Sunday, April 22, 2012

It Just Ain’t Right

I had a mini-break down at my work this week. I walked in the door and immediately broke into tears. I’m just sick of…well, everything. For those of you who don’t know, I work as a teacher on an inpatient psychiatry unit for children and adolescents. I came to this job because I was disgusted by what I saw in my grossly underfunded and intentionally neglected inner-city school in Chicago. And for a while, working on an inpatient psych unit was better. I had the staff and support to reach my kids, the autonomy to teach high-interest subjects, and the flexibility to try to innovate and experiment in my teaching techniques and lesson ideas. The kids had really tough behaviors, but I got to be a part in helping these kids succeed.

The past few months however, something has shifted at my workplace. When I first started, we always had an ebb and flow to our patient census. The numbers would be high for a few weeks, maybe a month, then would cycle lower. The busy weeks were hard and stressful, but then a light week would hit and we could all take a moment to breath.

We have not had a light week in over six months.

Something has changed out there in the world. Too much has been cut. Too many intermediary services are gone. And Medicaid is being outsourced to crappy managed care companies so children are getting fewer days to recover in a hospital before they are kicked out. And at my for-profit hospital, they refuse to spend money on more staff. There isn’t enough space. There isn’t enough support. And the kids are getting sicker with fewer and fewer resources to help them before they are in crisis.

And my students’ schools aren’t helping. Schools as test prep factories provide few incentives for my students to get engaged in education. Add to that the fact that many of my kids are being treated like criminals in school. School has become a cold, unwelcoming place for too many young people. And so they seek out other, risky, self-destructive ways to fill their time.

And this past week, for some reason, it hit me so clearly. If my hospital served a majority of middle or upper class white children, we would have better funding. We would have better staffing ratios. We would provide better treatment. It is because my hospital works with mainly low-income Black and Hispanic young people that we can get away with not spending enough on patient care. If we served more white kids, things would not be this hard. We would have abundant resources, we would have ample staffing, we would have beautiful facilities. But we don’t.

The other day, I had a thought which absolutely sickened me. I saw a white parent of a patient who goes to a high-class private school step off the elevator--every now and then we get upper-class kids, although they tend to be transferred out pretty quickly--and I was embarrassed. And I thought “wait, why am I not embarrassed when every parent steps off the elevator?” Don’t ALL children deserve the best care we can possibly provide? And yet, in our society, we are somehow conditioned that it’s ok for some kids to get crumbling, disgusting facilities and minimal services while others are entitled to top-notch supports.

It’s the same as the schools. If your school serves mostly brown or black children, then the powers that be know they can get away with investing the least amount of resources. Any complaint from community or parents can easily be dismissed as “noise”, since we all know no one listens to people from those communities anyway (right, Mayor Emanuel?)

And the so-called “education reformers” just make things worse. They take the already limited funds and push them towards private pockets. They invest in charters and turnaround schools which don’t serve all students. For-profit health care gives us a glimpse at what education will soon become if the corporations and billionaire philanthropists have their way in destroying public education. The inequality will be worse than ever.

I believe it’s time to get angry about this status quo—the status quo that says local and unequal funding of schools is just fine. The status quo that says the communities, families, and children which need the most services can make do with crappy second-rate care. Right this moment, there is an occupation of a mental health clinic on Chicago’s south side. We the people must DEMAND more services in actions like this one.

I am horribly embarrassed by my reaction to that white parent. We must expose the inequalities that are so common place we don’t even notice them anymore. We must stand up, in solidarity, to corporations and bureaucracies that are getting away with savage inequalities based solely on zip code or race. And only a massive people’s movement will change this disgusting, unequal status quo.

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