Keep Nevada out of the Beezle-Nut stew

In Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, an entire world—located on a small speck of dust—is in danger. The only hope for its citizens is to join together and make their voices heard. Members of the Who community are urged, “Make every Who holler, make every Who shout … if you don’t, every Who is going to end up in the Beezle-Nut stew.”

The Whos make noise. But one young “shirker named Jo-Jo” remains in his home, quietly playing with a yo-yo, unconcerned, willing to let others work.

I’ve met some Jo-Jos. Whos who don’t want to get involved, won’t vote, won’t knock on doors to help a thinking candidate get elected, won’t write a letter to a representative, won’t carry a sign to a rally or even stay slightly informed.

I was thinking about how to recruit Whos, how to engage the politically apathetic, on July 4, while watching John Ascuaga’s fireworks with friends and family. We sat on a high desert hillside in East Sparks. Stars were eclipsed by the lights of Reno casinos to the west but glittered brilliantly in the dark desert sky to the east.

A golden crescent moon dangled over my home nearby. My home was—and is—full of cardboard boxes marked “books” and “coffee pot/misc” and “glasses/kitchen.”

I’m packing. In a couple of weeks, a shipping company will deposit a 20-foot container outside my door. I put my stuff in the box. The box goes on a boat. I get on a plane and reunite with my stuff in Hawai’i, where I’ll become a tenure-track assistant professor of journalism.

Thank you, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican legislators for making my career move inevitable, for clarifying the value of education in the Silver State, for pushing me to apply for professional advancement far from home.

In January, a colleague and I went to hear Sandoval deliver his State of the State address. No taxes, he said, no taxes. Translate: No asking corporations or mining or gaming to help pay for the benefits they receive from public funded services in Nevada. Sandoval’s only plan was to slice, dice and hack social services and education. Sandoval talked about bad teachers, as if dismal educators were responsible for Nevada’s educational failures.

Sandoval complained that bad teachers and good teachers make the same salaries. Then he introduced a budget that would force bad teachers and good teachers alike to take pay cuts, lose benefits, and, for K-12, to add even more students to crowded classrooms. Some teachers would lose jobs. Others would live under the threat of losing jobs.

What’s a good teacher to do? Many have fled the state. In a Channel 2 interview, the University of Nevada, Reno president said that the number of faculty members leaving this spring was double its usual rate. Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston ran a letter from married K-12 teachers leaving Nevada, “[W]e are taking our passion, our combined six degrees, and our talents to another state, one that is not controlled by a [sic] gaming and mining, a state that has priorities and treats educators with respect.”

It’s the invisible hand of the job market. If a business cuts salaries and benefits, its best and most productive employees will leave for greener pastures. Not good for business. Not good for schools.

If public education is not important to this state, why not close its schools, community colleges and universities? Arm young people and send them to downtown Reno.

I believe most Nevadans strongly support a sturdy public education system. I hope dissatisfaction with cut-rate schools will force, finally, Nevadans to make their voices heard.

In Seuss’ fable, Jo-Jo is dragged into the fray. The Shirker offers what he can, a slightly less than barbaric yawp. When every individual contributes, the Who’s world is saved.