A DonorsChoose challenge update, some new proposals, and what those proposals say about our screwed-up national priorities.

I can't begin to thank the people who have donated to the DonorsChoose campaign enough. As of today - four days into the campaign - we've raised $1045. That's more than was contributed during all of last year's 15-day campaign. That's absolutely fantastic.

As of now, all four of the projects that I picked have been fully funded, but we haven't hit the goal yet. (Either someone donated to one of the projects through this campaign without receiving credit, or someone donated to one of the projects independently of the campaign.) At this point, we're still about $550 short of my goal for the campaign, so I've added a few more proposals. I'm doing something a little different with these, though.

When I picked my original proposals, I focused entirely on science education. I'm a scientist, I write about science (at least on occasion), I write at Scienceblogs.com, and I firmly believe that it's critical for children to receive a good foundation in science. Given all of that, it seemed appropriate that I ask you to help fund projects that have some tangible science component.

The more time I spend browsing through just the Bronx proposals on the DonorsChoose website, the more I think that focusing this funding drive on science was the wrong decision. Science is good. Science is important. Science is critical. But it's not the only critical part of education. Focusing entirely on science is like giving kids nothing but citrus fruit. It's exactly what you need to do if their biggest problem is a vitamin C deficiency. But it's not the best solution if they're starving to death.

There are teachers - not to mention entire schools - that lack some of the most basic essentials needed for education. And when I say basic, I mean basic. I'm not even talking about things that are a basic part of any reasonable concept of a 21st century education. In many of these cases, we're talking about things that are a basic part of a reasonable 19th century education.

I've added a number of additional proposals to my drive. Some of them are still Bronx-based, but I'm no longer exclusively using that as a criteria, either. Leaving poor children behind is not a problem that's restricted to New York City. It's a national disgrace. The common elements behind this set of proposals are that the schools that submitted them are all rated by Donors Choose as having poverty levels of 85% or higher, and the proposals themselves request less than $400. Oh, and these proposals are all for things that these teachers should not, should not, should not have to beg for. These teachers are asking for the kinds of things that most people take for granted.

Even after restricting myself to proposals come from very poor areas, request little money, and are intended to provide things that teachers should already have, I still had a hard time narrowing down the list of proposals. There are just so many to choose from. I've picked a few, and if you folks are kind and generous enough to step up to the gap where our pitiful excuse for a government has gone unforgivably AWOL, I'll find and add more. Take a look at the things these teachers need:

A teacher at a school in Chicago needs $298 for something that most of us probably remember from our own classrooms:

I am a 4th grade teacher in need of a screen that can be used for my overhead projector. Currently I am projecting my Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies lessons on a large piece of white paper. The image that I am able to use is small and usually not very useful. My school is aware of my need, but can't find the money to fund it. This screen would help out greatly in my classroom, so in advance I would like to thank you for your help.

A teacher in LA needs $306 to provide each student in this 2nd grade class with something very, very basic:

...What should my students do with all their work? I want them to be able to refer back to their work as their learning experiences build upon each other. Sending their work home in their backpacks is not the right answer! They should organize their work in fabulous binders with index tabs that they can keep at school!

Having a binder for their work will allow my students to learn how to categorize and organize their work. They will learn how to refer back to previous work to support their current learning. My students will learn simple organizational skills that will help them become better students. My students need these binders!

A kindergarten teacher in Northwest DC - at a school that sits within 5 miles of both the White House and the Capitol - is requesting a total of $314 for - you're not gonna believe it - paper for a classroom art center:

My project needs 5 different art supplies, such as drawing paper, construction paper, tissue paper, and clothes line to display the finished projects. The cost of this proposal is $314, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment.

A teacher at a rural school in South Carolina needs $320 to buy copies of a couple of books most of us are familiar with for a class of special-needs preschoolers:

At the end of the unit I need to send home a copy of the book to each child so that these skills can be reinforced in the home. By the time the book goes home, the children should be able to "read" the book to their parents. Although sending the books home is a vital part of the success of the unit, money for the books is not included in my budget. A donation of these books would be an incredible gift to these children and families. Any help with this project would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for considering this request.

My project needs 15 copies each of two children's books: Goodnight, Moon and The Little Engine that Could. The cost of this proposal is $320, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment.

A Bronx Kindergarten teacher needs something else that's amazingly basic:

I am a Kindergarten teacher in a very low income neighborhood. Our families cannot afford school supplies and the teachers are not provided with any materials. We buy what we can with our own money, but it does not last forever....

Crayons and markers are a hot commodity at our school and they go quickly, as they break, lose caps, dry up, and get lost. If we could have a large supply of crayons and markers at the ready, the children would not have to fight over colors and would be able to use fresh new crayons and markers.

My project needs a class supply of crayons and markers. The cost of this proposal is $312, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment.

A Bronx middle-school teacher is looking for basic supplies for a writing class. Basic, in this case, does not mean word-processors, computers, or printers.

It seems so simple: paper, pencil, marker, crayons...

These essential items are something every student is supposed to have in their backpack. Every student is not supposed to worry about having these items when their teacher tells them to take out paper and a pencil to begin their writing. However, every student does not have these items. In fact, more often then not, my students rarely have these items. And for them, they are afraid to even say that they do not have them because everyone else in the class may know that they may not be able to afford a pencil. ...

For my students writing is one thing they I make sure they all can do. I make writing more then just an assignment. I make it outlet for their creativity. Please help us be as creative as possible by adding to our writing and helping us bring out our creativity.

My project needs 1 electric pencil sharpener, 10 bottles of White-Out, 24 scissors, 2 packs of Post-It notes, 1 Crayola colored pencil class pack, 1 Crayola marker class pack, 1 class pack of crayons, and 6 packs of yellow legal pads. The cost of this proposal is $358, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment.

These teachers are asking us - as individuals - to provide their students with pens, pencils, paper, basic books, a screen for an overhead projector, crayons, binders. They are asking us - as individuals - to please help children that we don't know, because these kids are getting left behind. It's tough to be surprised that kids at some of these schools don't do well on mandated tests when they don't have pencils, paper, and binders.

These kids don't have pencils and paper. If that doesn't make you mad, I don't know what would. Pencils and bloody paper. What the hell are we doing as a nation when we've got public school teachers who have to rely on the generosity of strangers to get pencils and paper for their students. What does that say about us. The White House has an annual budget of $300 million. The legislative branch spends $3,700 million of our dollars on itself every year. But teachers have to write proposals and hope that individual Americans will be generous enough to help them make sure that their students have pencils and paper???

I am incredibly proud, and incredibly grateful, that there are people reading this blog who are so generous and willing to step up and personally pay to help educate children that they don't know and will never meet. And I am incredibly ashamed that I live in a country where we need to do this.

I can't say enough to thank those who have given so far. If you can't donate right now -or, for that matter, even if you can and have - I hope you take the time to think about what those proposals say about our national priorities. When teachers have to beg for things that cost less than what it takes to run the White House for one minute, something is very, very wrong. Are you willing to continue to live in a country where children are routinely deprived of even the most basic educational supplies? I'm not, but I love America far too much to leave it. The only option that's left is to try to fix the problems. I don't know how, yet, so let me know if you've got some ideas.

2 responses so far

  • Michele says:

    I have a friend who teaches math & science at a lower income school. She is constantly using her own money to buy pencils and other basic supplies. She also provides lunch for the kids who can't afford it.
    She is fortunate that she can afford to supplement her classroom from her own funds. It is shameful that she has to do so. Unfortunately, there are many more teachers who cannot afford to pay out of their own pockets.

  • IanR says:

    Wow - reading that stuff makes you want to cry. Crayons are hot commodities? No paper? That's all so heartbreaking.