Alrighty. Better late than never, over at the Crazy Hip Blog Mama Carnival, today’s topic is “The charitable cause that is dearest to my heart…”.
As usual, a deceptively simple and straightforward question lurches me into doubt and challenge territory.
There are many causes that are very worthy and definitely deserving of our attention. Anyone who has seen the heartrending commercials of sweet, big-eyed, sad kids who are deeply sick and in need of your money at St. Jude’s understands that not only would you want to save those kids –and really any kids who suffer, are in need, or hurt– but that having kids makes watching that commercial a fearful and painful activity. Just thinking that it could be my child with a bald little head and with a horrible disease consuming his body give me this horrible heaviness in my throat and makes it hard to breathe.
As we go through life and live through our illnesses and the illnesses of those close to us –such as my stepfather’s frustrating, painful, and downright humiliating fight with Multiple Sclerosis, and which eventually killed him far too young, or my grandmother’s struggle with cervical cancer– we are made aware of those who are less fortunate than we are. There is much sadness and disease in the world. And there is much poverty and ignorance as well. And there is much loneliness, partially eased by volunteers at hospices and at senior centers and as drivers for Meals-On-Wheels programs, which bring a little sunshine into lives with so little love (and definitely a worthy cause for which to volunteer your recently licensed teenager — I speak from experience). One of the hardest things when thinking about this topic is realizing that we can’t bring relief to as many people as we would like to help or soothe, and again… that lump in the throat comes back and threatens to prevent breathing; having that glimpse into all that pain somehow opens up our eyes and temporarily removes the blinders and exposes so much sadness and so many things and people that we outright offend when we complain bitterly about having a tiny pimple.
In the years I worked with children –first as a babysitter, and then as a camp counselor and an after-school program drone and aide and teacher– the one cause that stuck with me and one I would like to perhaps further at some point in my life happens to be equality in education. There are poor people in our own backyard, you know. One does not need to go overseas to find disadvantaged people to help in this regard (and there are domestic orphans who also need to be rescued from foster homes in this country, Angelina Jolie).
The poverty that pervades many of our school districts and their after-school programs and extracurriculars is pervasive and insidious. It coats everything, like thick glue. And one of the salient aspects is the resentment that being disadvantaged breeds in children from a very early age; they cannot understand why their parents must leave them in afterschool until late. Or why they cannot have a teacher who teaches for a whole year or one that can teach one-on-one (usually disadvantaged schools have a hard time retaining teachers, or they do not have enough budget to afford the proper teacher-student ratio). They don’t understand why their classrooms are too cold in winter or too warm in summer; or why there are no good snacks or parent helpers in the class. And as they get older and savvier, they don’t understand why their school has crappy fields or busted lockers; why their school cannot afford new uniforms; why their field trips are lame or why their schools do not teach a variety of arts or languages. Or why their school is one of the few in miles around who has two or three police officers assigned specifically to it.
Education doesn’t just require money, it’s true: but it also requires dedicated parents who are willing to get involved in their children’s lives. It requires that parents be advocates for their children and their schooling, because if you’re not willing to fight for your child’s right to an education, few people will. And in our capitalist society, involvement and outspokenness equal perks –usually in monetary form.
Most importantly, education takes educating the parents. Many parents do not know or understand how to harness the power of their voices so their schools improve; instead they treat the teachers as the enemy, or they do not take advantage of what is offered at the school, simply detaching themselves from their kids’ lives. This only hurts the children, who understand their parents’ fears and inadequacies as lack of interest for their academic achievements or pursuits. Children who need special resources –whether because they are developmentally behind or far ahead– are pushed to the wayside and their unanswered needs breed social problems, acting out, and joining organizations where they will be valued for things other than their ability to excel at school.
Education starts at home. Strive to understand –and reach out if you need to be taught– and you have won half the battle.