Sunday, February 04, 2007


Empathizing with Al

I'm putting two and two together, here. Having watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, I see how long he has worked to bring global warming to humanity's conciousness, and still he is met with skepticism (mostly by big-moneyed interests). I know just how Al must have felt for all those years that no one was listening to him.

In my post called Eighty-nine Dollars, I talk about field trips scheduled by our school district. What with all the field trips, fundraisers, and class fees, our public school is nickel-and-diming us to death. It's an issue I've been dealing with ever since our children started school. When we were on the PTA of the elementary school, we urged those planning fundraisers to tell people that they could give a donation in lieu of buying high-priced merchandise. By accepting direct donations, the full amount given goes to the district. When purchasing merchandise, typically the company offering the stuff gets 50-60 percent of the proceeds. This is money that leaves the district and isn't used for our children. I have many other objections to fundraisers promoted by outside companies, like the fact that they get free child labor, take away from class time, and pull a pump-up swindle job to get our kids to participate by telling them they'll get prizes, which are junk. (Of course, the companies don't tell the kids the prizes are junk.)

Fundraisers are ostensibly done so that our children can take field trips. Here's where I get a little crotchety. When I was a kid, there was one big field trip that finished off elementary school for us. Because we only got one big trip in fifth grade, everyone looked forward to it. We did not have constant field trips throughout our school years. This trend has reversed, with each teacher seeming to make field trip decisions on his/her own. There is no input from parents (that I can see) on the necessity of these field trips.

Finally, with all the budget cuts our state has undergone, there no longer seems to be enough money to pay for classroom supplies. We have paid for vocabulary books, art supplies, shop supplies, and home ec (now called Family & Consumer Science) supplies, in addition to the garden variety school supplies required at the beginning of the school year. Perhaps some of that fundraising money could go into classroom supplies rather than into field trips.

Oh, wait a minute, that might actually be a sensible idea. I had another sensible idea along these lines, one that I emailed to our school board members. I suggested that the district create a clearinghouse for The Three F's, field trips, fundraisers and fees. Instead of having individual teachers plan field trips, they should be discussed at a district wide level and spread out among the various schools and grades. Fundraisers, which overlap each other and endlessly take place throughout the year, would be consolidated, too. As for fees, if classroom supplies are needed, the cost should be run through the clearinghouse so that the school board, parents and State Legislature have a true understanding of the cost of educating our kids.

Here's where I empathize with Al Gore. I have not received a single reply to my email. Of course I'm not foolish enough to think that my idea will be accepted as presented. It's still in sketch form and there'd have to be a heck of a lot of discussion for this to be implemented in a meaningful fashion. The point is that not one of the school board members so much as sent me a "Thank you for expressing your concerns," which means that they can pretend that my concerns don't even exist. No one has to do anything if there isn't a problem, right?

Cheers to you, Al, for your patience and thick skin.

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