Students Should React More Reasonably in the Face of Economic Discussion

Alex Nitkin ’10
Managing Editor

http://www.flickr.com/photos/redjar/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

If I were a random outsider who happened upon the May 4 student rally at Town Hall, I’m not sure what my first impression of the event would have been. Most likely, it would have been somewhere between “Wow, these kids are really passionate about their school” and “Wow, these kids must be fanatical draft-dodgers transplanted into the wrong decade.”

I am truly proud of the level of awareness and involvement that students have shown with regards to the mind-boggling debate over the town’s budget. But when kids make the decision to raise their voices on a town-wide level, they carry with them an important responsibility: to educate themselves fully of the issue and continuously approach it from a moderate and diligent perspective. And frankly, from what I’ve seen, far too many students have betrayed both of these obligations.

When we heard that some elements of the school system may have to be cut or rolled back, many of us were under the impression that someone was out to get us. As a result, a gigantic rally was organized so that we could fight back hard against the powers that be, hoping that if we proved how much we value our schools, the town government would back off and give the school all they money it needs. The event was even organized as a “Whiteout,” reminding us all that this was a righteous battle of us versus them, Staples versus the world, no different than a soccer game against New Canaan.

Staples Players assumed the responsibility of organizing a heavy activist coalition, bearing hand-made signs pleading “Save Players,” apparently unaware that the program is hardly in danger of being cut. They even took it upon themselves to sing “Seasons of Love” in front of the town, undoubtedly marking the first time that a musical number from “Rent” was sung on the steps of a Westport administrative building.

But before all these youths start burning bras outside Michael Rea’s office, they need to understand the reality of the situation: if town administrators don’t accomplish what our parents elected them to do and make the financial provisions necessary for this town, we’ll only be faced with an even greater budget crisis 525,600 minutes from now.

In other words, there’s a reason why the RTM voted 34-2 against restoring $1.4 million to the Board of Education’s budget. While education may be the “crowned jewel” of our community, it is not the only indispensible institution that the town is responsible for funding; board members need to be extremely judicious with how to use taxpayer dollars, and to inject an excessive quantity into the school system so that we don’t have to make the same sacrifices as everyone else is entirely unreasonable.

Keeping this in mind, we should all take a few steps back and submit that we’re going need to make reasonable concessions. Because if we plug our ears and stamp our feet every time we’re faced with the possibility of cutting a course like collab, we’re only passing the burden onto other employees of the town.

I mention town employees because in the midst of all of the students’ protests, the Board of Education has elected to freeze the salaries of custodial workers, a motion that has been met with little resistance. Yes, the people whose job it is to literally clean up our mess have become the next victims of the chopping block, and students couldn’t seem to care less as long as they get to keep all their favorite electives.

Students couldn’t seem to care less about the massive number of senior citizens in this town who are struggling to live off their savings and can’t afford to pay an extra $12 a month for our schools; they couldn’t seem to care less about the people who work in Westport and can no longer afford to live in the town that employs them.

If students are suddenly going to turn themselves into activists, they’re going to need to consider all of these people’s situations. They need to look out at the world beyond our beautiful brick building and see the issue from all points of view.

But most importantly, they need to understand that town administrators value our schools just as much as we do, and that they are not our enemies. This is not a righteous two-sided battle, nor is it a populist-driven crusade for justice; it is a meticulous-often painfully meticulous-democratic process, and we need to treat it with patience and respect.