Matt and I don’t watch television. I haven’t had cable tv since about 2001. And when I had that cable installed, the cable installers broke my antenna for basic tv (poetic, isn’t it?)
But I am in the film business. So to keep on top of what’s going on, Matt and I will rent whole television series, or television movies, and watch them. Unfortunately that means it’s often a crazy tv binge, where we watch several seasons during just a couple of weeks. But then we won’t do it again for months, we never submit ourselves to ads, we choose only what we want to watch, and we watch on our own time.
So not too long ago, we watched “The Wire.” The fourth season looks into the problems of inner-city schools. It was an interesting season – extremely depressing – but well worth our time. And it made me realize that while you and I worry about day-to-day simplifying of our lives, we are very privileged. There is a lot going on out there, and I’m sure some of you are dealing with it every day.
As we worry about the big picture of economics, climate change, and energy – and the ramifications of not working hard to turn around our society’s relationship with each of these things – there are big social problems we should not be ignoring:
How do we change the world, when the school systems are so bad that some of my closest friends have moved to the outer reaches of suburbia, so their children can get a decent education? (And I don’t mean to in any way disparage those of you who have made that choice.) And what happens when we don’t fix the inner city school systems and continue to abandon them?
My grandfather and I talk about schools a lot. He asked me last week what the kids in schools are learning about oil and how it relates to the current economy, about how recessions work and what is going on right now in our country, and how different our whole system is since we went into Iraq.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t know.” I remembered that we learned very little about the present day in school. And that was back when the public schools were better overall, when “white flight” was just beginning, and people paid a lot more attention to the schools.
I was fortunate to grow up in an urban school, incredibly mixed economically, racially, culturally, politically. I was a positive product of the busing system. And I know I was lucky. It has made me who I am, it turned me into someone who wants to change the world. But my old school is not what it was. The attrition rate is high, the diversity has decreased, the schools are overcrowded, and the good teachers have long gone.
What Can We Do To Help Our Local Schools?
This is one of the important parts about living locally, of spending time in your community, of giving whatever you can to make your neighborhood more sustainable and adaptable. Our children are future decision-makers, action-takers, and world changers. Whether you have children or not, it is essential to play an active role in education, for our communities and our society as a whole.
I have worked with children of various age groups at various different locations: housing projects, summer camps for at risk youth, drug and alcohol recovery centers, soccer coaching and refereeing, youth accountability, and after school programs. I also have a number of friends and family who have children. But I don’t have children, and it has been a while since I’ve been intimately involved with the school system.
I know many of you have children and this issue is probably very close to home for you. Please share with us what you know, and what ideas you’ve had!
What can we do for our schools? If we have money, where can we put it? If we have time, where can we use it?
Here are some ideas I have, off the top of my head:
1. Donate used materials. For example, if you have books gathering dust in the basement, you can take them to the school librarian. If you have art and craft supplies from a project you started long ago, you can donate them to the art program. Your old computers could be helpful to schools who can’t afford to provide computers for each child.
2. Vote for the school board – and honestly look into who is the best candidate, rather than just reading a little blurb on the way to the voting booth. Also, if you have some time, write letters to legislators advocating for more education spending, and attend School Board meetings.
3. Hold a rummage sale – check out Green Bean’s inspiring story about her school rummage sale!
4. Help local schools build a food garden.
5. Volunteer your time for a child who needs tutoring.
6. Help coach a school athletic team, or an after school art, science, dance, or music program. These are the programs that get cut first when economic times are tough.
7. Become an active member of the PTA.
8. If you don’t have any free time, consider donating whatever money you can give to the school, or adopt a classroom.
9. Help write a grant for a school program, or find another way to use your own expertise to help. Maybe you have connections that can bring interesting speakers to visit the school, or your photographic skills can help, or… there are many ways that you might help.
10. Ask. Go visit the school and ask how you can help. I’m sure they can tell you some needs they have that you can fill!
It’s time I paid more attention to our schools. What about you? Are you doing any of these things? What else can we do to help?!