Exit Strategy

Sad to say, laughter sometimes can grease our fall into failure rather support our battle. Laughter is often used to ease or disguise our own surrender. Many current comedians focus on the incredible hypocrisy of politicians without showing how to eliminate them. The comedians are well paid for doing this, a kind of national giggle fest whose basis is defeat. We take our downfall laughing.

I saw Exit Strategy, a play about the closing of a school in Chicago where the teachers argue about whether they should make a public protest and get the students to march with them. They kept saying that no one would come so why should they bother. There was a lot of joking about their cowardice, an aside about losing their pension.

I did not laugh much. Was too aware of the tragedy unfolding. My mother, a public school teacher was elected union rep for 30 years. She would never have gone along with their state of angry hopelessness. She helped organize the city. In the play, the teachers, especially the gay principal finally rouse their temper and manage one very successful march including a lot of students. The march made the local news which they celebrated. Then it was over. Nothing came after. It was like the squawk of the chicken  tightly held in the farmer’s arms, who sees the axe. But with the teachers in Exit Strategy, there was no discussion of whose axe it was and why it was aiming at their throats.

Nothing was said about why the richest nation on earth  is closing its public schools, underfunding them, lack of books, poor or no air conditioning, lacking paper and pencils, no computers, no sports, no music and no art, no trips… and then after taking everything away, those “in charge,” label the school a failure and “shut it down.” Also, they label the teachers as failing the students and put them in the “rubber room” to do nothing and later kick them out.

No one sees that this dismemberment of public education is going as planned by the 1 % who keep the unspent bucks. It is that way everywhere. It is a time of austerity, time to “tighten the belt.” Not supposed to spend tax money meant for education on education.

Our society is described as in a “jobless recovery.” Jobs are sent to slave labor overseas. Men and women are being replaced by machines. People who own the machinery do not feel the suffering of the jobless. Their vision is only one of profit. Machines run by computers, are not there to help the worker. The worker is there to serve the machine. People without money do not buy the manufactured item. But the money crowd has not yet got around to recognizing their loss of a market due to low or missing wages.

What is the need for schooling when slave labor is available in far away countries or local machinery can do the job? People with high school certificates, with college degrees, with PhDs, end up as bartenders, luckier than contractors hired by the hour. Many continue to live with their parents. Who can afford an apartment? They do not marry and have children? Broke.

Exit Strategy expresses the teacher’s horror of losing a “failing school.” It is about the death of the public school system which serves “ordinary folks” but that is not said. It is hard to face the truth. In the last scene, there is the overwhelming noise of bulldozers come to take the building down as the teachers stand against a fence and watch. They look beaten, isolated indescribably sad. They attack each other over petty differences instead of talking about their loss. They do not say anything about those who profit from it. One by one they silently leave the stage. The outstanding student who mobilized them all still stands there watching. My friend later asked if he was run over by the bulldozers. I said not directly.

I should add that many of the United States students who now face a jobless future are beginning to fight back.

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