I’m embarrassed and ashamed to live in a country where DonorsChoose.org is a thing.
For the uninitiated, DonorsChoose.org is a web site where teachers can describe projects that “need your help to bring their classroom dreams to life.” Then visitors to the site can donate any amount towards the realization of those “dreams.” This is called crowd-funding. One can hardly criticize the generosity of donors or the needs of teachers.
Recently, DonorsChoose.org led a public campaign called #bestschoolday.
On March 10, 2016, more than 50 athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists joined forces to fund thousands of classroom projects across America on DonorsChoose.org. Their generosity funded over $14 million in projects spanning communities in 47 states and Washington, D.C.”
The Huffington Post created a special section dedicated to the #bestschoolday campaign and sold ads against it.
I despise the idea of reducing teachers to beggars. It’s a distraction from all the other important work teachers have to do It reduces their value and the perceived worth of public education with each round of fundraising.
The conditions addressed by Donorschoose are not the result of a hurricane or epidemic, but of democratically determined public policy and neglect.
”Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” – St. Augustine
Many well-meaning educators and citizens were excited when film sweetheart Anna Kendrick appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to sing a delightful duet and to announce that she (with the help of a secret donor) were going to fund all 74 of Maine’s current Donorschoose projects.
Why doesn’t Mr. Colbert use his considerable talent and valuable airtime to ask Pennsylvania, Detroit, or Michigan to fund their schools adequately? Why not stand with striking teachers?
“One other problem with Donorschoose is that it creates lone wolf teachers getting goodies for one classroom in a school.” – Gary Stager
Corporations who assuage their guilt by matching individual donations or fully-funding a teacher’s ‘dream” are also likely to seek tax breaks, employ lobbyists, and find loopholes to avoid paying their fair share for living in a democratic and just society. CBS made money when Anna Kendrick appeared to demonstrate her grand gesture of public philanthropy
It is one thing to fundraise for a once-in-a-lifetime field trip or fantastic piece of equipment your school could never afford. It’s quite another to create the conditions under which teachers are forced to rattle a virtual tin cup online.
The following is an image from a quick Donorschoose search for crayon. Such vulgarity should not be viewed as a celebration of celebrity largesse, but as a symptom of society in decay. Under no circumstances should professional public school educators be begging publicly for crayons.
That’s right. American public school teachers are now required to run fundraising campaigns so their students may have access to crayons!
USA! USA! USA!
One other problem with Donorschoose is that it creates lone wolf teachers getting goodies for one classroom in a school. Not only does that have the potential to create further disparity in an already inequitable system, but may also create unanticipated problems. For example, I have seen instances where a half-dozen teachers in the same school each request different kinds of technology – one asks for iPads, one PC laptops, one MacBooks, and another Chromebooks. This could create potential nightmares for school infrastructure and support.
Ways to Take Action!
- Drop off an Amazon gift card in any denomination you can afford at your local school.
- Ask your children’s teachers what they need. If you cannot afford to buy what they need, ask the school principal to fund it. You might be surprised by the outcome.
- Work with your school parent/teacher organization to organize fundraising events that are fun, educational in nature, showcase the talents of children and bring the community together.
- Request the full budget (not summary) from your public school district. It’s your right under law. Study the document and learn where the money is being spent or misspent.
- Attend public school board meetings and urge constructive spending or the reorganizing of priorities.
- Collaborate with local arts institutions to arrange tours or performances for local public school students.
- Volunteer in a classroom or lead after-school activities.
- Run for election to your local public school board.
- Go ahead. Be a mensch and make a generous donation via Donorschoose.
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In addition to being a veteran teacher educator, popular speaker, journalist, author, and publisher, Gary is co-author of the bestselling book called the “bible of the maker movement in schools”, Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. He also leads the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute and is Publisher at CMK Press.
Also published on Medium.