published Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

David Cook: High school students... strike!

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.

For you.

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 or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

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 ...

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aae1049 said...

There would be more than adequate funds for the school system, if HCDE and Hamilton County waste was addressed. For instance, the race to the top funds never make it to the schools, consulting schemes with the Public Education Foundation divert millions from children each year.

November 28, 2012 at 9 a.m.

Ah JonRoss, suddenly doing an about-face in regards to public protest.

Keep going with those pretenses, nobody will notice you showing up at those Tea Party rallies demanding to overthrow the government.

There's a reason why the Tennessee State Constitution explicitly disagrees with you.

But I guess you only care about some of the amendments.

November 28, 2012 at 10:32 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Happy, the only groups I have seen threatening mob mentality and vandalizing public property are the Occupiers. The Tea Party people are very settled.

November 28, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

Keep pretending JonRoss and aae1049.

Apparently you don't even remember the name's origins, let alone pay attention to the statements and positions of the movement. Either that, or you won't own up to them, preferring to profess an innocence that isn't real.

But notice who is hanging around with Donald Trump or passing around chain emails about a mythical quorum in the Electoral college. Or forming a militia to protect True Americans from global conspiracies while simultaneously attacking others for voting for gifts and handouts.

I'd respect you more if you had the courage of your convictions rather than feigning a posture of benevolence.

November 28, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Mob actions and threats of chaos or violence are unacceptable." - JonRoss

No significant changes in society were ever achieved without some form of "mob action," (protest). Whether it was workers' rights, civil rights, women's rights, or the Vietnam War, massive protests were the catalysts of the changes that were needed. Jon Ross, you conservatives/libertarians say you want little or no government but you really just want a government that does your bidding. Likewise you say that "mob action" is unacceptable...unless, of course, it's a protest that meets with your approval. Something like those tea party protests, maybe? Those tea-party folks were always so civilized, well behaved, and neatly dressed, weren't they? Even the ones that showed up with guns strapped to their hips or slung over their shoulders, well, they never actually used them, did they? True ladies and gentlemen, every one of 'em. Looked like they were all on their way to Sunday School maybe. I guess they had all read "The Rules and Etiquette of Orderly Protest."

Seems to me that you see it as "mob action" when you don't approve of it, JR, but it's civil disobedience when you do. Or do you even disapprove of civil disobedience? If so, you might want to reflect a little more on what's at the very heart and core of this nation. What was the Revolutionary War but a series of “mob actions” that led to the ulitmate “mob action” of the war itself?

November 28, 2012 at 1:45 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Our public schools are indeed in pitiful shape, intrinsically and structurally. And that is a sad reflection of our society and our nation.

If there is one area where government should indeed be involved it is the education of its citizens. Those calling for complete privatization of our schools are completely missing the point - that our education system should be at least adequate enough to educate even the poorest and most disadvantaged among us. Private schools where profit is the essential driving force will never sufficiently address that need.

That we have the very buildings in which we house our kids for schooling in such abysmal condition is pathetic and embarrassing. But how can we expect to repair our education system internally when we can't even come up with the funds to fix our crumbling buildings?

I would love to see the kids show enough heart and soul to stage a massive protest but sadly they seem to be too engrossed in texting, sexting, tweeting, facebooking, and playing with their ipads to really care that much about crumbling buildings. And if that is the case, then that in itself is another sad reflection of our society today.

November 28, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.
CHSinvolved said...

Welcome to what is the result of many, many years of complacency and apathy in the education "SYSTEM". I believe that the students don't realize the power that they would have if they organized. They have seen the power abused by the ones who are supposed to be responsible and have NO idea what kind of force that they can be if they banned together with a mission.

No one has told them that they "can". So in a land of "respect your elders even when they are wrong" and say "yes ma'am, no sir" to everyone...they don't know what they are allowed to do. Parents, it is time to quit your ranting and give YOUR permission for your child to exercise the very American right to assemble and accomplish the deed of improving their education AND stand behind them. Push them forward, let them know acceptable ways of organizing, when to follow the rules, when to break the rules, and which adults need to be called on the carpet for their incompetency. This means that you, the parent, will need to do a little homework, be involved in your child's school, know what is going on, and even get out there and let those voted IN, know also, that they can be voted OUT. That is what I am doing, starting with my child and then the child next to them.

And to Rickaroo....yes, many are engrossed in "texting, sexting, tweeting, facebooking, and playing with their iPads" but so are many productive adults. Many of the kids I see several times a week are also writing papers, trying to get into college, working a job, and taking AP classes in a school that is trying to change their reputation from being "that school" to "that great school".

November 28, 2012 at 8:47 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

CHSinvolved, you are correct. A lot of adults are just as apathetic and lulled to complacency by their electronic gidgey-gadgets and their social networking as the kids are. But your call for parents to encourage their kids to mobilize and become more aware of their collective power seems a bit unrealistic, because few if any adults themselves would ever consider mobilizing and protesting. Most of today's younger adults, born after the sixties, have never had any reason or inclination to protest. That is not meant to be a criticism, just a statement of fact.

Moreover, the kids in our deteriorating schools have never seen how good public schools can be. Our schools have been in such decline for so long that they don't know any better! It is sad but they seem to think that crumbling buildings, overcrowded classrooms, lack of money to provide even the most basic of materials is the norm. It's hard to get victims to protest when they don't even realize they are victims. It's hard to get kids thirsty for something better when so many people who hate the very notion of public education are calling them "takers" anyway.

November 28, 2012 at 9:54 p.m.
CHSinvolved said...

Just because they haven't seen better, believe you me, they know it is out there. And yes, many want it but don't know how to get it. Like buying your first home, there is a learning curve. Yes, many parents won't do a thing. It only takes one or two committed parents to light a fire and get a group motivated. Most parents won't. Just like most parents won't set foot into the school that their own child attends, to lift a finger but will complain loudly that they had to miss work to pick up their kid from a flooded school. Not upset that the school that sits on a hill actually flooded, just that they missed work. That is the complacency that I mentioned and it's the reality of life. But I am ONE parent, and I am willing to bring in and work with another parent, then another...I am also calling on others in the community, even younger than I am (born in the 80s with no real reason to need to organize but do it so well) to help in this one school. Make a difference where you are and hopefully, it will spread.

So what about you? Will you get involved in the betterment of education in Hamilton County? Maybe you don't have kids in the system, but these may be our future political leaders, teachers, CEOs, and small biz start-ups in the growing Chattanooga area. I believe in public schools and I will start in my community and hope for a trickle down effect. I would like to invite you to come see what I am talking about. Be involved on a ground floor level in something that HCDE has never seen...a well organized group with a purpose and eventually power to change "the way it's always been done" to something a whole lot better. BTW....I'm at CHS every Wednesday and I would love to show you around and show you ways that you can be a positive change in ONE school, one person at a time.

November 28, 2012 at 10:12 p.m.
Maximus said...

Mr. Cook, I know you are new in town and maybe new to the South but just to update you, the liberals trashed our public schools decades ago. My Grandfather got a better education in a one room school house learning reading, writing, and arithmatic as compared to the feel good, Little Johnny is excelling, liberal giberish that is passed off as education throughout the U.S. public education system today. It's not about the resources. It's about the fat, slouchy,union thug teachers, the tenured, over paid administrations and the trashy secular humanist curriculum. Efforts by the left to indoctrinate and bring so called equality to public education has created a larger gap between the haves and the have nots in America. President Obama attended elite "private" schools both in Hawaii and over seas. His two lovely daughters attend private schools. Mr. Cook, if you want your kids to get a good education in Chatt send them to Baylor, GPS, Notre Dame, or McCallie. With our trashed public schools, sorry Barry, everyone does not get their fair share when it comes to getting an education. Those educated in private schools are moving forward while those in public schools are falling behind. Thanks Democrats!

November 29, 2012 at 10:27 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

CHS, I appreciate how engaged you are. You obviously are someone who is doing more than just paying lip service to a cause you believe in. I care very much about education and the state of our schools, even though I don't have any kids, or grand kids for that matter, in the school system now. I lived most of my life in Chattanooga but currently live in Monteagle and I am limited in my driving and drive only as much as I'm forced to. I am presently engaged in two causes that take up a considerable amount of my time, and I must pick and choose my battles carefully. I take heart in knowing that there are those like you who are so passionate and involved in the betterment of our public schools.

November 29, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Maximus, to blithely say that our public schools are in such bad shape because "liberals trashed them decades ago" is nothing but a foolishly simplistic, knee-jerk statement.

Conservatives/Republicans have always hated the very notion of public education, just like they have always hated anything related to the New Deal and any remotely liberal policy or program, and they have been trying to destroy it almost since its inception. Their philosophy of starving the beast by cutting off funding has served their purposes well in their unanimous support of school vouchers. By siphoning much needed funds away from the public schools and expropriating more and more each year for the voucher program, they seem to be gradually succeeding in destroying our public education system.

What they call freedom of choice is laughable. Most decent private schools are far too expensive for the kids of poorer families to be able to afford, even with the vouchers, so freedom of choice applies pretty much to only the richer kids, while the poorer kids are left behind in a languishing, shamefully underfunded public school system. Your advice for parents to simply pull their kids out of a substandard public school and send them to outrageously expensive private schools like Baylor, McCallie, or GPS, is either ridiculously naive or just laugh-out-loud funny. Like so many short-sighted conservatives, you don't have the least concern for addressing the crux of the matter, namely how to make a good education accessible for ALL kids, you just care about catering to those who can already afford to get something better.

There are many and varied reasons that our public schools are failing so abysmally. The root causes cannot be laid entirely at the feet of liberals or conservatives alone. But most liberals want to repair the system and make it work (and it truly can work) while conservatives would just as soon destroy the system altogether, with nothing but the empty rhetoric of "freedom of choice" to put in its place.

November 29, 2012 at 12:19 p.m.

Maximus, you're correct about the overpaid administrators, but not much else.

I'm glad you didn't go off on a tear about the Federal Department of Education though, because while conservatives love to blame it, the real responsibility for running our schools is at the local level.

And if you check for individual, well-performing public schools, you can find them. They do exist. The ones that don't perform well? You might want to check out a certain pattern to them.

At least liberals haven't gotten behind a privatization effort that has students watching DVDs all day though.

November 29, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
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