Monday, December 9, 2019

Kristen Bell, Celebrity Charity, Flaming Possums


I was already thinking about this, about how Dana Goldstein's Common Core retrospective for the New York Times collapsed a lot of history, but still had room for that time that pre-disgraced Louis CK made a crack about Common Core math. A great reminder of how a gazillion teachers and parents can comment on the quality of the Core, but a celebrity makes a comment and suddenly people listen.
Well, here comes another one of those feel good stories that doesn't make me feel so good. Kristen Bell, actress, star, celebrity, has started doing a little crowd-sourcing charity for classroom teachers. She's been at this for a while--every Friday on Instagram she posts the story of some heart-warming teacher somewhere and the good work that teacher has been doing and the wish list that teacher has for her classroom. Bell's followers then flood that teacher with supplies forn the classroom.

Yes, it's nice that a celebrity is raising the profile of classroom teachers across the country. Yes, it's nice that the appreciation takes the tangible form of supplies a teacher can use. But it brings us back to the old flaming dead possum problem, which I'll illustrate with this conversation:

Employee: Boss! Boss! Come here. I want to talk to you. I have a huge problem. Somebody put a big flaming dead possum on my desk.

Boss: [Looking into employee's office] I don't see any flaming dead possum.

Employee: Well, I put out the fire, then I took the possum out back and buried it.

Boss: Well, then. It's look to me that there is no problem.

Employee: But-- but-- I shouldn't have to do all that!

Boss: [Walking away, wiping kerosene and possum hair off his hands] Keep up the good work. Glad you have no problems.

The flaming possum problem is always a tough choice-- you don't want the office to burn down, and the fdp really interferes with work, but if you solve the problem yourself, your boss dosn't hve a problem he needs to solve, and before you know it, you are dealing with flaming dead possums on a daily basis. Flaming dead possums happen in all sectors, public and private, but education is particularly prone to it because teachers don't want the possum to burn down a classroom filled with children, nor does anyone want to turn down the generosity of concerned parents and citizens who just want to help. Still, this year's "we received this equipment through the generosity of the PTA" is next year's "we don't have to budget for that-- the PTA will take care of it" which may sound find, but plugging holes in a school budget with scented candle sales is not a sustainable approach.

Plus, not every PTA is equally able to pick up the slack. Using charity to fund education exacerbates problems of inequity. 

You can't deny something like Bell's program. If a hundred Amazon boxes had showed up at my classroom with supplies I needed, I wouldn't have jumped on my high horse and declared, "No, until schools are properly funded, I will not accept these." Damned right I'd have accepted them (though I probably would have shared the wealth with colleagues).

But wouldn't it be cool if someone like Bell, in addition to the teacher's classroom address, also provided the addresses of that teacher's school board and legislators and each Instagram follower who sent a donation also sent a letter or email to the folks in charge saying, "Why do I, a complete stranger, have to help out this teacher? Why can't you properly fund the classrooms in this building?!" What if Bell herself started exerting pressure on the funders of classrooms instead of just helping put our possum fires.

Mind you, I'm not arguing to let the flaming dead possums burn. But at the same time, working on finding and stopping the guys who are killing and igniting the possums needs to happen, too. It may not feel as good, but if celebrities are looking for an education project, that's one I'd suggest.


  1. In Mrs. Heartwarmer's school district the cost-per-pupil is $20,000.
    She has a first grade class of 25 students - that's $500,000 to run her program! Why should I send donations?
    Signed, An Angry Taxpayer

    1. Dear Angry Taxpayer, Please help elect local and federal legislators who work to change the way public education is funded. Currently, it is on the backs of tax paying residents, not large companies. Those 25 1st graders aren’t individually getting $20,000 worth of services each.