It doesn't have to be like this.
It shouldn't be like this.
The peeling paint. The leaking roof. The crumbling classrooms. Windows containing lead and asbestos. Heaters that don't work. Computers that don't exist. Wheelchair ramps that don't either.
But I guess when you've seen it for so long, year after year, it becomes normal. Regular. Expected. Like another Taylor Swift break-up.
The adults around you have become like the little Dutch boy. All 10 fingers, all 10 toes, plugging up the holes in the about-to-burst dam that is our public school infrastructure.
Any of you go to Central High? Your roof was leaking so badly that classes were canceled. Mold, fungus, headaches. I met one teacher who had a tarp strung up in her classroom.
Know when adults first started talking about fixing that? Put it on their to-do list? Back in 2004. When you all were in elementary school.
How about Brainerd? Officials are finally funding a fix for your heating and air system. It was installed 52 years ago, around the time the bikini became popular and eight years before Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Overall, it's estimated that more than $200 million is needed to fix all the broken-down stuff. Know how much money is budgeted each year for capital maintenance?
Less than $3 million.
So, as long as nothing else breaks, we're on course to fix and repair all our schools by around 2080. The 70-year master plan.
This is, as they say, out-flipping-rageous.
And I can't seem to find any adults with a way to fix this. No one's even willing to talk about -- gasp -- raising property taxes. Or re-prioritizing the overall budget.
Therefore, it's time you did something. Something that will, to paraphrase your first period teacher, wake us up!
It's time you went on strike.
The 60s. Arab Spring. Occupy. The first sit-ins in Chattanooga. The Civil Rights Movement. (Did you know a Montgomery teenager refused to give up her segregated bus seat long before Rosa Parks ever did?)
Any protest movement worth a chapter in your history book has been fueled by people your age. Why can't it happen here?
Picture this: one day this year, thousands of you don't show up to school. Not staying home to play Xbox, but in a solemn act of non-cooperation, you remind the county (and perhaps yourselves too) of exactly why we have schools in the first place.
Our schools are supposed to serve you and your future. In a way, they belong to you. Not us.
You announce your strike ahead of time. You organize a coalition of student leaders from all high schools. You vow to remain respectful, courteous and committed. You turn in your homework ahead of time.
(You also begin to marvel at the way social action can bring cohesiveness and a sense of power and meaning to your lives. Working for change and the greater good can do that, you know.)
And instead of going to school, you show up to a Hamilton County Commission meeting (this group of nine men determines funding for Hamilton County's public schools). Five thousand of you. Heck, five hundred of you would make a loud enough statement.
In no other realm of our culture would such inadequacy and falling roofs be so normalized and accepted and ho-hum-routine-OK.
That's why we (the adults) need you (the students) to wake us up and remind us how dire and unacceptable the situation is.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...