A couple of days ago, I got the following email from a member of the Teach for America corps who knows me through my connection with William and Mary. (I’m posting this with the teacher’s permission and have removed identifying information.)

Read it and weep.

I am finishing up my second year of Teach for America in [an inner-city school system], and am preparing to begin my third year of teaching at my school. I was shopping at the [local] bookstore the other day and I came across “The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child.” Flipping through it, I got very excited at the way in which it is written. I’m a 6th grade ELA and Social Studies teacher in a district with next to no resources. My school has textbooks that the children cannot read, and extremely incomplete classroom “libraries” from which we’re supposed to somehow construct a curriculum, though there are no books at the children’s reading levels with which to teach, and teachers do not have access to copy machines from which to make curriculum-related worksheets. (I have spent hundreds of dollars this year just to provide any sort of suitable reading materials for them!) As I read your book, I became very excited because I realized that, finally, I found a text that covers all of the 6th grade social studies curriculum in an accessible manner. This is exceptional, because you must understand–I taught seventh and eighth graders last year who told me that they had never received social studies instruction before (probably because of the resource and curricular difficulties that I just enumerated).

I immediately bought one copy of the book itself and of the activity book for my own reference. However, I know that without some sort of waiver from the copyright holder, we cannot make any copies from these books. I believe that “The Story of the World” would be an amazing curricular resource for struggling readers eager to learn Social Studies content. Unfortunately, given the current economic crisis, my principal recently announced that the school will not be purchasing any new supplies next year (paper, chart paper, pens, notebooks, etc.), that we will not be able to pay for substitutes to come in on days when teachers are absent next year, and that, most likely, a few teaching positions will be cut in order to conserve funds.

I was wondering if you have any advice on what can be done in this situation. My first thought was that my I should somehow purchase class sets of these materials- either thirty (enough for one class), sixty (enough for the two different SS teachers to use), or 90 (enough for each student to have his or her own copy to reference). However, I realized soon after having this thought that if my principal is unable even to hire substitutes for next year, there is no way we can afford this. Can you tell me what the cost of a class set of these books would be, in case I am somehow able to fundraise and try to get money to purchase a set?

After reading this, I am more impressed than ever by the recent grads who join Teach for America, and stick it out.

I know there are no easy solutions to this educational mess. In this one situation, I can help; Peace Hill Press is organizing a charitable donation to try to get this dedicated teacher the necessary resources. (If you’d like to give us a hand, call our office.)

But what a knotted mess this teacher’s dilemma represents. How do we find the end of the string–the one we’d have to pull to unravel the knots?

Showing 14 comments
  • Carrie

    I’m so glad PHP is organizing a charitable donation for this teacher. But… How bad is is out there? This story is awful, makes want to slap some blinders on so I can stand it, it’s so bad. But s/he can’t be the only one who’s experiencing this level of — what? What is it? Is it misappropriation of funds? Is it complete lack of awareness? Are people just ignorant of the scope of such things? Do they not understand that if they screw up their kids we’re doomed?

    I’m sorry. The situation described above, I think, is probably the first on my list of Reasons Why I Homeschool. If I were a parent in such a school I’d be on the phone with elected officials, the media, corporations, foundations, knocking on doors and filled with righteous indignation that would likely burn my psyche out. Largely because I’d be leading a comparatively apathetic pack. And that never goes well.


    Hooray for the drops incoming to the PHP bucket.

  • Unfortunately, I’d hazard to guess that this teacher’s situation is fairly common and wide-spread. I know that all we’ve heard on the news lately is talk of budget cuts for the schools in the state adjacent to us. There is talk of closing some of the better schools in town because they’re more expensive to operate.

    It’s really sad that it’s gotten this bad. It makes me wonder what this teacher’s school plans to do with their students when teachers are sick, if they aren’t going to hire substitutes to come in.

    What she says about history is fairly common, too. All I remember from history for my whole public school career is that, every year, we would start with Columbus and go as far as we could before the end of the school year. I never remember learning anything about either World War, aside from watching The Diary of Anne Frank, or the Civil War.

    All that I’ve learned about anything other than early American history, I’ve learned alongside my kids as we’ve worked our way through Story of the World.

  • David P


    I fear that there are so many knots that the string may never become untangled.

    First, I may go against the grain, but I don’t think that money is the real issue. Most school districts spend more per child than the average citizen realizes. For example, our system spent $9,500 per student during the 07/08 school year. A class of 30 represents a $284,000 budget. Historically, federal, state, and local tax allocations to schools have been rising…but schools, as a whole, aren’t performing better. (I don’t know the specifics of this teacher’s district; however, administrative bloat frequently consumes far too much of the operating budget.) If you’re thinking that the $9,500 indicates a “rich” district, I won’t argue with you. However, I will say that I know teachers in our district who have to spend their own money to buy supplies for the classroom!

    Second, I don’t believe the problem rests with the teachers. The one who sent you the email is a caring, devoted teacher. The teachers I know fall into the same category.

    However, I do believe that many parents deserve much of the blame…parents who don’t care if their children are receiving an education…parents who don’t instill discipline in their children so that teachers can teach instead of “riding herd”…parents who don’t hold school systems and elected officials accountable for the quality of the schools…

    Without parental involvement and encouragement, it’s a rare child that will be motivated to do well. With parental involvement and encouragement, almost every child will do well. Different parents take different paths – paying for private school, moving to different district, afterschooling, or (in our case) homeschooling.

    I sincerely hope this teacher gets the resources s/he needs.

    David P

  • Louise

    I think this situation is very sad because most governments are pushing taxpayers to spend even more on the school budgets and less on the town services that we taxpayers actually enjoy (such as garbage pickup and fire/ambulance services and the library). If I was a taxpayer in the district where this teacher is, I would be livid. Where are those school funds going?? I’m sick of hearing that there are no supplies/books/etc. when tax money is being poured into the schools. Just look at your own town/county/city budget for the schools. There are millions being spent but no one knows where. I think it is very generous of PHP to take care of this teacher. And he/she sounds very dedicated.

  • Sebastian (a lady)

    How about recommending the process of reading aloud and narration or read aloud and note taking? SOTW is certainly vividly written to hold the students’ attention.

    He could use the activity book he has purchased as a guide to narration and comprehension questions. Get the Knowledge Quest maps with a classroom license. Maybe even get the audiobook versions with Jim Weiss reading to supplement in the classroom.

    Instead of buying big classroom sets of the books, he would need the book and activity guide (already purchased), maps (possibly already available in the school system) and maybe the audio.

    I would recommend the book The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease if he thinks he would need to sell the admin on using SOTW as a read aloud. He could also position it as preparing the students for note taking during class lectures.
    The money that isn’t spent on a classroom set of the books could be used to get supplemental books from the bibiligraphy in the activity guide. These could be placed in a classroom library or in the school library. He might want to see if there is a grant that would support this.

    Kudos to this teacher for seeing an area that needs improvement and trying to figure out a way to deliver it.

  • Deanna Martin

    Scrap the whole free government school education and start over? Local one-rooms with local teachers chosen by local families to teach their kids?? Pipe dreams. Makes me sad. If I can help with a donation, I will.

  • Gina

    My kids attend a very nice suburban district that is consistently among the “excellent” rated schools. We are very pleased with their education. Our district grows at a rate of 500 students per year making it the second fastest growing district in our state. At the same time, the state cut school funding in half. The district tried two different levy issues this school year and both failed. Now the district has to cut $5 million from their budget over the summer. The district was very honest before the levy and explained numerous times to tax payers what this means for educational quality. Even so the latest levy failed 60-40. The same people who voted against the levy will be screaming in the fall when their children get only the basic education required by the state.

  • Suzanne Brock

    Someone asked where the funds go because there isn’t enough money for materials. I taught in an inner-city school in South Los Angeles and I will tell you that whenever we had extra funds, the first thing we did was hire more personnel. In schools like that, where you have classrooms full of children who really need small group instruction, one of the best ways our school found to spend money was hire competent aides for the classroom teachers. This allowed the teachers to divide the class into groups and each group got to work with an adult. My classroom functioned the best and the children learned the most when they were able to learn in small groups directed by an adult. That is why I am in favor of continuing to spend money on public education–more than we already do–but not in the way that a lot of people think necessary. Yes, we need books (and this poor teacher is a great example of some of the other problems plaguing inner-city and other schools). Yes, we need pens and pencils and paper. But we also need people, and lots of them, to effectively teach.

  • Brenda

    This breaks my heart. It hits way too close to home. I teach, not in the inner-city, but in a very urban District and we have been hit hard by budget cuts and failed levies. Most of the teachers I work with are just like this young person, caring and sacrificial. One clue to the problem is found in what one of the comments here referred to as a district closing the better schools because they are too expensive to operate. The inequity of the school funding is amazing.

    Also, I agree that more parents need to get involved and hold the School Board and the Administration accountable for the quality of education. That is only just happening in our District and the result has already created a huge improvement. Sometimes, parents direct their anger at the teacher, yet the teacher is only implementing the philosophy and policies of the District because firing is the alternative. I would love to see parent,s who do not like what is going on in their child’s classroom, step back and see where it is coming from; in other words, see the forest, not the trees.

    We don’t have one room school houses, thank goodness, (my Dad was in one of those and loves what we have NOW that he had no access to), but we do still have the constitutional right to require our children be educated within reason according to our values. As long as there is a local School Board, we are in control. The problem is we have abdicated to them and they are increasingly being controlled by the state and federal government. If parents do not wake up they will find the School Board has been disbanded and the Federal Government is educating their children, and that, according to the world history I have read, is very DANGEROUS.

  • Katy

    I struggle a lot with this. I went back to school to get a teachers’ certification. I spent time in the schools. It feels hopeless. I don’t know that I would last long in such an uphill battle. Now that I have my own kids, I want to home educate because I know I can do a better job. But I feel a sense of responsibility. How can I use my cultural power to help these kids who are powerless and lost in a system that pushes them further down?

    I recently read a new book by Andy Crouch called “Culture Making” that encourages Christians to change their posture towards culture from condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming to that of cultivating and creating. I was talking with my pastor about it the other day, and he asked if I was familiar with The Clapham Sect. It was a group of Christians in England who met together and thought up creative ways to do just that: spend their own cultural power for the sake of the powerless. One of them was William Wilberforce. There were others, and they did much more than abolish slave trade (although that was an amazing accomplishment in itself).

    Although homeschooling is a committment, in many ways I think it frees families to get out of the frenetic business of school schedules, extra-curricular activities, and all of the oversight and compensation that must be made for the hours spent in less-than-ideal classrooms and peer situations. I’m noticing that most families with school-aged kids have no time and energy left. I wonder how homeschoolers could use our time and the wisdom we’ve gained teaching our own kids for the benefit of others? There certainly aren’t easy answers. But The Clapham Sect gives me hope that with a little creativity and a lot of grace, it’s possible to change the tide.

  • Charlotte Cushman

    Susan – How can we contribute to this?

  • Charlotte Cushman

    Never mind – I see it says to call the office. Thanks

  • Anne

    Hi. I read this with trepidation. I live in Australia and am a trained teacher. For years we’ve watched as the American educational system slowly began to unwind and we’ve watched the same thing happen in the UK. For some reason our educational authorities seem to think that we’ll be able to cpoy what has happened in the US and the UK, but we’ll get different results. I think not. We took our kids out of school at the end of last year and I am now homeschooling them. We came across the Classical method by chance and after reading “The Well Trained Mind” have launched head long into teaching our kids. I don’t know if you are aware, but about 30 years ago they threw out formal grammar education in our schools. I am one of the products of that generation. I know the basics and no more. I’m dleighted to say that in using “Language Lessons for the WTM” with my kids I’m getting the grammar education which I was denied. The multiplication table has recently been removed from the mathematics curriculum as it is “bad” for children to learn things by rote. I’m not joking. It’s only a matter of time before our social studies curriculum – already undermined and torn apart by special interest political lobby groups – suffers a similar fate.
    To fix education you’d have to pull the entire thing apart and start again. The students coming out of our universities are very politically correct and socially aware, but wouldn’t recognise a noun if it jumped up and bit them. They cannot calculate in their heads and would be hard pressed to find Canberra (our nation’s capital) on a map. What they think they are going to teach our kids is beyond me.
    I really and truly despair.

  • Lydia

    I have read all of the posts. I am a parent who tried to go through the school board, and nobody would help me. My daughter is an excellent student, as far as grades, but when it comes to following directions and listening she is failing, at least that is what they say. I have finally had it and took her out at the end of her 2nd grade school year. She is going to learn all the things I wish I would remember from school.
    She was learning about 3 presidents instead of say 10 in the past 2 years, and I said that is a shame. I wanted to teach her through history, but as a parent who only knows what I remember from school I didn’t know where to start. I love the idea of Story of the Worlds, but I don’t know where to start.
    I see what the teacher is talking about since we just left a public school, most of the parents sent the kids to school without the school supply list at the beginning of the year. I gave to the classroom for Kindergarten and 1st grade the things I noticed they didn’t have. I had a problem with the principle, which started this year, which helped me to make my final decision to homeschool.
    I hope the teacher finds the money to work with the students on the important history they need. I also hope this teacher doesn’t get sick, considering nobody will be with the children if she isn’t there.
    All the luck with you.

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