Two men who live next to each other share a love for rose gardens.  Each has used fertilizer, watered thoroughly, pruned, mulched, and prepared their garden for a good growing season.  After a few weeks of admiring the product of their hard work, both men notice a weed growing right in the center of their rose bushes.  This is where the men differ in their approach.
The first man, seeing that the weed is centered perfectly in the middle of the large, thorny rose bushes, decides the easiest way to kill the weed is to use herbicide.  He goes to the store, purchases the strongest herbicide he can find, returns home and unloads on the garden.  In the process of drenching the weed, he also manages to hit all the other plants.  Within days, his entire garden is dead except for a few hardy survivors.  The weed is dead, too.
The second man, also seeing that the weed is centered perfectly in the middle of the roses, considers his options.  He recognizes that he can’t reach the weed with a rake, hoe, or spade without damaging the rose bushes, they are too dense.  He knows he can’t spray herbicide without hitting the other plants.  He decides to do the only thing he can.  The man puts on thick gloves and a long sleeve shirt, heads out to the garden and reaches through the bushes.  He can see that his arm is long enough to reach the weed if he moves slowly enough.  The man slides his hands through the branches, sweating with exertion.  He is occasionally pricked, but manages to reach the weed, pluck it from the soil, and remove it.  The problem is solved.
In real life, when dealing with cancer, the second choice is not always an option.  Sometimes chemo is the only thing left to attack disease before it kills the patient.  You just have to hope everything works out.
Right now, I think the state of Texas is approaching the education budget cuts in the same manner as the first man.  I think they have seen the problem, and rather than doing the leg work to discover potential side effects, they choose the easiest path.  Where the second man struggled and endured self sacrifice, the first man chose to pursue a path of overkill without regard to the results because it appeared easier.
Some of the collateral damage Texas will be facing in the upcoming years is quite surprising.  Some campuses are being forced to cut or reduce their Gifted and Talented programs.  In order to reach the magical teacher/student ration mandated by the state while not bankrupting the district, many campuses are being forced to decrease smaller classes.  Gifted and Talented classes, which are traditionally smaller, are being absorbed into standard classes because those teachers are needed to teach general classes - they can’t be spared to teach GT.  Instead of pushing these kids to challenge themselves, we now risk losing them to boredom and behavior problems.
Additionally, many schools are losing language programs.  Middle school foreign language programs are facing the axe as schools consolidate teacher ranks and high schools are reducing the variety of language classes they offer.  Fine arts programs, which have been repeatedly shown to develop extended cognitive skills, making the students better learners, are being reduced, with some branches of the fine arts disappearing from schools all together.  Although I have not heard any specific instances of this happening, I am sure athletic programs, traditionally the backbone of Texas public school education, are feeling the reductions as well.
As a result of these changes, Texas public school graduates are going to enter the college market with less to offer.  They will be less well-rounded, less mentally developed, and prepared only to do math, english, history, and science at a basic level.  
Is this the kind of future population we want to create?  Do we expect parents to fill the gap?  Will they teach the extended curriculum lost through Gifted and Talented cuts?  Will they expand student horizons through the application of foreign languages?  Will they teach their kids to paint, play the french horn, act, sing, or dance?  Will they put together an athletics program so their student can learn the important values team sports offers?
The answer is no.  No parent has been so fully educated that they are able to provide all of these things for their kids - that is why public education exists.  To fill the gap, parents can enlist the aid of private tutors for class work and languages, enroll their students in art and dance classes, public theater classes, or private music lessons, and sign them up for little league sports teams.  But what does all this take?  
Money.  Money parents don’t have.  
While I certainly respect the magnitude of the issue the Texas legislature faces, I would hope that, behind the scenes somewhere, someone is helping guide them through this process.  Without that guidance, and the willingness to listen and do what it takes to make it work, the state of Texas will be choosing to employ the same strategy as the first man.  

Kill it all and hope something comes back up. 


  1. I pray that you and your family never experience the hell that is cancer. The entire ordeal is horrific and consuming. In no way does it compare to the fight over education funding and I wish you would've been more sensitive to those of us who are in the fight now or have sat by the side of a spouse or loved one while they battled. And since you had the comment on TYB removed, I'll post it here or send you a direct email.

  2. Band -

    I honestly can't imagine what your family might have gone through. My use of chemotherapy was by no means an attempt to be insensitive, and I apologize if you felt that it was. I was attempting to illustrate the point that sometimes fixing something that is wrong can be challenging, and we have to be aware of the collateral damage associated with our decisions. The results of those decisions, no matter the benefit, is sometimes not always what we intended.

    Regarding the yellow board: the first time I checked back after posting the the link was when I discovered it had been locked and you had posted here. I have no idea what was said on the yellow board, only that Steve chose to prevent further discussion.

    I appreciate you bringing the issue to my attention. As I am always seeking better ways to reach the people who read my blog, every kind of feedback is always welcome.