Things I Know 46 of 365: Education should never be our country’s Third World

If we take these steps — if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take — we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.)

– President Obama, 2011 State of the Union

I’ve been in trouble with the charity mob lately. They’ve called my phone. They’ve e-mailed friends and co-workers. They’ve faxed my principal.

Donors Choose is looking for me.

More specifically, they’re looking for my Thank You Packet. I’ve been horrible at thank you notes since I was little. Always loved the idea, but been horrible in its execution.

Rather than feel guilty, I’ve become resentful.

Not resentful toward Donors Choose – they’re just doing how they do.

Resentful there’s a need for Donors Choose to do how they do.

According to, Donors Choose spent almost $17 million on program expenses for the 2009 fiscal year. That’s $17 million that school districts couldn’t get to their teachers, classrooms and students to make the learning happen.

I remember the excitement I felt when I first learned about Donors Choose. I was immediately enamored of the idea I’d never have to negotiate the funding tug-of-war within my district when my students needed new books. I remember telling a science teacher friend about DC and watching her face light up as she realized she now had an avenue for procuring the new lab supplies her students desperately needed.

If we are true to our commitment to making America a STEM powerhouse, a creative force to be reckoned with and a leader in social development, we must acknowledge the irony of an education that forces teachers to outsource the purchase of Romeo and Juliet or scientific calculators.

For every dollar brought in by DC, an administrator wasn’t reminded of the needs facing his or her school. As those dollars piled up, administrators didn’t see as much need in telling their bosses or there bosses’ bosses their schools needed money for books, for computers, for field trips, for art supplies.

According to Donors Choose, “Since 200, 182,386 projects have been brought to life.” That’s 182,386 reminders of the needs to better fund our classrooms that never made it past their online proposals.

I love Donors Choose, but I wish I shouldn’t need to remember it exists.

When I was teaching in Florida, one of the heads of the district came by to speak at our faculty meeting. It was part of an initiative to talk to talk up new programs in the district. They were great programs – really designed to help kids.

Our guest asked if there were any questions or concerns he could address.

I raised my hand.

“Can we get pencils?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Can we get pencils. These programs all sound excellent. I know they’re going to help students learn. It’s just that, they never have pencils, and it holds up the learning in the classroom. If we could just get some pencils, I know it would make a huge difference tomorrow and take a load of stress off my day.”

Our guest chuckled.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

I got a bit of a talking to from my principal after the meeting.

“Hey, he asked,” I said.

Stern stare and I was excused.

The next Monday, a package arrived via district mail – 1 gross of packages of 12 pencils.

I’ve never seen so many pencils.

What I said in the meeting certainly broke from protocol, but it also delievered the message that literacy specialists were going to be more effective had the children the tools with which to show their literacy.

In the age of Donors Choose, I worry those messages aren’t being delivered frequently enough.

Instead we’ve a sort of education Kiva doling out school supplies with repayment of teachers and students thanking donors for the tools of learning their schools and districts should have provided in the first place.

While I certainly support the work of both organizations, I cannot help resenting the systems which continue to make both of them necessary.


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