Help me fix this problem.
Note: I’ve been purposely vague about my friend’s identity and details about her school. In all honesty, she’s a tiny bit concerned about her job and would prefer to remain anonymous.
A good friend of mine is a teacher in a local elementary school. The school has several hundred students and is located in a low-income, rural area just outside Phoenix. My friend has a class of about 23 students and is constantly struggling to keep their interest and teach them with the tools she is provided by the school district. More than a few times, she’s dipped into her own pockets to buy things her students need that aren’t provided by the school.
My friend doesn’t make much money. Although she loves to teach, she finds her job frustrating. She wants to help the kids learn, she wants to help them break the cycle of poverty and make better lives for themselves. But there isn’t enough money in the school district to buy the tools the kids need to learn. She’s considered leaving her job, but doesn’t want to let the kids down — their class has already lost two teachers mid-term in previous years. She thinks it’s important for them to have continuity throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the school district superintendent, who only has two schools to manage, is reportedly pulling in a six-digit salary and gets a $750 per month clothing/car allowance. His bonus last year was more than my friend earns as a salary.
Internet Not in the Dictionary?
The other day, she and I were talking about how kids have access to things we didn’t have at their age. Referring to her class, she said, “When I tell my kids that we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid, they don’t believe me. So I had them look it up in the dictionary. Our dictionaries are so old, they don’t include the word ‘Internet.'”
I was floored. Her class was using dictionaries that were that old? The word Internet came into general usage in the 1990s — her dictionaries was older than that?
We talked more about it and I discovered that not only were the dictionaries old, but there was a mix of them and not enough for all the kids. And although she was required to teach the kids about synonyms, they didn’t have any thesauruses.
I whipped out my iPad to see what an appropriate dictionary would cost. A decent paperback was available for only $5.99. It would cost less than $150 to buy 25 of them for her class. Or about $300 to buy enough for both classes in that grade. A fraction of the school superintendent’s monthly clothing/car allowance. Yet the superintendent got his check every month while the kids went without decent reference materials.
Can you imagine how much that annoyed me — a writer?
What Can I — or We — Do to Help?
It also got me thinking…what could I do to help?
Yes, I’m willing to spend $150 to buy 25 dictionaries for my friend’s class. But I could do better. With the help of my blog readers and social networking friends, maybe I could raise enough money to get all the kids in that grade a better, more durable hardcover dictionary and a thesaurus.
I did more research on Amazon.com and found Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Thesaurus. The books were recently published, so they were up-to-date. They were designed for the right grade level. I could get both books for $24.77 with free shipping from Amazon prime. 50 copies would cost about $1,238.50.
I thought about The Oatmeal raising a ton of money for the Tesla Museum. I know that $1,238.50 is a lot less than the $1.37 million the Oatmeal raised. Yes, I have a lot less influence. But even if I got 100 people to donate $13 each, I’d have enough. And if I came up a little short, I could make up the difference.
No, I’m Not Nuts
At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m nuts. After all, what do I care about these kids? I’ve never met them and I’m never likely to meet them. And will having a decent dictionary really make a difference in their lives?
I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the kids, it probably won’t make a difference at all. But imagine it making a difference in just one kid’s life. Maybe he or she develops an interest in reading or writing or just using words to communicate better. Maybe browsing through the pictures in the book leads him or her to a word that sparks an interest in science or geology or history. Maybe just having a good reference book to learn from might help him or her score better on an exam down the road. Any of these things could change his or her future. It could break the cycle and open doors to a better life. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?
And these books would be around for years. Imagine making a difference on one kid’s life every year for the next 20 years. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?
I know it would make my friend’s job easier and a tiny bit less frustrating.
And yes, it’s a damned shame that tax dollars are funneled to superintendent compensation before educational materials for students — or even teacher pay. But I’ve tried fighting in the political arena before and got nowhere. I’d rather spend a few dollars to solve the problem from the outside than years of my life trying to fix it from the inside.
Will You Help?
With all this in mind, I set up a campaign on Indiegogo to raise $1,500 to cover the cost of the books, the rewards for big donors, and the campaign fees. I’m hoping you’ll click over there now and donate a few dollars to help me reach this goal.
If we come up short, I’ll try to make up the difference.
If we go over, I’d like to buy the younger kids copies of the Merriam-Webster Elementary Dictionary, which is designed for grades 3-5. I’d get as many copies as I could — hopefully enough to outfit at least one classroom. Those books are $11.66 each with free shipping.
And maybe you can also spread the word about this campaign? Tweet or share this blog post or the link to the campaign.