It’s February. For those of you who know me well, I should say no more. Every year this month I get blue from the damp and dark, and false promises of spring. This year, my recent milestone birthday is also weighing heavily, especially as I also contemplate the upcoming transition I will be undergoing when my youngest heads off to kindergarten in September. Blah.
As usual, I’ve been dealing with my midwinter mopey-ness by keeping busy. I am firm believer that idle hands do the devil’s work, though in my case that work usually involves writing bad poetry. This winter’s busy-ness has been primarily at my son’s school, where I’m the Sustainability Chair – basically the person who coordinates all green efforts (and thinks of many of them too!).
Last year, our school’s Building Leadership Team rewrote our vision statement to include environmental stewardship. This year, we are in the middle of figuring out how to put that into practice and how to make environmental stewardship meaningful to students. Luckily many of our teachers, staff, students and parents have ideas and energy for this endeavor. Our Green Team (and the number of projects we are undertaking) has mushroomed this year!
However, that also means that I am at the elementary school A LOT of hours each week. The work I am doing with the students feeds my soul . Their earnestness and solution-oriented mentality inspires me. We are saving resources and money with our projects, which pleases me no end. As a side benefit, I get to see how the school and the school district work. I find this endlessly fascinating, though sometimes frustrating.
But I don’t get paid. And I am trying to decide how I feel about that.
Being at school as much as I am, I see firsthand how much work gets done by volunteers. My son’s school would be a much poorer place without the army of moms (mostly) who spend time helping in the classroom, on the playground, in the library, in the office, you name it. I am so grateful that our school community provides this amazing support and supplementation so that our teachers and administrators can spend more time doing their primary job – educating our kids.
But then there are the times we have to fight with the school district for building space, adequate staffing, a real math curriculum, etc. and I find myself feeling so frustrated that education is so chronically and systemically underfunded. Which makes me wonder if we shouldn’t all stop volunteering. I know that seems backwards – but I worry that we are enabling a really dysfunctional system by masking its problems.
I imagine what would happen if we all stopped volunteering en masse. Millions of mommies removing their thumbs from this massively leaking dike simultaneously. In my little fantasy, lawmakers would scramble to find funding. The general public would take to the streets demanding adequate resources for schools, smaller class sizes, less testing and more creativity. There would be a tremendous crisis, covered on the news with as much fanfare as superstorms and famines. For months, schools would languish, edifices crumbling, tumbleweeds blowing through the deserted playgrounds that could no longer be used because there were no parent volunteers to supervise them. And then, during a special session of Congress, logic would prevail. Education would be given priority over corporate loopholes, and voila! Problem solved.
A total pipedream, I know. And in the short term, our students would be hurt tremendously from a lack of parental support in the schools. But taking the long view, I really do wonder if all of our clever PTA fundraisers, eye-catching bulletin boards, and field-trip-chaperone gigs are propping up a system that needs to collapse so that it can be reinvented. Not for the political drama like we are seeing around sequestration right now, but a true getting back to basics and creating meaningful, workable school systems that educate our children.
Once we are done there, we can step back and reevaluate all of the other places where non-profits are kept on life-support thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers. And perhaps be so bold as to fund the things that actually matter to us.