Today, I am going to share three somewhat related anecdotes from my life, a sudden realization that came to me while I was contemplating writing this post, and then give the reason behind the title above.
In Juvenile Delinquency class my senior year of college, I read this book:
If you can't see the picture, it's Savage Inequalities, by Johnathan Kozol. This is one of those great books that makes you look at the world differently after you finish it. I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the book, but I do remember walking out of class one day and thinking,
After I graduate, I want to work on legislation that changes the way that schools are funded.
Fast forward several years later. After becoming an adult,I realized that getting a BA in Sociology and Political Science from a state school doesn't typically put you on the fast track to a job crafting education policy in Washington D.C. ;)
I was talking to my friend (I'll call him Thomas,) who was a high school Science teacher. I say was because like many smart, capable young people who become teachers, he decided a few years in that teaching was not for him. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the reasons why, but I don't want to speak for him. So if you see him, just ask him yourself.
So anwyay, Thomas worked at a school in a district that had a reputation of being a very high-quality one, with schools in it that had a lot of money. However, the school that Thomas worked in had a lot of middle and low-income students, and had little in common with another well-regarded high school in the district. Since by law, both schools got the same amount of funding from the government, I was curious to know why there was a discrepancy in the facilities, resources, etc. of the two schools. His answer? Fundraising.
At some point down the road, I started thinking about my own high school, and how we got a lot of the things that we wanted. The answer? Fundraising.
For example, when I went there, my high school auditorium had these really ugly, florescent orange, plastic seats. There were no seats broken or missing, (because we had an adequate maintenance budget,) they were just ugly.
At some point after I graduated, someone(s) decided that those seats had to go. Now there are these really nice blue velvet seats in the auditorium.
How were they paid for?
Parents and other members of the community pledged money for a seat, in return for having a little plaque on the arm that they could use to recognize someone, like their kids or themselves or a deceased loved one. I don't remember exactly how much the plaques cost, I just know they weren't cheap. And now my fellow Eagles (not my school's real mascot,) get to watch performances in style.
I was also in a singing group at that school, and we got new formal gowns to perform in each year.
I know what you're thinking, Singing and blogging?!? Yes it's true--I am a woman of many talents ;)
How did we pay for these? Parents could just cut a check, or students could sell stuff to cover/defray the cost. I remember one year we were selling holiday cards, and the woman who did my mom's nails bought three boxes. I remember being amazed, because like most school fundraiser stuff, these things were ridiculously overpriced.
It was only looking back that I figured out that she was also probably trying to make a positive impression on a customer, in order to bring more business back to herself.
So each year we would have these snazzy new dresses to wear and the male members would have equally snazzy tuxedos. When we went to concerts and whatnot across the state, it became clear that many other schools (with all-white choirs,) had robes or dresses that were passed down year to year.
On a semi-related note, the choir that I was in was very good. I'm not just saying that, we would win competitions and have people go to all-state and stuff.
There was one competition that we went to where we got a 1+. The lower the number the better, so a 1+ was like, the best you could get. Actually 1+ wasn't even a real score, 1 was the score that was on the form to give to people that were the best.
Okay, anecdote #3 is over.
And this is the part that I've been thinking about recently: how much of our 1+ was due to the fact that we were (to use the parlance of child beauty pageants,) the total package ?
Yes, we were very good singers, but would we have been as pleasing to the judge if we had come in wearing ill-fitting robes? Would we have felt as comfortable and confident if we weren't in clothing we had specifically chosen? Could that have made the difference between the 1 and the 1+?
Which leads me to my final point: the reason that school funding will never be equal is because even if there is Federal legislation that decrees every school in the land will get x amount per student, fundraising will always be there for certain schools to pick up the slack.
Why certain schools? Because in order for fundraising to be effective, you have to have a group of adults willing and able to buy overpriced products. They have to have the disposable income to buy things that they don't need, and the desire to use that income to put towards the extras that are nice for schools to have.
And I don't see anyway that you could eliminate fundraising, because like the Citizens United case has ruled, money is speech. And is it even possible or reasonable to try to infringe on a parent's right to give money to their child's school?
One final thought before I ask y'all some questions: As I have a two-year-old that I have started researching preschools for (a year in advance,) I am struck by something. Parents often talk about wanting their kid to have advantages. But an advantage is not an advantage unless, by definition, some other kid is deprived of that same opportunity. Music classes are not an advantage if everyone takes them. A computer lab doesn't give students an advantage if every school has one.
So when we talk about advantages (that seem ingrained into the very fabric of our school system,) advantages over whom? What is it that we want our kid to get that these other kids aren't? What do we think these early experiences will bring to them later in life?
Oops, I already started with the questions. Here's some more...
Did you go to public or private school? Or maybe you were homeschooled.
What was your school like in terms of facilities, extra-curriculars, resources, etc?
How did students get money for things they needed and/or wanted?
Is there a way to make school funding more fair? If so, how?
Is fairness even a goal that we should be pursuing in education? Why or why not?
Feel free to answer any or all of these questions, or to leave your thoughts about whatever strikes your fancy in the comment section below.