Thursday, November 7, 2019
On the way to school, my daughter told me about the talent show going on today. I asked her if she needed money, and she indicated she already had the three dollars. And she told me a little story from earlier in the year. "Dad... when we had the faculty / student basketball game, only one student in our homeroom didn't bring money. But my teacher opened his wallet and put in the three dollars so everyone could go. It was so sweet." I responded, "That was sweet of him. I wonder how the student felt."
If you bring $1 you can go the game. If you bring $3, you can go to the school dance. Bring $5 and you can support your classmates at the talent show. These fundraisers during the school day are ubiquitous in schools around our country and at every grade level. As a principal for eight years, we had them at our school.
I regret it.
When we provide these extra experiences only to the students who have the money, what message are we sending to them? What message are they receiving? I have become convinced that these practices reinforce inequity, and they are harmful to students.
Kids can't control the income of their parents. Why should the quality of experiences enjoyed in school be a function of something out of their control? I realize that everything is not equal in the "real world" but our schools should be undermining systems of inequity, not reinforcing them. Some students enjoy extra advantages at home because of the income of their parents. And now these students also enjoy extra advantages at school, courtesy of the three dollar fundraiser. They get additional socialization with peers, bonding with friends, and engaging with teachers outside of the academic setting. They get "downtime" outside of the regular classroom. They get the added energy and inspiration from participating in something out of the routine of the normal school day.
I realize schools want to generate more funds. But we shouldn't do it in a way that embarrasses students. And we shouldn't do it in a way that some students miss out on fun experiences enjoyed by their more affluent peers. We can do better.
You might remember Harper Lee's great quote from To Kill a Mocking Bird: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I'm challenging us to rethink our fundraisers during the school day. Consider the kid who doesn't get to go to the dance because her parents don't have the money.