Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Does our society value children and education?

Teachers and school supplies

This article reports survey results for how much teachers spend on supplies for their classrooms and students, on average, each year.

First Lady Laura Bush did champion a tax deduction for teachers, of $250.00, to help offset this cost;  most teachers have spent that much before the first week of school, but I do appreciate the effort.

Many communities have school supply drives to help with this problem as well, and there are many generous individual and corporate donors to those drives, which also helps.

However, as you will see from the article,  the cost to teachers is still enormous.  And as school district budgets are cut, the cost to teachers will increase -- or they, and their students, will go without supplies like pencils and crayons and facial tissue -- the latter is a real issue in flu and cold season, as I think you can imagine.

I worked with teachers who had to have their classrom supplies -- including furniture and cartons of books -- delivered each school year by friends or relatives with trucks.  Everyone has their own decorations -- bulletin board borders, inspirational posters, and educational sayings.  Elementary teachers have more things -- high school teachers have more books, maps, and sometimes their own technological equipment.  I knew an elementary teacher whose classroom was alive with "reading spaces" including a play house and a claw foot bathtub filled with cushions.  Every August, they unpack all this stuff, create their classroom environment, and, every June pack it up, take it home, and repeat the process the next school year.  

I've been asked what the right amount of money per child is to run an adequate school system.  It's a fair question, but it doesn't have an easy answer.  I tend to think in terms of what children need in their school environment.   The list is long, and expensive.  People and technology, and the costs of special education, drive the budget, but there are also a lot of expenses for infrastructure, facilities, and equipment.

A partial list for the ideal school.  (feel free to add to this, in your mind or the comments)

*  Caring, qualified teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff.
*  A clean and safe environment with age appropriate furniture and equipment
*  Technology and equipment, including computers and tablets, as well as smart blackboards, projection equipment, lab equipment, athletic equipment, musical instruments. . . . 
*  A school library with up to date physical and electronic collections, and a qualified teacher/librarian teaching information literacy skills
* An outdoor play area, and a gym
* A space large enough for the whole school for performances and visiting lecturers
* A garden, and a commitment to healthy food in a well staffed cafeteria or lunchroom
* Safe transportation to and from school
* Adequate supplies
* A budget for field trips and equipment for experiential learning outside the classroom

Most teachers now have computers on their desks, though I had one that took 45 minutes to boot up at one school where I worked, and most teachers also have telephones in their classrooms -- these seemingly basic bits of technology, which also have safety implications, are fairly recent additions to some classrooms.

Some communities are able to go beyond my basic list -- some are not even meeting those standards.  The more social services the school is asked to provide, and the more needy or at risk the student population, the higher the cost.  Grant writing and fund raising take time and skill -- where there are inadequate physical resources, there are often also inadequate human resources -- no one has the time or the skill to work with the complex application processes for grant funding.  Most grants also require a plan to continue the program beyond the grant period, and that, too, may not be possible in the most needy environments.

The problem is a complex one, and it is influenced by many larger societal problems, so the solution also needs to be multi-faceted and complex.

I think the first step is making children and education a priority in our society -- recognizing that a 19th Century Calendar,  mid-20th Century buildings, and a curriculum that has been tweaked but not fundamentally re-thought is not going to prepare our children for competitive life in the 21st Century.
I would caution against looking only at test scores and rote learning --- that's not playing to our historic strengths of innovation and individualism, which need to be nurtured.

Does our society really value children and education?

What do you think?

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Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa