Spread That Volunteer Love


rich-momWe’re nearly halfway through the school year, and most of my friends and family have logged lots of hours helping out at their children’s schools. We’re all told it’s part of good parenting, and that parental involvement is a huge factor in a child’s success in school.  Plus, there are so many benefits in terms of meeting other parents, getting the skinny on which teachers are good and which aren’t, and generally getting plugged into that network of information that never makes the school newsletter.

Helaine Olen over at Slate’s Double XX is fed up with it all. And not for the reasons you might think. While she touches on the fact that most of this school volunteering is considered women’s work and isn’t truly valued, not to mention that it’s just another way we get judged Good Mother or Bad, her real point is this: Parents in affluent districts have the time and resources to pour into their kids’ schools and make a good environment even better, but schools in poor neighborhoods go begging.

To which I say: Amen, sister, even while I admit my kid’s the beneficiary of that to some degree. Her school is in a historically ethinic neighborhood that most of the members of that ethnicity fled long ago, but they still feel a sense of loyalty to the mother parish (its a Catholic school) and donate money and goods to our school. I’d be willing to bet the fairly good public school just a few blocks away doesn’t get the same attention.

Now, it’s a terrific school and serves a really diverse group of kids; one of the moms I have chatted with at pickup is missing teeth and another one is a college professor. But I sometimes feel guilty for how much goodwill gets expended on families like mine, who are not rich but certainly not desperate. For example, I didn’t need to buy any school supplies because generous donors had given so much that it was all taken care of, for all eight grades. Since I’d been all excited about going school shopping for a kid of my own for the first time, I ended up buying some and donating them to another school supply drive.

Our school’s hardly typical, though. I wonder what impact it would have if all those unpaid moms working to make their own child’s school experience great took one-third of that time and spent it in a low-income public school. From my friends who are teachers these sorts of environments, I hear horror stories of unsupportive administrators, checked-out parents and kids essentially raising themselves (when a nine-year-old can discuss who’s on Letterman, nobody’s minding the store). They’re stretched thin trying to do as much as they can for these kids. Meanwhile, I cover a very affluent school district for a local paper, and they even have gone so far as to establish a foundation so the very many wealthy individuals in the community can contribute money toward, say, preserving the junior varsity middle school debate team.

Personally, I’m inspired to see where I can help out. What’s your take on the whole thing?