I was so happy to find my daughter’s school after spending hours upon hours upon hours researching the hundreds of Chicago schools. The scores weren’t perfect, but I am not a huge fan of testing anyway. It had a core group of hyper-dedicated parents, increasing enrollment, and upward trends in every area.

I am still pleased with the school itself. Ava has made high-quality friends, she loves her teacher, and her Principal is a tireless advocate for the school and the children. All these things put together are bound to make a successful elementary school experience.

But the district as a whole? I am a little disgusted. I am not entirely sure yet whether the problems are inherently at the district level, or the state level, or the federal level, or if it is public schooling in general.

There is a Disney Elementary Magnet School here. Not just in name or funding. Go ahead and check out the site. Children spend their days immersed in the advertising of what is quite possible the greatest symbol of American consumption and the selling out of our children to corporate interests.

But it’s the small stuff, too. It doesn’t take the creation of a Disney school to see the corporate funding of our schools. It’s the box tops for education. In order for schools to get this money, parents must spend extra on groceries, buying brand name products from companies who already enjoy a disproportionate amount of our food dollars. And it means that those of us who shop local have to find other ways of supporting the school. Sorry, Kraft. You are NOT getting my money.

It’s the scholastic book fairs. These catalogues come home from school full of books based on the newest movies and cartoons. Some classics, too, but it’s hard for the genuinely good stuff to compete with the trendy. The catalogue my daughter brought home this week carried video games, spongebob figurines, and books featuring Hannah Montana, the Jonas brothers, and High School Musical. It is so difficult to have discussions with 7-year-olds about advertising, how it makes you want things that you really don’t want, and the way that it makes you value yourself based on the stuff you own. Sometimes I am up for that fight and sometimes I am not. This week I was not. I buried the catalog, looked at it at night, and sent the envelope to school without consulting Ava. I ordered a 4-pack of The Magic Treehouse, a 5-pack of short readers starring second graders, Nate the Great, and a book about muscles and bones that came with a bendable skeleton. (Mom wrote a great post about the Scholastic book fairs. To update her point, note that Scholastic has agreed to stop pimping Bratz merchandise at school fairs.) Sometimes I do take the heavy-handed “my money, my choice” road.

A major fundraiser for my daughter’s school is a shopping event at a home retail store. It’s a steep $100 to attend. For that you get a gift, drinks and appetizers, and a $50 gift card to the store. If you spend beyond the $50, part of the sale goes to the school. This just doesn’t sit well with my anti-consumerism. Why do I have to shop to support the school? The money for this fundraiser will (hopefully) fill the funding gap that has prevented a full-time music program. Currently, only 4 of the 8 grades are able to take music. Because we all know how worthless music education is… Of course, if everyone just donated $100, the money would go much much further. But these days, everyone expects to get something for their donation. They can’t just give for the sake of giving.

There is also a current debate concerning the potential placement of cell towers at the school. At $24,000 a year per tower, and potential for 3 towers, what’s an underfunded school to do? I have voiced my concern, and downright opposition, to the towers. There are too many unknowns regarding the health and safety of the staff and students. And frankly, it’s just the straw that broke the camels back for me. I am tired of my daughter’s school being forced to prostitute itself to corporate interests just to function.

And to add insult to injury, the reward for the diligence of the school’s parents in promoting the schools and recruiting families to the neighborhood is this: the ratio of free and reduced lunch students has declined, which means less discretionary funds, which means that full-day kindergarten may be on the chopping block next year, which means more private funding in the future or fewer resources. Lovely.

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