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Elitism & Parent Volunteers: It happens to all of us

A few times now, I have read "When Elite Parents Dominate Volunteers, Children Lose".  A few of my circles of friends on Facebook have been reading, thinking, and commenting on how this article opens our eyes to the diversity of our circles and the importance of living inclusively.

In my first world, at this moment, I am living this.  I am stuck in the middle.  My daughter is in an elective class at school that culminates in an end-of-year competition and trip.  The whole year is littered with performances, extra fees for transportation or uniforms, required after-school practices.  This has consumed my daughter's free time as well as our discretionary income.

All along, parent volunteers of this class have oozed accolades for this trip: "It's so worth it.  The kids have a fabulous time and they learn so much."  Also: "The first payment of the $550 trip fee is due in two weeks."

Uh, OK.  When I talk to other parents, they tell me how much this is a priority for their student to participate in the competition and trip.  So, "we make sacrifices in other areas so they are able to attend".  

What if even just putting food on the table is a sacrifice?  What if the student's bus pass is a sacrifice?  What if a new pair of shoes to replace the ones with holes is a sacrifice?  That means there is nothing left for $32 uniform shoes or $15 bus fees (called "optional") or - definitely not - the $550 competition and class trip.

When I ask what a student should do if they cannot commit to this intensive course, I am told: "Students can opt to take the 'intermediate' class if they feel that the time and financial commitment of the 'advanced' class is too much for their families."  Really?  So, if I cannot afford the Algebra textbook, I should just take Pre-Algebra, even if the Algebra course is the appropriate level for me?

This whole discourse makes my blood boil, and perhaps we do it to ourselves by affording to rent in the "good" neighborhood and attending its privileged public school.   I wonder how these discussions would be on the other end of town?

The good news is that we do have the privilege to make some sacrifices and our student went on the trip.  The bad news is that our student has friends in the same class whose families couldn't send their students on the trip.

Comments

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I believe part of this is the systematic cost-shifting that our state (and others) have done -- strip education to the bare bones that the state WILL pay for, and everything else is paid by parents. At least those who can afford it. And everyone else? Tough. And the implication, as you wrote, is that you obviously don't love your child enough if you don't "sacrifice" to give them these opportunities.
I'm an older parent, but when I went to school, you didn't BUY band uniforms. They were owned by the school, you got to use it for the year, and then you gave it back. The band budget covered dry cleaning the uniforms each year before handing them back out. I suspect that the same was true of cheerleader uniforms, football uniforms (no one in my high school had their names on jerseys), etc.
Our kid's specialty program fundraises, as a class, for the 8th grade trip so that each child in the program has the opportunity to go. It's not perfect & there is much talk of revamping how that happens, but I absolutely agree with you that those who don't have the ability to pay fade into the background & become invisible. As do working parents who can't attend mid-week, late notice activities at school.

Eh, you are right that it isn't fair by a long shot. But if my child had earned a place in this special event by doing well and participating all year long.. I'd find the money somehow. Ask the school counselors or the grandparents to come up with something. Put your kid out doing extra babysitting or car washing for the neighbors.

My own parents had to say no a lot to these sorts of things... so as a SAHM I found money for my kids somehow. I once did a focus group on shopping for tea and got paid 200$ for my time. Or maybe its time to redeem your "points" on the credit card. I'm expecting a 250$ check in the mail any day now to help cover the cost of my son's special school "thing". He's a senior this year, this will be the last time he gets to hang out with some of these kids before real life happens.

What about someone who is a single working mom, doing 2 jobs and getting food assistance? There may not be credit cards much less credit card points.
You can only wash the neighbor's car if they own one/can pay you. I'm not saying this with a tone, I'm just pointing it out.

Yes, I definitely think that it's easy to think about this in "first world" terms, ie the credit card thing or extra couponing or cutting back on going out to eat or whatever. But the reality of the matter is that in many areas of our city, this kind of cost would be a huge hardship at the very least on a family.

But really, what I'm really struggling with, is why there was no push on the behalf of the schools and perhaps better financially-off parents to try and arrange some fund-raising activities, or to reach out to the business community. And ultimately, what kind of example does a school set if some children in a class can participate in an excursion like this but not everyone, only because of financial reasons? I think it shows students how much of a class-stratified society we live in. And that even children who are from families with a limited income are subject to many disadvantages even at their public school.

It is really sad.

I agree, Karen Weyna.

Not defending here, but generally there ARE scholarship or PTA funds for these things, check with your school and see. My daughter's very mixed income (and former qualifier for high poverty programs) had scholarship funds for such things, and there's quite a bit of that at her upper income middle school (for anything that requires parent expenditure, forms come home and there's always the option of "I can't afford the $10, and yes, they do this no matter HOW minimal the amount). When we have to purchase specific books outside of texts, I frequently buy an extra one, as my small way of helping.

Also, normally for these sort of optional things (like band uniforms) the teams and groups fund raise, which I'm not entirely opposed to: school funding used to favor the jocks and cheerleaders, now they need to do extra work for their uniforms, etc. I think, honestly, holding an elite spot SHOULD require extra work.

You also point out this is an elective class and an optional trip----so your analogy to algebra books is a strawman. If this were entirely academic and part of that curriculum, again, the school would find a way to fund it. Portland's hardly an overall wealthy city by any stretch of the imagination--there are probably plenty of kids poorer than yours.

And lastly, it IS, again, perfectly okay to sometimes tell your kid "sorry, we can't afford that". I see a lot of that here and I really don't get it. Even when we CAN afford everything (depends on my job and whether or not I'm working), I'll say "no" to certain things strictly on principal.

To say nothing, again, it's a VERY first world problem.

It's one thing if the whole team/club agrees to fundraise, but what if they don't.. you can't do it on your own.

No, but you can look into one of the other options I suggested, or have your child earn the money themselves. Or just tell them "sorry we can't afford that". Again, it's optional and non-academic. And a very white whine, first world problem

I still feel that perhaps the expensive trip or whatnot should not be an option if not everyone can afford it. Not trying to offend, but you are also speaking from the point of view of someone who can afford it, at least most of the time. Think of how it feels for the kids who have many missed opportunities because of family financials.

I guess I just feel like there are many non-school related activities for kids to not be able to do because their parents cannot afford them. School-related activities should not be that way, too.

Except as I already pointed out, that's life. And just because I can usually afford these things NOW, doesn't mean I always could (including growing up, at times my family couldn't afford food). Under that logic, then nothing should be available to anyone that anyone else can't afford. Or you shouldn't even opt to have children unless you know you will always be able to give them everything they ever ask for.

Or have any sort of school competition, because it "isn't fair" that some kids are smarter or better at X, Y, or Z. It's an optional trip for an optional (and elite) activity at a school the OP chose to attend.

Blaming minor life imperfections on one's own choices is more than a bit absurd when other kids go to school hungry and with black eyes, ya know?

I agree with the people who said to let the kids raise money. When I was in jr high and high school, our clubs and sports had fundraisers. We walked around with those boxes of candy and sold MMs, PBCups, etc. We sold wrapping paper, and magazines. OK - the last one wouldn't probably work in 2014, but there are certainly things that kids could sell. An enterprising parent could even get a corporate sponsor or local business to match whatever the kids make in a donation.

I think that kind of activity helps teach kids that nothing in life is free. They can also learn some accounting skills, etc. It's a pain yes, but an invaluable experience.

We are fortunate that we can afford the extras that are required for sports, music, etc., but I would certainly be inclined to have my kids work for some money to contribute.

It's funny - seems like this might be the first time ever that I have agreed with Zumpie.

I think it depends on how you do the fundraising. Fundraising is great if the whole group (class, team, whatever) works together to raise money, and it all goes into one pot that supports everyone. Scholarships are great and all, but when you are a poor, overworked, struggling parent, it can get pretty exhausting to apply for all the scholarships and grants that are out there to support the various needs of your kids. If you have ever "been there," you know what I am talking about. Also, then every kid gets the benefit of the accounting and leadership skill development that can go with fundraising.

Honestly, EVERY parent (especially a working parent) feels overwhelmed and exhausted at some point, so having to fill out some forms shouldn't make or break you (and if it does, maybe you should limit your kids' activities, that's okay, too). Again, optional, elite activity. And again, perfectly okay, regardless of your financial situation, to sometimes tell your kids "no". Even if just on principle.

And I agree with another anon about the "earn the money" part. Even if it isn't a hardship, again, on the principle of nothing in life is free and you have to make choices.

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