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A Back to School Surprise in California
September 3, 2010 8:57 AM   Subscribe

"Out of the blue, in the middle of a recession, the phone rang. What would it cost, the caller asked the founder of DonorsChoose.org, to fund every California teacher's wish list posted on the Web site? The founder, Charles Best, thought perhaps the female caller would hang up when he tossed out his best guess: "Something over $1 million," he told her. A day later, Hilda Yao, executive director of the Claire Giannini Fund mailed a check of more than $1.3 million to cover the entire California wish list, 2,233 projects in all, with an extra $100,000 tossed in to help pay for other teacher needs across the country. (DonorsChoose: previously on MeFi)

DonorsChoose blog entry.

Background on Mr. Best.

From the previously link, a comment by mitsu explaining how the project works. Mitsu was their tech director at the time.
posted by zarq (82 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy COW. As someone that has funded maybe a couple thousand bucks total in projects at DonorsChoose over the last few years, this is the awesomest story ever.
posted by mathowie at 9:01 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's just great :D
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:03 AM on September 3, 2010


What a waste of money. She could have bought 0.67% of an F-35 fighter for that!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:05 AM on September 3, 2010 [36 favorites]


That's ridiculously and unbelievably freaking awesome.
posted by zennish at 9:07 AM on September 3, 2010


That's so great. I'm sure the added publicity will help fund other projects on Donors Choose as well.
posted by ODiV at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2010


No doubt this was an amazing and generous move by Ms. Yao, and she and her organization deserve to be thanked and recognized. Lately, though, stories like these, together with my own experiences, kind of make me cringe.

I can see these kinds of private/quasi-private donations playing straight into the hands of the Tea Party/libertarian types-- people who believe that citizens "voting" with their dollars as to which causes merit funding, as opposed to government-run spending funded by taxes, are the better way to go. A part of me fears that the more attention these philanthropic stories get, the easier it will become for politicians to convince Joe/Jane Taxpayer that it's not government's job to adequately fund public education and other services.

I apologize for threadjacking so early on... just another angle, possibly not considered by many people, to these kinds of stories.
posted by Rykey at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2010 [38 favorites]


It's so sad and infuriating that DonorsChoose has to exist.
posted by DU at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2010 [32 favorites]


The fund Yao directs was created in 1998 to honor Claire Giannini Hoffman, the daughter of the founder of Bank of America.

See! Trickle down works!
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:17 AM on September 3, 2010


That's absolutely outstanding. CA has been hit so hard in the past few years... It's nice to see specific needs from teachers being addressed in such a magnanimous manner. Teachers are super resourceful, and all the ones I've known and worked with come up with wish lists like this designed to have maximum impact on the students and the school in general. This is $1.3million that's going to have far reaching impact for years to come.
posted by hippybear at 9:17 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Claire Giannini Fund has an interesting history. Claire Giannini was the daughter of A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America, and she served as the director of BOA from 1949 until 1986. Hilda Yau had to sue to gain control of Claire Giannini's legacy so that it would allocated as intended. Thankfully, she won the case.

An excerpt from this article.

"Like her father, Hoffman disdained ostentation and waste. Before she died, in 1997 at the age of 92, she directed her personal lawyer, San Mateo attorney Donald Lawrence, to draft a will leaving the bulk of her estate in a fund to benefit the elderly and blind, children and animals and the Giannini legacy.

Lawrence was one of three trustees she named to oversee her legacy. There was also a seat for a corporate trustee, currently held by U.S. Trust. But foremost was her trusted friend, Dorothy Yao of San Francisco. The two women had met at a social event years earlier and discovered a common history: Both were the devoted daughters of powerful businessmen -- one in America, the other in China -- who believed in using wealth to help working people.

Hoffman gave Yao veto power over the others and designated her daughter, Hilda, as Dorothy's replacement if she dies.

Since its beginning, the Claire Giannini Fund has been wracked by disputes between the Yaos and the other trustees, who say the women interfere with the proper management of the fund.

But Dorothy and Hilda Yao maintain the professional trustees have put their own financial interests above Hoffman's charitable goals.

Nearly one in every five dollars paid out of the Giannini trust -- more than $1 million so far -- has gone not to charitable gifts but to litigation and other administrative costs. "

...

"Although day-to-day investment of the money is now handled by an outside firm chosen by the Yaos, U.S. Trust maintains it is entitled to an annual percentage of the fund's value. Corporate trustees are normally paid for asset management and tax preparation. U.S. Trust performs neither of those functions.

Nevertheless, in January, the company asked the court to approve the fee structure awarding U.S. Trust .39 percent of the fund's assets each year, roughly $300,000 for 2000 and 2001. Lawrence is requesting one-third that sum on top of U.S. Trust's fees. U.S. Trust also asked for guidelines that would restrict Dorothy Yao's veto powers and give the firm more authority over investment decisions.

The Yaos, for their part, have taken no compensation. After Hoffman died, Hilda Yao quit a high-paying job at Bank of America, where she was senior vice president and deputy manager of international private banking, to help her mother administer the fund.

"There's nobody else to protect Claire's legacy," said Hilda Yao, who helped write the bank's manual on fiduciary responsibility. "She trusted us with the perpetuation of the Giannini legacy. We don't know how not to keep faith with Claire."
posted by kimdog at 9:19 AM on September 3, 2010 [35 favorites]


The blog entry has a link to the press release pdf. I didn't want to flood the post with this info:
The 2,233 school projects in both Northern and Southern California that will now be fully funded by the foundation’s grant are wide-ranging in subject matter, comprising projects that promote literacy and language as well as math and science skills. More than a thousand of the projects are also from “high need” schools, where 40% or more of student populations are from families whose household income is at or below 130% of the poverty line (a maximum income of $23,920 for a family of four). “I hope this grant fulfilling all California-based school projects will inspire many more teachers and their students to take the initiative and propose projects through DonorsChoose.org,” said Ms. Yao. “I applaud all donors who have given already and hope many more will join with us to make this gift the start of a sweeping movement to transform the lives of students in schools today.”

posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2010


kimdog, thank you for finding and linking to that article!

The press release says that this donation is being made "in memory of Mrs. Giannini Hoffman and Ms. Yao’s mother, Mrs. Dorothy Yao who was also a close friend and Trustee & President of the Claire Giannini Fund."
posted by zarq at 9:23 AM on September 3, 2010


What a fantastic donation!

kimdog - thanks for the background information!
posted by alaijmw at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2010


I can see these kinds of private/quasi-private donations playing straight into the hands of the Tea Party/libertarian types-- people who believe that citizens "voting" with their dollars as to which causes merit funding, as opposed to government-run spending funded by taxes, are the better way to go. A part of me fears that the more attention these philanthropic stories get, the easier it will become for politicians to convince Joe/Jane Taxpayer that it's not government's job to adequately fund public education and other services.

You're not alone there. That was exactly my concern when I saw this.
posted by kafziel at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2010


I'm with DU. How is it that the idea that government/taxpayers shouldn't pay through the nose to give kids the absolute best education possible is even debated? Gah.

Hooray for Ms. Yao!
posted by dry white toast at 9:25 AM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, leave it to the left to frown at beautiful when it might, maybe, support the right. Even after the background of the fund? This is a wonderful charity story. And charity is good. Don't let politics distort your empathy.
posted by gilrain at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


When I saw this the other day it made me happy because it reminded me that not all people suck, and that is good.
posted by rtha at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can see these kinds of private/quasi-private donations playing straight into the hands of the Tea Party/libertarian types

Sad that it's so fitting that the next comment was:

It's so sad and infuriating that DonorsChoose has to exist.

I'm with the latter camp: while the linked article hypes all the technology dreams fulfilled here, there are basic supply shortages due to lack of budgets. Growing up as the son of a teacher, I've seen my mom spend a lot of money on supplies for the class. Some of it was the frilly elementary school classroom "theme" stuff, some of it was because the school was out of what she needed to teach class. Now I'm married to a high school teacher, whose birthday wishlist included dry-erase pens, because her school was down to red and green pens. I've made copies with her on our own dime because the copy machines are more reliable elsewhere.

Those technologies can be great tools for classrooms, but when schools run out of pens for teachers, there are bigger issues at hand.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on September 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm sure there's room for well-funded schools and charitable donations to schools in the same political ideology.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hooray for Ms. Yao. Boo that even when wealthy people set up funds to benefit people who need it, other people interfere for their own personal gain.

when schools run out of pens for teachers, there are bigger issues at hand.

So, so true.
posted by davejay at 9:40 AM on September 3, 2010


What a waste of money. She could have bought 0.67% of an F-35 fighter for that!
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
(Eisenhower's farewell)
posted by norm at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


To elaborate a bit on the experiences I mention in my comment above:

A couple years back, my employer allowed staff to participate in a program, sponsored by a nonprofit, whereby volunteers could take time off work to read one-on-one to at-risk children in failing urban schools. A great idea in many ways, to be sure. At the training for the program, we learned that X percentage of schools in the area had Y percent of poor children with abysmal reading scores enrolled, were underfunded by Z percent, etc., and that programs like this one were the only opportunity these children had to get the individual attention they needed--which in our case amounted to about 40 minutes a week. I wanted to stand up and yell, "Where the FUCK is the government in all this?! Why are taxpayers being taken from their own jobs (in my case, a public sector job already being paid for by tax revenue) to plug the gaping holes for these motherfuckers?! How much is this distorting the legislators' perception of a school district's need for funding?! Why is this shit allowed to go on?!"

A very wealthy friend invited me to a fundraiser she helped coordinate, to benefit the local high school's art program. It was a lavish event at a posh mansion, complete with dancing and hors d'oeuvres. Attendees (who reportedly packed the event) paid outrageous prices to participate--far more than the school district's share of their property taxes would have cost them to fund the art program. The woman who invited me is a Tea Party type, who, although she no doubt saw the art program as worthy as her time and money, detests the idea that the government taxes people to pay for things like high school art programs. The focus in the media coverage of the event was, of course, on the fact that the community came out to support their schools--which they could have done by simply paying their (albeit a bit higher) taxes.
posted by Rykey at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


the awesome story aside, the wording of the quote is hysterical to me:

"Out of the blue, in the middle of a recession, the phone rang."

a phone? ringing? during a recession? surely you jest!

"What would it cost, the caller asked the founder of DonorsChoose.org, to fund every California teacher's wish list posted on the Web site? The founder, Charles Best, thought perhaps the female caller would hang up when he tossed out his best guess:"

those silly female callers. thank you for the well contextualized detail, writer!

it's a heartwarming story, but sometimes the way something is written cracks me up.
posted by shmegegge at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wow, that's going to help a lot of kids. I love this story!

I like DonorsChoose and I agree, I'm sad that it has to exist. But I like being able to find projects I like. For instance, last mother's day, I donated in honor of my late grandmother. The project was a binding set for making homemade books. My grandmother had met my grandfather at Curtis Publishing where she worked binding books.

The latest one was about buying puppets for the classroom. I think that was an awesome idea the teacher had.

So it's fun and it's easy and it's needed. Give if you can.
posted by inturnaround at 9:43 AM on September 3, 2010


A part of me fears that the more attention these philanthropic stories get, the easier it will become for politicians to convince Joe/Jane Taxpayer that it's not government's job to adequately fund public education and other services.

You're not alone there. That was exactly my concern when I saw this.


Don't do that. There should always be a place in the world for private citizens to volunteer time or money to help others in ways that suit their own priorities, whether they be for the National Right to Life Committee or for Planned Parenthood.

Anecdotes that encourage people to support social causes, to support charitable giving, are good things and if others use them as a political strategy then at least you'll know: that is a person who has abandoned reason and the common good in favor of cynical partisan hackery. Don't be that person yourself.
posted by Riki tiki at 9:43 AM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


A part of me fears that the more attention these philanthropic stories get, the easier it will become for politicians to convince Joe/Jane Taxpayer that it's not government's job to adequately fund public education and other services.

Voters and taxpayers are frequently motivated by self-interest, and merit-based taxes often sound like a great idea to them. Or merit-based scholarships. Or merit-based immigration policies. An outcry for any of these will be nothing new. Many taxpayers would love it if the funds that they put into the system were directed to the causes they care about. Their rallying cry might as well be "screw you, I've got mine."

You fight it the way you always have: by raising awareness, encouraging altruism by example and voting.

It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rykey: "I can see these kinds of private/quasi-private donations playing straight into the hands of the Tea Party/libertarian types-- people who believe that citizens "voting" with their dollars as to which causes merit funding, as opposed to government-run spending funded by taxes, are the better way to go."

A year ago I would have agreed with you completely, but recently I've been seeing those folks trashing private charity, labeling it as socialism as well. Then again, their rhetoric changes as it suits them, so maybe they'll have no problem.

Also, this is great!
posted by brundlefly at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2010


I'd love if there were a way to bypass school administrations entirely and fund teacher requests directly. It would get rid of a lot of waste and bullshit.
posted by empath at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with DU. How is it that the idea that government/taxpayers shouldn't pay through the nose to give kids the absolute best education possible is even debated? Gah.

Have you ever read posts from people, on this very board, espousing the child-free lifestyle as something that people should adopt (no pun intended), stating that people who have children are being selfish, and that it is not their (nor the community's or government's) responsibility to pay for their children's education?

Now remember that people on this board are generally better-educated and more even-tempered than average, and imagine how many people out there actually see paying taxes towards educating a community's children as an unfair burden and a personal affront. That is why the idea is debated.

This also applies to [insert the name of your favorite government-funded program that applies to members of your community, but not all members of your community].
posted by davejay at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow. That's fantastic!

Things like this are one of the big reasons I've secretly always wanted to be stupidly rich. Not so much, donations to worthy causes, because that would be a given, but really peculiar ones like this where everyone involved is just kind of astonished at how it played out.

One of my dreams was to be able do things like see some poor guy driving a beater to work in some menial job, and while he was working, I'd have a team of people completely and anonymously restore his car.

I just love the idea of someone coming out of a hard day's work, to see that their car had new tires, a windshield without that irritating crack, the brakes were fixed, as was the exhaust, and with the tune up and oil change, the car could actually pass emissions. Also, a full tank of gas. Because that's just a nice thing to do.

posted by quin at 9:47 AM on September 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


Have people on this board really been saying they're going childfree because they don't think children should be educated? The comments I've read were for putting less strain on the system and the environment and not in favour of depriving any existing humans of education and support.
posted by ODiV at 9:48 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Er, let me clean that up:

"and that it is not theirthe commenter's (nor the community's or government's) responsibility to pay for theirthe breeder's children's education?
posted by davejay at 9:49 AM on September 3, 2010


I blame my public education for my inability to close HTML tags properly. :(
posted by davejay at 9:49 AM on September 3, 2010


Have people on this board really been saying they're going childfree because they don't think children should be educated?

No, but I've seen the outlier position that they believe people who have children are being selfish, and they (the people saying this) shouldn't have to contribute (via taxes) to the education of those children.
posted by davejay at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2010


Yeah, I phrased that kind of weirdly. I must have just missed those comments then (MetaFilter's a big place!). The childfree ones I'm thinking of were mostly environmentally centred.
posted by ODiV at 9:54 AM on September 3, 2010


You all need to pay for my kids' education so that they will protect you from the space squids and feral dogs in the future. Duh.

And this is great. I wish I had a million bucks so I could donate a small but significant part to charity.
posted by Mister_A at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't like to Donorschoose because my title-uno school in Silicon Valley, while inept in so many ways, has all my basic needs covered. (Paper, ELMO camera, projector, teacher laptop, class sets of novels, bitchin' library) I'd rather let some other classroom's basic needs be met than have luxuries for my own students.

But my girlfriend, in Richmond, just got 60 reams of copy paper because of this grant. They didn't have PAPER. When your school API is in the 500's, you need to make EVERYTHING yourself on copy paper so your students can access it. So, this grant directly impacts her students and her wallet. (Did I forget to mention that Richmond's first-three-year salaries are sub-$40k, and that it's one of the most challenging school environments in the country?)

Donorschoose (and the awesome donors) have also provided her with an LCD projector, a wireless tablet, and countless reams of paper. It's just amazing that this site exists and works so well!

Also, agreed with bypassing administrators entirely. We have 250 laptops at our school that sit unused and broken because we have an inept technology coordinator.
posted by jstef at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2010


I've seen the outlier position that they believe people who have children are being selfish, and they (the people saying this) shouldn't have to contribute (via taxes) to the education of those children.

You have? Here? I've definitely seen the "don't have kids" arguments, but not the other part.

In fact, more often what I see (not on metafilter, but in the world) is well-to-do people with kids not wanting their taxes supporting poorer kids in other school districts.
posted by inigo2 at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have heard from dozens of people in my lifetime that once their children graduate from high school (or alternatively, if their children go to private school), they believe they should no longer have to support the schools with their taxes.

These are people that have jobs and vote.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2010


empath: "I'd love if there were a way to bypass school administrations entirely and fund teacher requests directly. It would get rid of a lot of waste and bullshit."

You've basically described DonorsChoose.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's so sad and infuriating that DonorsChoose has to exist.

Why? We live in a world of limited means and unlimited wants. Even if all the education projects on DonorsChoose were funded by the state, I'm sure teachers could come up with more.

It's depressing that some of the wish lists are so basic, but if you funded all of those via taxes, and there are still people willing to donate money to schools (as there always will be, because a lot of people enjoy the act of giving), you'd be pretty stupid to leave it sitting on the table. Even in well-funded school districts, I've never run into anyone whose ever said that they couldn't use more funding.

There are a lot of things that I can imagine being 'nice to haves' that taxpayers might bristle at, but if someone is standing there offering the money, you'd be stupid to turn down. (The school I went to had a planetarium, donated by the local Rotarians or something. It was neat. Was it really used effectively? No, not really; would my education have been adversely affected if it hadn't been there, or if we'd had to get in a bus and drive to the science museum to get the same capability? Probably not. But it was neat.)

Something like DonorsChoose could be a good way of funding ideas that are just a little too experimental or a little too risky to get past a school board or town government, which is always going to have the dual responsibility of providing funding but also not taking risks with public money that will result in a backlash. If you can get a donor to write you a check, you might have a lot more room to work.

Even in the best case scenario of taxpayer funding, I don't see something like DonorsChoose being redundant, and I think there will always be room for something like it, hopefully not providing the essentials but providing funding for those who want to experiment and push into new directions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:10 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


People are free to try to find the downside of this kind of thing, but we are also free to suggest that it's OK to just embrace something for what it is, for the beauty of the gesture, and for the purity of the motivation behind it.
posted by Mister_A at 10:17 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The argument about "I don't have kids, why should my taxes pay for public schools?" makes me laugh and laugh. Silly rabbit, you're not paying for their education, you're paying the system back for yours.
posted by KathrynT at 10:22 AM on September 3, 2010 [14 favorites]


Incredible.
posted by glaucon at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2010


I don't want to threadjack, but, Davejay, I'll 'fess up to being one of those outliers. Kind-of.

I want to preface my screed by stating that the third grader across the street has the key to our house so that he can use my small parts and electronics workshop nestled away in the attic any time he wants, whether that's to disassemble stuff to figure out how it works or just to get away from his sister. I've spent thousands of dollars and lots and lots of time over the last year alone giving formerly homeless kids experiences they don't have the resources do with their families, sometimes including just sitting there while they do homework, and I'm in the process of setting up, with my partner, a crafts and woodworking program at a local low-income housing development to expand that out further. And I'm involved in local politics and publicly endorsing Democrats for school board and town council seats, and my partner is in public education.

Having said that, I believe the world is overpopulated. I believe that having kids is a decision that consumers resources, and that if you're going to have kids that should be a conscious deliberative act, and you should be weighing out the impacts of your having kids versus other people doing having kids.

I gladly pay my taxes for education because I believe that once parents have had those kids the best thing we can do is educate them and nurture them and bring them up in an environment where they believe that having one kid and supporting the hell out of that one kid is their best shot at perpetuating their genes, rather than having lots of kids and hoping that some of 'em survive to reproduction. But I do, at some not terribly deep level, see this as something of a protection racket, and resent that parents are having kids without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

That doesn't mean that I'm hostile to those parents, some of them grew up in circumstances where they can't see the greater impact on the world over their immediate struggles for survival. Some of 'em were pimped out by their step-father at 12 and see having a man in their life as a means for stability and structure and having a child as a way to keep the man around. Even when that hasn't worked 3 or 4 times. My resentment won't change that, so I'll roll up my shirt sleeves and try to change their world so that they can approach my world differently, but that doesn't mean that in my perfect world parents wouldn't be paying their kids way through school.

Back to the original thread topic: Yay for 2,233 teachers' needs getting funded. Yay for Ms. Yao. My fear with high profile donations like this is that they overshadow all the people who are showing up to volunteer for the after-school programs, or are buying a case of paper, taking a ream or two out for their home printer, and giving the rest to a classroom, or are simply being there and being moral support for a kid doing homework.

So may we take inspiration from this, and do a little more of those things, rather than merely saying "thank god for the Giannini legacy".

(And, KathrynT, many of us have parents who scrimped and saved in private schools, and are probably well beyond paying back and well into paying forward. Allow us our occasional moments of mostly private resentment.)
posted by straw at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


that doesn't mean that in my perfect world parents wouldn't be paying their kids way through school.

I think in your perfect world, we'd have a lot of uneducated kids who simply don't go to school because their parents can't or won't pay for it.
posted by hippybear at 10:44 AM on September 3, 2010


Hippybear, I think my actions effectively speak otherwise. I firmly believe that this is something that needs to be addressed from the supply side. And I think that statement indicates that you didn't actually read my comment.
posted by straw at 10:46 AM on September 3, 2010


straw, the point is well-taken, but people who literally spent every day of their educational lives in private education are incredibly rare. Even if they did, private schools benefit immensely from the presence of public schools. (I went to private junior high and high school.)

I'll grant you your "mostly private resentment," though; Lord knows I have plenty of those myself. I'm speaking more to the people who vocally bray about how UNFAIR it is that THEIR TAX MONEY goes to something they're not going to immediately benefit from.
posted by KathrynT at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2010


But I do, at some not terribly deep level, see this as something of a protection racket, and resent that parents are having kids without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

I realize that you're not painting all parents with the same brush, but I still think in a way that you're assigning blame inappropriately. Some parents do have kids without planning for long-term consequences, true. But that doesn't mean that everyone or even most folks who avail themselves of education and/or financial assistance are taking advantage of the system. Sometimes they may find themselves trapped by unforeseen circumstances, like illness or unemployment, or responsibilities, or even their level of education.
posted by zarq at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2010


No, I read your comment through end to end. But that is your actual statement.

I see education as investment in the greater good of the country. If nothing else, with our Social Security pension system, it's an investment in one's own future security, as having well-educated younger generations are the way we have enough support to keep that system going. (Yes, I know about the problems it's having -- I'm talking in big picture terms here.)

But I read about other countries where the education system isn't publicly funded, and hear stories like "when this child reached the age of 8, he stopped going to school after only 2 years because his parents couldn't afford it anymore". Or "the males in the family have been going to school, but not the females because the parents can't afford to educate all of them".

What is sad is how much the education system in some parts of the country fails students all around. Part of this seems to be cultural, where the children aren't given the kind of support at home necessary for a quality education, or negative attitudes toward school are passed from parent to child so none of those involved take it seriously. Some of it seems to be financial, with schools not receiving enough funding to adequately do the important and materials-consuming job of educating children properly. Some of it seems to be structural, with bad school boards and poor teachers dominating some systems and defending their positions more of the sake of supporting their fragile egos and social standings than with the education of children in mind.

But I worked in an elementary school for several years, one with an odd student population made almost entirely of half country-club society children and the other half destitute hispanic immigrant children. The school was small and not particularly well-funded. But the atmosphere created from the principal on down was one of "we're all in this together for the benefit of the children". The full faculty teamwork toward working on getting these kids from K through 5, generating curiosity and fascination toward learning in them, working hard to scoop up those falling back and pulling them forward... It was astounding to see children who were very reluctant learners in grade 1 leave for middle school at the end of grade 5 full of confidence and well armed with skills to face the challenges ahead.

If this district were one in which parents had to pay for their child's education, I have no doubt in my mind that children from the poor families would not have attended. As it is, with public funding, these children not only attended school, but in some of the parent conferences I was a part of, the parents made it clear that they knew their children were getting an education which they never received and would have chances in their lives which surpassed those the parents themselves had.

That's what education should be about. Making it possible for each generation to succeed in our world. If you don't really believe that each family should pay directly for the education of their child, then don't say so in black and white. Your actions are admirable, but that one sentence of yours speaks for a world of hurt if it comes to pass.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 AM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, agreed with bypassing administrators entirely.

Not just individual teachers, but individual schools, often turn down contributions because they don't have the legal structure to accept them. Each school, and yes, maybe even each teacher, should be provided with an umbrella 501-c-3, so they can accept help from, for instance, particularly grateful students.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2010


I have donated now and closed a project! Give me a sticker!
posted by eatdonuts at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2010


Hippybear, I think my actions effectively speak otherwise. I firmly believe that this is something that needs to be addressed from the supply side. And I think that statement indicates that you didn't actually read my comment.

Actually, I think it indicates that you don't appreciate the cognitive dissonance in your position(s).

I'm trying to connect the lines of thought in your comment here...Is your position that making parents pay for (some undefined portion of) their kids' education will act as a disincentive to reckless baby making?

You also feel that one way or another a child is entitled to an education. So if a child is born into a poor family that can't afford to pay for the education you think the child is entitled to, who pays for it? The State?

If not, than how would the outcome be anything other than how Hippybear describes it?

I'm genuinely trying to understand your viewpoint. So far, all your perfect world sounds like is the education system in the developing world.
posted by dry white toast at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2010


We have 250 laptops at our school that sit unused and broken because we have an inept technology coordinator.

jstef, can you get your hands on about 20-25 of those beauties & send 'em my way? I run an adult + afterschool program with a computer lab with 8 generic PCs circa 2000, running XP, and not running much longer judging by the heat they throw off.

I am a somewhat ept techie (as contrasted with your inept one) and I can make things run that should know better & just quit. I am able to do this through the community I am in, each member of which "taxes" themselves about $15 a month to keep us running--through their monthly association fees. That's just about enough to keep the space, with the lights on, one of us working full time, up to three part time, and keep about $10-12K in reserve for our summer camp that affords 55 kids the chance to go somewhere other than their front steps for six weeks of the summer.

I'd love to have me some computers that run current software--even if we have to fix them: my Friday teen program wants to learn how to jack recondition computers anyway.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have felt angry about this news story since I read it. We can't keep trying to fund schools with fucking bake sales and random donations when they happen to show up. Have you been in an inner city classroom recently? In California, teachers are being asked to educate kids on 9000 bucks a year per kid. These are often kids who have really jacked up home lives, who live in dangerous neighborhoods and get crappy food to eat. These are kids who need extra services, they need extra small class sizes, and art, and music, and PE, none of which do they get. These are schools with no big PTA fundraising and little outside funding. And if there's any question about the supposed post-racialness of our society, these are school that are mostly black and brown.

We have to have some fucking honesty about the need to pay taxes to pay for these kinds of services for our community. And this kind of story makes me so enraged because it makes us all feel great while in 6 months this money will be spent and we'll be back where we were (not to mention the thousands of schools that didn't happen to have wish-lists posted on that site).
posted by serazin at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does "Won't somebody please think of the children?" work so well for moral panics, but so badly for getting more public funds for education?
posted by jasonhong at 11:24 AM on September 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry you feel that way, serazin. I should point out that the problems faced by inner-city kids are not problems that any school system can solve. The fact is that many kids grow up in homes with little or no parental involvement or interest in education. Many kids live in environments where academic achievement is frowned upon, where being perceived as "smart" is enough to become the target of neighborhood bullies. The thing is, donations like this enable some children to have a richer educational experience, and that is a good thing.
posted by Mister_A at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2010


One of my dreams was to be able do things like see some poor guy driving a beater to work in some menial job, and while he was working, I'd have a team of people completely and anonymously restore his car.

When the madajb Legacy Fund reaches full value, I always thought I'd idle away my hours reading local newspapers from across the country looking for those sorts of stories.
The ones you see where someone's house burned down and they didn't have insurance or a kid's bmx track is in danger of being foreclosed on and they setup a bank account for donations, etc.

I would then send my minions to take care of it. I've always liked the idea of dark-suited guy walking into a public meeting, taking a check out of his briefcase and saying "My client, who wishes to remain anonymous, would like to help".

Let Gates have the big ticket charity items, I'd like mine to be more immediate.
posted by madajb at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing is, donations like this enable some children to have a richer educational experience, and that is a good thing.

Of course, but we need more than piddly donations to a few randomly selected schools on a one-off basis. Americans want the good feeling and control of picking their own hobby horse projects to throw a little money at now and then. We need a large, consistent income stream to pay for schools for all kids, especially kids who come from families where parenting is poor too. The only known way to provide that income stream is taxes.
posted by serazin at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


davejay: "Have you ever read posts from people, on this very board, espousing the child-free lifestyle as something that people should adopt (no pun intended), stating that people who have children are being selfish, and that it is not their (nor the community's or government's) responsibility to pay for their children's education?"

And have you not seen posts from people, here, even, saying that while they are childless by choice, and wish fewer people would have fewer children, it is the responsibility of the community and everyone in it to educate children?

Kids who are in school are kids who will get good jobs and pay taxes to support the services I need if I get old. Kids in school aren't tipping my motorcycle over and smashing the lights for fun. Kids in school benefits childless me in so many ways.

I applaud Mrs. Yao for her choice, but as the child of teachers who spent money on their classrooms every day, I weep that it is necessary and, like others, fear that it reinforces the right wing libertarian narrative.
posted by QIbHom at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


And have you not seen posts from people, here, even, saying that while they are childless by choice, and wish fewer people would have fewer children, it is the responsibility of the community and everyone in it to educate children?

FWIW, I have.
posted by zarq at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2010


but that doesn't mean that in my perfect world parents wouldn't be paying their kids way through school.

It is like this in many, many parts of the world. Kids can't go to school unless the parents pay the school fees. And yet people continue to have kids. And many kids don't go to school.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2010


Mister_A: I wish I had a million bucks so I could donate a small but significant part to charity.

why do you need a million bucks to start donating to charities?
posted by kakarott999 at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


One can only pray that we educate the young sufficiently that they might one day choose to not have children.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:42 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hippybear and Dry White Toast: stated most baldly I believe that the public funding of education is necessary to offset the irresponsibility of parents having kids without the means to raise them. Yes, it's a harsh tone, and it probably throws some brickbats towards even my parents (whom I'm constantly reminded did an amazing job of parenting). I contain multitudes.

I do not believe that the solution to this is to un-fund public education, I believe that the solution to this is to empower people so that they, as rich would-be parents in developed countries often do, don't feel the need to have any or as many kids.

So, yes: my perfect world is one where there is no need for public education, but that's accomplished not by cutting off the education, that's accomplished by empowering and educating potential parents so that they understand the impact and responsibility of having children.

It's kind of like saying I'm against crime and I think prisons are horrible. That doesn't mean I'm ready to shut down the prison system altogether, or even that I think they're completely ineffective, but it does mean that crime is way more complex than "do something bad, go to jail".

And, unlike most utopians, I'm also willing to acknowledge that my perfect world will never come about. As zarq points out there are unforeseen circumstances. And my partner works with DD kids, so I've seen some of them. That it isn't an achievable goal doesn't make it an unworthy one.

Mister_A said "...the problems faced by inner-city kids are not problems that any school system can solve..... Yes. This. And lots of rural kids, too. School alone can't solve these problems, but more to the point these are things that are about human involvement and human contact, and if we leave them to tax dollars and agencies, farm them out to "professionals", those social workers will largely do amazing things and do their best, but that doesn't hold a candle to what you can do if you go out pick a family and be a friend.

Our local homeless shelter organization, COTS, has a great program for this they call "Family Connection". It takes a couple of middle class folks and puts them in a supported program where they're providing the extended family that a homeless family making the transition from shelters into permanent housing has (likely) never had. If your local shelter organization doesn't have such a thing, call up COTS and ask for help setting such a thing up in your local community. It doesn't take nearly as much effort as you'd think, and though it can be an emotional roller coaster, it's rewarding as hell.

Finally madabj said "When the madajb Legacy Fund reaches full value...". I don't want to pick on you, I've said the same things at times, but is that a way of saying "never"? One woman I know has been doing amazing things while she's been going to college and working to pay for it. She was just Foster Mom of the year for our local county while giving five to ten hours a month to the program I was volunteering with, going to school full-time, and working. Do you want to change the world? Right now there's a kid who needs a bike, and you probably know someone who's got one hanging on the wall of the garage that hasn't been used in 15 years...

You don't have to save the world or travel the country. Find something in your area that needs fixing, and fix it. Those 2,233 projects? That's $600 per project. Not a piddling amount by any means, but if you get five of your friends together and brew your own coffee for a few months, that's 2,232 projects that need to get fixed by someone else. In fact, a lot of those needs could get filled by things we've got lying around, if we were just talking to our neighbors more and hearing their needs.

My fear with this wonderful donation is that we'll all sit comfortably back and say "hey, someone did something, good on them!". Well, yes, good on them! Great on them! Fantastic on them! We need more of this! But we, individually, won't make the world better through saluting other people's grand gestures or outsourcing change to the government; we'll make it better when we, individually, get involved in our communities and work to improve those. Because that not only fixes the individual problems, it changes our attitudes so that our neighbors will start to do the same thing.

Yes, it's not fair, you'd rather see those things funded by someone else's tax dollars. Yes, there'll be free riders. As I've said, I think the world as it sits right now isn't fair, and, yes, I do spend a little time whining about that unfairness, so go ahead and whine for a little while, you'll feel better. I do. However you'll really feel better when you get out there and start working to make it different.
posted by straw at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


You don't have to save the world or travel the country.

Certainly not, but it'd be a whole lot more fun.
Kinda like this guy, but on a grander scale.
posted by madajb at 3:44 PM on September 3, 2010


I'm genuinely trying to understand your viewpoint. So far, all your perfect world sounds like is the education system in the developing world.

Perhaps the disconnect is that the viewpoint is operating with the assumption that this is what would happen if it were a perfect world. But -- this is not, nor will it ever be, a perfect world.

I mean, my position is that if it were a perfect world, we could do away with money entirely and go back to a barter economy, everyone in the world would be issued a plot of land big enough to grow their own vegetables and keep some chickens so they could produce their own food, and I would have David Tennant in my apartment right now. But the likelihood of my getting a small potager plot or having David feed me anything grown from it is so remote as to be impossible; and that's why I don't use these ideas as the bases for any of my arguments too much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 PM on September 3, 2010


Just wanted to point out that the reason why many people have "too many" children (according to whoever is judging them) is religion. God doesn't care that you can't afford to feed your existing kids, he's going to make you pregnant again anyway.

I'm talking only of those religious people who are opposed to / do not use contraception.
posted by marble at 5:31 PM on September 3, 2010


Just wanted to point out that the reason why many people have "too many" children (according to whoever is judging them) is religion.

Yes, and that's a lazy and often inaccurate stereotype on the part of those casting judgements.
Let's consider fertility treatments and families who decide to carry twins and higher order multiples to term despite the knowledge that doing so will be financially challenging. That choice certainly isn't solely the realm of religious extremists who eschew contraception. There are quite a few families who are literally so grateful to be pregnant after multiple IVF and IUI cycles that they refuse to do anything that might risk a miscarriage, like selective reduction or even an amnio. This also happens frequently with twin pregnancies. A couple who expects that the addition of one new child to their family would have been affordable, but two are going to be a financial burden will choose the hardship rather than risk losing both kids.

I know this from firsthand experience. I've met a number of couples who were faced with that choice, who then went on to have triplets or twins.

Religion may be a factor for extremists like the Duggars, but for families with 3 and 4 kids who had some or all through ART, it's often not.

Sadly, it's human nature that people cast judgements without knowing all the facts.
posted by zarq at 6:41 PM on September 3, 2010


We have 4 kids. No fertility treatments. Not sure what that has to do with the post.

But I'll tell you what does. Around here, teachers ask for *Ticonderoga* pencils, and *Crayola* crayons, etc. Brand name stuff, in larger quantities than get used during the year. Where does all this go?

Furthermore, we homeschool. We diligently clip coupons and get the loss leader stuff at the stores that--gasp!--isn't always name brand. Now, I get that quality is worth paying for in some arenas, but these are commodities. Why should I (if I were a parent of a student in school) have to pay for brand name stuff when I don't do that in my own life? It's a waste of money to pay just for a brand name, IMO. It's doubly a waste to pay for more stuff than you need.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:04 PM on September 3, 2010


I don't know about the crayons, but I remember when the reading lab I worked in bought a whole mess of dollar store pencils... like multiple hundreds of them, and the leads were either so fragile or all pre-broken inside the wood such that they were basically useless as anything other than pencil sharpener tester devices. The next time we went pencil shopping to stock up the classroom, we paid an equal amount for a lot fewer name-brand pencils, and the quality difference was so huge that we never again bought dollar store pencils.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 PM on September 3, 2010


Whoah, extreme apologies to zarq for the threadjack that's happened here, but...

With ya on the pencils, hippybear. I went to a Waldorf school where we used Berol Eagle Prismacolor pencils and some expensive German brand of crayon that I can't even remember the name of right now, but I've got a set of those crayons. Huge difference between them and Crayolas, or, worse, the dollar store crayons.

Cheap is not inexpensive.
posted by straw at 8:09 AM on September 4, 2010


@RikiTikiTavi: Really? Are you really implying that public school teachers steal the expensive pencils and crayons and... I don't know, resell them on ebay? Use them up in wild liberal orgies over the summer? That's incredibly petty and narrow. Ew.

The teachers I know are much more likely to be bringing things to school at their own expense than stealing things to bring home. The tragedy is that these wishlists exist at all.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:28 PM on September 4, 2010


straw, no need to apologize. This has been a really interesting discussion, and I'm very glad you've been contributing to it.
posted by zarq at 8:03 PM on September 4, 2010


Every public school teacher I know (and I know many, but keep in mind I live in California where public education has been gutted since the 70s) buys classroom supplies out of her or his own low salary.
posted by serazin at 11:46 PM on September 4, 2010


Every public school teacher I know (and I know many, but keep in mind I live in California where public education has been gutted since the 70s) buys classroom supplies out of her or his own low salary.

Anecdata from me: same here. That's why they put in the teacher's itemization line in the IRS-1040 for up to $250. Most teachers I know here in MI buy well more than $250 worth of supplies during a year, and they don't do it for the tax break. It has become sort of an expected contribution for the perquisite of being a teacher in America.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2010


We diligently clip coupons and get the loss leader stuff at the stores that--gasp!--isn't always name brand. Now, I get that quality is worth paying for in some arenas, but these are commodities. Why should I (if I were a parent of a student in school) have to pay for brand name stuff when I don't do that in my own life? It's a waste of money to pay just for a brand name, IMO. It's doubly a waste to pay for more stuff than you need.

Consider, though:

* Since you homeschool, you only have a few "students". Even if you have a large family, odds are that the number of students you're getting supplies for is fewer than ten.

* Also, since you homeschool, you have immediate control over how the supplies are treated. You can keep an eye on whether the students are using the pencils as impromptu drumsticks, whether they're going a little too crazy with the pencil sharpener, whether they're using the rulers as "swords", etc.

Public school teachers have to buy supplies for three to four times as many students, and they don't have this same control over how the supplies are being treated. Getting decent-quality pencils gives better odds that the pencils themselves are going to stand up to "ooh, lemme play air drums" breaks in the middle of math homework.

Also consider: name-brand suppliers are more likely to give price breaks if you buy something in bulk. Not much of one, but a little bit of one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2010


@RikiTikiTavi: Really? Are you really implying that public school teachers steal the expensive pencils and crayons and... I don't know, resell them on ebay? Use them up in wild liberal orgies over the summer? That's incredibly petty and narrow. Ew.

Actually, I have heard of at least one retired teacher with a cabinet in the garage full of stuff left over from her classes, although I will grant that the tale sounds fantastic and I am certainly willing to take it with a grain of salt.

"Wild liberal orgies" sounds a bit like trolling. I'm not trying to imply wild orgies, perhaps contrary to your belief. I just think that it's a lot easier to spend other people's money.

I actually get it about supply quality--just yesterday I was using one of my Chinese carpenter's pencils, and they are at times a pain to work with. I can imagine the frustration of someone just learning to write with a tool like that. But as you know, quality can be had inexpensively for the diligent. It may or not be name brand. Similarly, some name brands are bad and some no-names can be quite good. I dislike the mandating of a particular solution.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2010



Public school teachers have to buy supplies for three to four times as many students, and they don't have this same control over how the supplies are being treated. Getting decent-quality pencils gives better odds that the pencils themselves are going to stand up to "ooh, lemme play air drums" breaks in the middle of math homework.

I understand your point, but it's actually the reverse: My kids are relatively young, so they are hard on supplies. They are just learning to write, etc. at this stage. Stuff gets abused as you say. I am hard-pressed to spend more money on, say, crayons that are as likely to get lost or broken than to be used. As they get a bit older and learn to treat things with more care and (possibly) show a particular interest or aptitude--sure, I'll buy the pricier stuff in that case.

To some degree I'm just venting; I understand from the teacher's perspective that "don't buy crap for your kids" is pretty hard to mandate without just specifying a brand.

Also consider: name-brand suppliers are more likely to give price breaks if you buy something in bulk.


Yeah, I see you here. But how many are really needed? I googled and found a small example:

...though I don't know where to find a bargain on FOURTEEN jumbo glue sticks and TWO DOZEN #2 Yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencils

So, that's 24 pencils for two months, or assuming ten months of school it's over half a pencil a week or so. Our oldest son spends more time sharpening than writing and even *he* doesn't come close to this. I doubt we've used that much in 3 years!

And fourteen glue sticks? It just seems so wasteful.

Thanks for the comment, Empress, and I'll add my apology for the derail as well. To be fair, I really should have kept the discussion scope to the types of projects on the site, which appear to be quite reasonable in my limited viewing.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2010


So, that's 24 pencils for two months, or assuming ten months of school it's over half a pencil a week or so. Our oldest son spends more time sharpening than writing and even *he* doesn't come close to this. I doubt we've used that much in 3 years! And fourteen glue sticks? It just seems so wasteful.

Again, I point out to you that you're looking only at ONE CHILD. 24 pencils for two months and fourteen glue sticks seem like a lot for ONE CHILD -- because it is a lot for ONE CHILD.

For a class of FORTY children, though, 24 pencils isn't even enough for a DAY.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 PM on September 7, 2010


True, maybe I'm missing something here. Isn't *each* child bringing 24 pencils, *each*? So each child has 24 pencils available to them through the year, because the total number of pencils is 40 * 24?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:12 PM on September 8, 2010


Citation Needed
posted by ambulocetus at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2010


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