Last week I wrote about our declining enrollment. Usually conversations about our enrollment turn to budget issues and scarce resources. We have certainly had to cut staff, revise programs, economize supply requisitions, and reduce the district’s economic contribution to our community. The effect has been felt in every corner of our school district. During times of such as this, whether it be global, local or within our own homes, it is important to keep a realistic perspective. Here’s some helpful perspective I came across recently.
A few months ago I saw a heart-warming video on YouTube about big learning with little resources. “Landfill Harmonic” tells the story of a “garbage picker” in South America who decided to make instruments for teaching music out of trash. As a result, some of the poorest students in the world make beautiful music with garbage. It is a story of ingenuity, vision, and “The Recycled Orchestra.” You can watch the video by going to www.landfillharmonicmovie.com. The story gives us an opportunity to look away from ourselves and learn from those who live in a different context.
As budgets are debated in Washington, our own state and school district will face harsh budget realities. It is all too easy in times like these to focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have. Our children love to learn. While working to provide them with all we can, we must be careful not to teach them that they can only learn with lots of “stuff.” Learning can happen with the latest laptop or out in the woods with nothing but the senses God gave us. The ability to learn is a gift that we each must steward.
Above my desk I have a picture of a poor Chinese parent walking along a rural pathway carrying a worn wooden desk on her shoulders. It is her child’s first day of school in the city of Macheng. Behind her walks this beautiful little student carrying a stool she will use to sit on at the desk her Mom is carrying. In this one Chinese village, over 3,000 other students must provide their own desks for school, as well. Other than the stool, the little girl in the photograph looks like any other early elementary student, including the bright pink back pack she has on her arm. Based on the amount of effort it took to attend school, I’m confident this little girl will learn when she gets there and that her parents will value her educational opportunity.
This picture and its story serve as a constant reminder that I need to be very careful with the words I choose when talking about “needs” in our own district. Our students are always watching. When we talk about budgets, do we inadvertently convince our youth that we can only be a good school if we get more money? Or, have we taught them that “little is much” with the right disposition?
The pain resulting from budget cuts that have been felt in families, schools and our communities has been difficult. Closing some of our small community schools has caused us to feel a true sense of loss. But, while we strive to regain what we’ve lost, work hard to keep from losing even more, and wish the best for our students, we should pause to ask, “Does best always have to mean more?” How do we advocate for the resources we need to provide a quality education in rural Alaska while at the same time teaching our students that learning is a responsibility, not an entitlement? What does “little is much” look like in our present circumstances?
Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the comment section below.