It is no secret that public education in America is never free and seldom adequately funded, particularly in rural or impoverished areas. (In fact, one of our two major political parties seems hellbent on un-funding public schools and shipping that tax money over to private and parochial institutions.) Public schools are often forced to supplement their limited incomes by having teachers buy many of their classroom materials out of their own personal funds, charging students and parents to attend school functions like ballgames and carnivals, and having sales campaigns where students hit the streets hawking candy or magazines - or selling baked goods and washing cars.
There were two stories in the news this week about the personal costs involved in school activities. One was very sad, but with a better-than-expected ending - and the other was totally uplifting. The sad story involved one hundred students at a public elementary school in the Queens borough of New York City who were forced to spend an afternoon in a dark auditorium while their classmates attended a school carnival. The only "crime" those students were guilty of was poverty. None had the ten dollar entry fee for the carnival. The carnival promoter reportedly became so angry when he learned of the school's intentional slight, that he vowed to return to the school and put on a free carnival for those students who had been kept from attending the first one. The school cleared a $2,000 to $3,000 profit on the original carnival.
The principal of that school in Queens apparently lacks the basic humanity needed to work with children.
One principal who does not lack humanity, however, is Courtney Vashaw of the Profile Junior-Senior High School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Ms. Vashaw, a well-respected school administrator, was recently diagnosed with a fast-moving and very deadly form of cancer. The senior class at her school had been saving for their senior trip for four years, but upon hearing of Ms. Vashaw's illness the class voted unanimously to forgo the trip to a New York dude ranch and instead give their entire $8,000 to her. Ms. Vashaw, needless to say, was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of her students.
Yes, schools are forced to struggle in order to survive, but there is a lot of teaching and learning that can occur within those struggles. My educated guess is that students at the elementary in Queens and at the junior-senior high school in Bethlehem all learned a great deal from their school's struggles to make money. One group learned the about the power and brutality of cold, hard cash - while the other learned about the warmth and fulfillment that can come from being generous and looking after others.
Support public education with your tax dollars and your baked goods. Every child should have the opportunity to experience as much as possible during their limited time at school. Our children really are our future.