MUSE WITH ME - Exhausted beyond measure at the close of Big Sunday, a city-wide day of public service, there is nothing I want more than to cry. Not for Big, Noble reasons like the relief that comes following a difficult task, completed. And not because my muscles ache, either.
I am bereft because the classrooms I set about to clean today were so indescribably filthy. All the components of all the reasons I want to cry are fighting within for expression. There are so many sufficient reasons to cry: where to start?
No one’s child should spend their day sitting in such grunge and grime. It is disgusting. It is wrong. It is unhealthy. While researchers spend millions to parse the determinants that contribute to our epidemic of pediatric asthma in Los Angeles, I have to wonder about the contribution simply of sitting in dusty, moldering, deteriorating portables.
Just walking in to the room induces a sneezing fit; imagine then rag upon rag saturated with blackness from just a superficial cleaning. This is settling into the lungs of your children and mine.
Why are the classrooms so foul? No doubt someone will have the temerity to blame a teacher for this, but the ultimate explanation is neither complex nor derivative.
The classrooms are cleaned twice per year, because there is insufficient personnel to do so more frequently. Never mind that in some rooms there are 500 trips across a classroom threshold per morning – yet these receive cleaning every five months. In some cases there are fewer than 200 occupants in the room per day, though this room, too, will wait five months for cleaning.
I know the state of my house after just one week with merely four occupants diluted throughout a fairly large space. Imagine – just imagine – the accumulation of grit in such close quarters shared by hundreds of young, energetic bodies. I have little doubt that if I were to clean my house just twice per year, Child Protective Services would remove my children from my care.
How then can it be that vast swathes of children are sent day after day to sit in government-provided classrooms that no responsible adult has cleaned in months? Where is Child Protective Services? The health department?
Of course, there has been some extracurricular cleaning in many classrooms – undertaken by your own children of their classroom, and by your child’s teacher.
I am appalled that my children are sent to school, underage for employment of course, to be asked to clean their classroom. But the alternative is more horrifying in fact, that they should stew in this mire unremediated.
As a taxpayer I am also upset that my tax dollars are invested so inefficiently that the salary of a teacher should be squandered on cleaning. This latter is an unskilled job and traditionally, our democracy has supported a system of remuneration that tracks skill. My tax dollars are hardly optimized when overqualified people are tasked with cleaning. Not, that is, unless that labor is extracted for free.
So while legions are unemployed, desperate for a job, we opt, as a democracy, not to pay anyone to clean these classrooms. Instead, every other conceivable work-around is employed: volunteer labor from parents and the community at-large, conscripted, unremunerated child labor, unacknowledged, unremunerated teacher labor. Worst of all is if none of this is utilized; the crud instead just accumulates relentlessly.
Let’s take stock here: Cry for the children marooned in filth. Cry for the adults crying “uncle”, relegated to cleaning for no compensation. Cry for the workers, displaced and unvalued.
Why are we doing this???
What a terrible pall on a tremendous day, infused with altruism and generosity and charity. I want to feel unbounded reverence for the hordes who descended in solidarity and goodness, and I do of course.
But among the benevolent was a family from our former years in a private, non public school. And plain to see in their attitude and demeanor was the accusation of parental insufficiency: Why would you send your child to sit in this filth? Why are you here??
Most in Los Angeles who can afford otherwise, would not subject their children to conditions such as these. So why – why oh why – are we … all of us … subjecting anyone’s child to this at all???
If you won’t countenance such atrocities for your own, you should never accept it for your neighbor’s.
(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor.)
Vol 11 Issue 37
Pub: May 7, 2013