What exactly is essential?

I really think our government does not see education as essential. Here's why.

Today at 7:15 a.m., I organized my classroom. I wrote the date, learning goals, and success criteria on the board. I made 22 copies of an article about sleep debt that were reused in each class period. I straightened the desks and wiped each one down with cleaning wipes. I emailed a college admissions office about a senior very interested in attending their school. Anything else needed for the day was already complete yesterday, and so by 7:30, my day was ready to begin. School however, does not start until 8 a.m.. This is an average, purposefully relaxed, way to start my morning.

With all of my grading complete and in the computer, I decided to continue my planning for an upcoming Edgar Allan Poe unit. I already have most of what I need but last spring I came across some great ideas provided by the National Parks Service that I wanted to add to my unit. A PDF file, some 50 pages of lesson ideas to go along with the Edgar Allan Poe Historic Site, was at some recent time created by some wonderful people who obviously were educated on the subject and actually incorporated artifacts into the lessons...and it was free. As most teachers do, I love and make use of free resources pretty regularly.

And since I consider myself a less hairier version of an environmentalist, I try really hard not to waste paper. I don't make copies daily, not even weekly. As mentioned earlier, my students share papers all the time. I re-use what I can from the previous year. The loose-leaf paper, single sheets of paper the students use to complete assignments, are all leftovers from last year's notebooks cut out either by myself or at the hands of some very lucky students. My methods are all intentionally conserving as best as I can.

So when I see a 50+ page PDF, even though I want it all, I won't print it all out as is. Instead, I print four pages to a single sheet (yes, they are tiny) and make it print front to back. This reduces the amount of paper used and still allows me to use the packet as a resource. Then, if I decide to use some component later, I simply go back to the website and print off the pages as needed.

At 7:30 this morning, guess what site was closed due to the government shutdown? The National Parks website. Any searches link to the opening page which abruptly states there is no one there to maintain the site. A previously created PDF is not accessible because no one is there to maintain it? Horseshit.

Understand that I am not mad at the employees who have no say in this because they are not considered essential enough to work during the shutdown. Understand that I am unbelievably irritated by those who are considered to be essential, the same ones who made this shutdown occur, the same ones who I can only imagine are not actually affected by this shutdown in any way.

Most of us have heard about this government decision affecting the federal employees that are unable to work. We've heard how the National Park closures have altered/demolished plans for vacations and memorial visits and even weddings. Last weekend the husband and I made three separate kayaking attempts at local lakes- all of which were closed due to the shutdown. No information about closures existed on the individual websites and so we spent a good five hours driving only to find signs up at the parking lot entrances. Also, it is important to mention that when kayaking any one of these locations normally we don't encounter park employees at all. Not upon entering the lake area. Not when parking. Not while launching our kayaks or paddling around. Not when leaving. And so, I guess I just don't get why they are even closed. Who isn't getting paid exactly?

The last few days have seen some of the "big" parks: Arches, Zion, Grand Canyon, etc...temporarily reopening only because of private/state donations. I'm certain these areas recognized the cash flow they would ultimately lose during a busy time of year for tourists. It is ridiculous in an otherwise difficult economy to shutdown areas like this.

And websites too. How much work does it take to keep a link to a PDF available? I just don't get it. These are the types of haphazard, emotionally based decisions, that should not be allowed in government undertakings. I'm just an average shmoe with a schoolgirl's understanding of "how government works", a high school teacher simply trying to print out a couple of reasonably sized handouts. I know it shouldn't be that big a deal. But to me, it is. Anything that gets in the way of my students' opportunity to learn and/or my ability to teach should not be okay. It should not be acceptable. It should not be condoned. And most importantly, it should not be allowed to continue.

I'm probably going to sound completely naive here, but I really believe in the ideas brought forth by some of our founding fathers. I believe that any person given the opportunity to represent a small sampling of this country should always be aware of why they are in the position and who they represent. It truly saddens me how personal agendas and money seem to be the main instigators to change in this country. It saddens me how education, little things like a PDF's availability, always seems to be an afterthought.


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