Over-booked moms opt out of volunteering

Here’s a thought: When your school system runs in some substantial part on the free labor of parents (and let’s be real, it’s almost entirely the free labor of mothers), you have a big problem. (As an aside, does anyone else hate the term “frazzled moms”?).

It’s not the school system’s fault, of course — they’re sorely under-funded and need bodies in the room to help. But the bodies in the room are almost always women’s bodies. And dads don’t seem to feel the kind of guilt that women do for expending enormous amounts of unpaid time and labor. Volunteer work is really wonderful, but unfortunately in the school scenario, it patches up big gaps that need to be filled by other sources. It keeps the ship from sinking, but it also means no one is sounding the emergency alarm. And that all comes at the expense of women who often already have full or part-time jobs and who are sacrificing their personal time to do largely thankless free work that someone should really be getting paid for. It also comes at the expense of the women who truly don’t have time to do free labor in their kids’ schools, and then feel like bad parents.

None of which means that parents shouldn’t volunteer, or that volunteerism is bad (quite the opposite). But the pressure to volunteer — created by a tightly-squeezed school system — is shouldered almost entirely by women, and covers up bigger problems.

Author: has written 5271 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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51 Responses

  1. Honest to Christina
    Honest to Christina December 3, 2010 at 10:54 am |

    Teachers can’t seem to get it right, can they?

    Parents want to be involved, and welcomed into the classroom. So we send out newsletters, and invites for opportunities. We prep for parents in the classroom. Give them jobs that will be helpful, but not too much to manage. Because teachers also have to manage their volunteers, along with the children who need to be learning.

    Now, we are getting blamed for soliciting free labor.

    I give up.

  2. Helyne
    Helyne December 3, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    I volunteer in both of my girls’ classes, and have become very invested in it. I love the kids in the classes, and know how much the teachers appreciate it-and rely on the volunteers, even though they know they can’t count on volunteers.
    I live in a conservative town, with one of the lowest mill rates in the state. G-d forbid our school board you would ask the taxpayers for a few extra dollars to reinstate our ed techs…
    I don’t mind volunteering, because I like being a part of my kids life while they still like me. But the problem is a political one, where much lip service is paid to how important children and their education are in our town and in our country, but where education is always the first thing on most legislative chopping blocks. (My state just elected a Teabagger who has opined about dumping our Department of Education.) If you don’t want to volunteer, the best thing to do is to go to your School Board meetings where the sausage is made regarding how money is spent in your school. Pay attention to this next Congress, too.

    There is a gender gap about who volunteers in school, and you touch upon the unpaid work that women do throughout their lives. I confess that although being paid would be nice, I have “selfish” motives in wanting to be a part of my children’s education, too, and working every weekend allows me to do it.

  3. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery December 3, 2010 at 11:10 am |

    It’s not the school system’s fault, of course — they’re sorely under-funded

    2010 spending on Education is projected to be over $1 trillion dollars. The problem may be something else besides funding.

  4. emjaybee
    emjaybee December 3, 2010 at 11:23 am |

    Except, Tom, that your (unsourced!) number (and I would like to see your source) doesn’t mention that school funding is done district-by-district, not on a national basis; some schools get lots, others not much.

    And yes, Jill, I agree with you. My son is about to enter kindergarten. And while I am happy to buy him supplies and stay in contact with his teacher, I have a 40-hour a week job that prevents me from serving as an unpaid chaperone, decorator, assistant teacher or janitor. I would love for our district to spend more of our taxes on the schools, or even charge me a little more in taxes, if that’s what’s necessary.

    I would be even happier if we could find a more equitable way to fund schools in general.

  5. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 11:24 am |

    Those of us who work in “specialties” (rather than as subject area classroom teachers) also know that volunteers aren’t qualified to do the work we trained and studied for years to do. When school districts are making tough budget choices, many of them look to the areas that aren’t firm requisites for accreditation. In many schools across the nation, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels, those areas include the school library.

    When we protest that libraries cannot and should not be “staffed” by volunteers, we (another largely female-dominated profession, by the way) are accused of only caring about money and not about the children. …You know, the children who are actually getting sub-par research and literacy instruction when their libraries are staffed by well-meaning volunteers instead of professionals.

  6. Odin
    Odin December 3, 2010 at 11:24 am |

    Not to mention there are schools that don’t have much in the way of parental volunteers as resources, because the majority of the students’ parents have to work inflexible hours and multiple jobs.

    I’ve read some studies on teacher perception of parental involvement, and it very often falls along income/social class lines, because that is a big determining factor of whether the parents can come to events at the school, whether it be volunteering or parent-teacher conferences.

  7. Asira
    Asira December 3, 2010 at 11:34 am |

    Mismanagement of monies is rampant within our school systems across the country. This is largely due to the fact that there are people in jobs within the education sector who are not skilled in their roles. Today’s education administrator has to be a skilled people person, student of pedagogy and adept systems & processes person all at once in order to be successful.

    What we have to often are principals running schools in a way that does not integrate it’s functions well. Therefore, you have parents leading things as an employee would rather than volunteering time and assistance in a supplemental way. Parents are often doing the ish that teachers & principals don’t want to do or don’t know how to do so when that parent is burnt out or not available it doesn’t get done and the children miss out. In a school with integrated systems, employees with lesser tasks would take on roles as team leaders of parents/volunteers, etc. and be given the opportunity to develop leadership skills as the liaison for parents to stay connected to schools as volunteers while being the person to do the job when the volunteers are unavailable.

    At my child’s school, I listen to the principal bemoan how funding was cut for a parent liaison– an actual paid parent to come to the school and work– yet not assign meaningful duties to teacher assistants and people they refer to as paraprofessionals.

    Mismanagement of monies and people resources is the worst crime within our educational system and parents will continue to be burnt out volunteering within a system that functions like a broken ship.

  8. groggette
    groggette December 3, 2010 at 11:45 am |

    When I was still involved in church things, I went to several conferences on how to run and organize youth ministry programs. At one of the conferences, they emphasized that you will need volunteer work, but you CANNOT take a person’s offer to volunteer for one event or for one task, and then start volunteering them for anything you see fit, with no input from them. The “volunteers” will get burnt out and resentful quickly and will stop helping with everything, just like the mothers in this article.

    It seemed so obvious to me and I couldn’t understand that people actually acting like this, turning once willing volunteers into an unwilling unpaid staff. But then I volunteered to help with the youth program at a church and that exact thing happened to me. I volunteered for a specific set of things I was told there was a need for, and then I was told by the youth minister that I would be involved with (and in charge of!) something completely different, that I had no idea how to do.

    No doubt, there is a huge need for volunteers in school, but the people in charge don’t seem to realize that they’re doing more harm than good and in the long run getting less volunteers when they take advantage of people like this.

    Good on these parents for doing what’s right for them and their children.

  9. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 3, 2010 at 11:47 am |

    mk: When we protest that libraries cannot and should not be “staffed” by volunteers, we (another largely female-dominated profession, by the way) are accused of only caring about money and not about the children. …You know, the children who are actually getting sub-par research and literacy instruction when their libraries are staffed by well-meaning volunteers instead of professionals. mk

    Did anyone else have a “library” class in elementary school? It’s where we learned about the Dewey Decimal System and how to use various research tools like encyclopedias and almanacs and so on. Maybe the solution is for there to be funding shifted to a library class, while volunteers are simply there to help check out books and such after hours. How is the volunteer program run at your school, mk?

  10. catfood
    catfood December 3, 2010 at 11:56 am |

    One of the truisms of nonprofit management is that you should solicit volunteers to do specific things for specific periods of time. That gives them a chance to take breaks, get away, and/or decide just how much they want to keep doing the work. So you invite a parent (okay, a mother) to help at cleanup time (only) for the next two months (only).

    Sadly, no, a lot of organizations don’t do it that way. And people either burn out or are too intimidated by the open-ended commitment to volunteer in the first place.

  11. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

    PrettyAmiable, I know your suggestion was made in good faith, but it reflects a sadly common misperception of libraries and librarians. I don’t want to derail this into a discussion about libraries alone (I’m happy to point you toward more viewpoints and research on this issue), so let me just say that our work can’t be limited to a single class, and the “solution” you describe would only encourage schools to underemploy professionals.

    I can’t speak to the volunteer program at my school, because we have nothing so formal, and no parent volunteers during the school day–we have a very active and supportive parent base, but I have no volunteers in the library. I’m the only librarian for a school of nearly 900 students, and I was hired only after the district tried staffing the library with an untrained paraprofessional for a year.

  12. Chelsey Worth
    Chelsey Worth December 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm |

    A lot of the activities sound pretty excessive. Grade 5 graduation? Superman at the scholastic book fair? Volunteering at snack time and recess? Jesus Christ. When I was in school most of the activities were parceled out to the grade 7s and 8s; I can’t imagine a Mum taking time out of her day to supervise and clean up after lunch. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

  13. t-ster
    t-ster December 3, 2010 at 12:17 pm |

    Huh….my hunch is that while all schools are expanding their reliance on volunteers in the recession, this trend of volunteers burning out from pitching in at endless and meaningless activities is actually coming from the the schools with predominantly affluent parents and an overachiever vibe, not the underfunded ones. Schools now seem to have way more activities than I did growing up. Parties every week, food in class every week, painting signs for the walls, coordinating an ever-expanding array of field trips and educational activities after school.
    While I agree that schools, by-and-large, are underfunded, I disagree that this volunteer issue is all that related to the funding, or is even consciously used by most schools to shore up budget shortages.

  14. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin December 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm |

    I suppose when you’re used to being unpaid for what you do, it’s easy to not believe that you shouldn’t be. And there’s also a PTA culture in place that assumes that women, not men, will shoulder the responsibility.

    I agree completely that it’s not fair, but public school systems, in particular, have long underpaid teaching aids, dangling in front of them good health care insurance, as though that’s meant to make up for how little income they make.

  15. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm |

    mk, I completely admit that I have very little idea of what adequate staffing is. My elementary school, for instance, was pretty small (say 150 kids?) and the class seemed to teach us the basics. That said, my parents also took me to the local library all the time because they had books in their native language, so I got to mess around there. My experience is assuredly atypical.

    I’m sorry if it seemed I was slamming you or the profession, and I’ll adjust my language in the future. (For instance, in my head, the volunteers are always above and beyond what is actually needed — i.e., not the result of cutbacks but an added bonus — and that was probably something I should have said to make it clear that I’m on your side).

    Can you maybe explain what you mean about the class being a detriment to the profession? I do think I got a lot out of it – but keep in mind, smaller school, different environment, and it was an elementary school (I’m not sure what level you teach at).

  16. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm |

    Just one point, Jill–”school system” encompasses a lot more than teachers. I agree that teachers aren’t to blame for the pressure on/for volunteers, but in many cases the district or building administration is.

    And I have to agree with some who see the volunteer activities in question as excessive when compared with the standards we may have had in our own school experiences, which is part of the reason I brought up the library example in the first place; in my mind, the volunteer situations that are the most dangerous to professionals are those that attempt to substitute unpaid (and largely unqualified) volunteers for professional staff and/or educators.

    Educational unions can be very strong, but paraprofessionals and other aides rarely have the benefit of labor organization. They’re already grossly underpaid for the work they do, often with the neediest students, and they’re usually the first to go when cuts are made.

  17. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery December 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm |

    Except, Tom, that your (unsourced!) number (and I would like to see your source) doesn’t mention that school funding is done district-by-district, not on a national basis; some schools get lots, others not much.

    You have successfully pointed to a problem that is not underfunding. Well done.

    My source for the $1 trillion number is this: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/downchart_gs.php?chart=20-total&state=US&local=

    It’s a source whose POV on government spending is a negative one, but it’s sourced by Wikipedia, and the raw numbers come from http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/index.html and http://www.census.gov/govs/estimate/. Enjoy.

  18. jen
    jen December 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm |

    @prettyamiable: librarians are also responsible for purchasing new materials, getting rid of outdated materials, analyzing the collection to see what areas need strengthening or updating. then there is the information literacy segment – that is teaching students to identify good information, and that cannot only occur in one class. that’s not even getting into reference service, electronic resources (like databases), and technology.

  19. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla December 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    Honest to Christina: Teachers can’t seem to get it right, can they?Parents want to be involved, and welcomed into the classroom. So we send out newsletters, and invites for opportunities. We prep for parents in the classroom. Give them jobs that will be helpful, but not too much to manage. Because teachers also have to manage their volunteers, along with the children who need to be learning.Now, we are getting blamed for soliciting free labor.I give up.  

    Where in the OP is Jill blaming teachers for the situation? It’s pretty clear that this is a systemic problem, arising from our screwed-up national priorities (wars, useless security theater, and coddling billionaires are more important than education), and nowhere is Jill laying the blame on teachers.

    I think what she’s doing is pointing out that the onus of coerced “volunteerism” within the schools falls overwhelmingly on the backs of women.

  20. nathan
    nathan December 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm |

    I was a paraprofessional for awhile in an elementary school, before budget cuts got rid of me and several others. It was quite obvious to me that the school district leaders had no trouble hiring expensive “contractors” (i.e. administrators with nothing else to do) to come in lead poorly structured reading programs, but really didn’t see the value of having people like me in the classrooms (at much smaller salaries.) So, use of money is a problem.

    Secondly, as someone else mentioned, affluent school districts tend to have plenty of money, while districts like the one I worked in get so budget conscious that we’d end up cutting off things like copying paper purchases because things were so tight. So, while our school was making due with pencils worn to the nub, a school twenty miles away, in an affluent suburb was installing a multimillion dollar swimming pool. Meanwhile, people like Tom Foolery cite a flat number for spending, suggesting that everyone is getting a fair share.

    I think it’s also important to not underestimate class issues in the discussion of volunteers, and parent involvement at the school in general. It’s ridiculous to expect parents who work two and three jobs, and who are barely making ends meet, to be major players in supporting the school’s functioning, and yet in poorer school districts, desperation leads to those expectations sometimes.

    And finally, lets look at classroom teachers. More and more, they are expected to pay for supplies out of their own salaries. You want craft supplies for your classroom? Get it yourself. Or beg the parents for it. Teachers are often caught in the middle of an impossible situation: the school won’t, or can’t, do anything, and the parents are too busy and/or too poor help out much.

  21. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 1:15 pm |

    PrettyAmiable, your experience wasn’t that atypical–but assuming you’re at least in your 20s, your experience with education (and particularly with technology) was leaps and bounds from what today’s children are experiencing.

    I teach at the high school level, but regardless of level I just meant that limiting funding to a discrete course (or even courses in general) would leave a lot of us out in the cold. Aside from giving administrators leeway to only pay for a professional for those blocks/periods of the day, such a schedule simply isn’t the reality for school librarians. We do our instruction all day, and often well before and after school. Many of us rarely have the luxury of controlling our own schedules, nor do we get to formally lead or co-teach classes. We do all of our work on the fly, and often must resort to locking our libraries if we want to use our (even contractually guaranteed) prep time or, say, eat lunch.

    You could put school counselors (academic or socio-emotional), many arts instructors, and health and wellness teachers in this same category, by the way–if it’s not a state-mandated position/curriculum, no matter how vital, we get our positions and material whittled away piece by piece–and often volunteers attempt to fill the gaps.

  22. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 1:26 pm |

    Tom Foolery, thanks for citing your sources. Would you like to now tally the total number of public schools in the country so we can divide appropriately?

    Or we could actually just go to the numbers of individual states, regions, school districts… because public school budgets are a matter of public record, and would probably give us a much better picture of school funding than national appropriation numbers, no matter how sensational.

    You can find the Massachusetts Board of Education’s Budget Requests for the past ten years here, for instance, and the Boston Public Schools budget page is here. (For the record, I don’t work for BPS, but I do live in Boston, so that’s where my taxes go when we’re talking education.)

  23. Ruchama
    Ruchama December 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm |

    I also had the library “class” in elementary school — part of the regular schedule of stuff we did during the week, like Mondays we went to art, Tuesdays gym, Wednesdays library, Thursdays gym, and Fridays music, or something like that, for 45 minutes or so during the school day — and we’d learn about how libraries are organized, how to find books, how to use the encyclopedia, and so on. The librarian taught those classes, but she also did a whole lot of other stuff to keep the library running and current and to know what books to recommend to different kids and teachers and things like that. There were parent (usually mother) volunteers, too, but they didn’t actually run the library — they checked out books and reshelved books and generally supervised us when we were looking at books. I really loved my elementary school librarian, and I’d sometimes go hang out in the library after school, and there was a LOT of stuff she did to keep the library running that really wasn’t obvious to a casual observer.

  24. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm |

    Ruchama, you’ve hit on the crux of the issue: school volunteers shouldn’t be running the programs they support. As Jill said in the OP, when schools or districts are truly relying on free labor, there’s something very wrong.

    (By the way, your local librarians could use your support–it’s very rare for states to require professionally staffed libraries at the elementary level, and elementary school librarians in particular are perpetually defending their positions and programs. Despite the mountain of research supporting the importance of a school library program, many legislators and school administrators are clueless about the issue.)

  25. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm |

    Tom,

    That figure includes post-secondary budgets which in many states are substantial and involves significant public R&D expenditures.

    This is a more illustrative of the spending available.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-06-29-school-spending_N.htm

    The national average per student is about $10,000 which includes programs for those students who need additional assistance including lunch programs, counseling, support for those with disabilities, rehabilitation, and even medical assistance. Public schools are a way we provide social support to a large number of people.

    In contrast if you look at non-sectarian private school funding (which obviously vary from free non-profits to for-profit institutions), the average tuition is $17,000. And those institutions may choose their students.

    http://www.capenet.org/facts.html

    When you look at it that way there is a ridiculous underfunding problem.

  26. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery December 3, 2010 at 3:13 pm |

    Tom Foolery, thanks for citing your sources. Would you like to now tally the total number of public schools in the country so we can divide appropriately?

    …Not really? You and I are in agreement that the money is not distributed equitably, so I don’t see the point. My objection was to the idea that, as a whole, our education system is “underfunded.” A trillion dollars is a truly staggering amount of money. Education reform shouldn’t focus on adding more money into a system that is clearly unable to distribute that money effectively — it should focus on making sure we get results for that money.

    Meanwhile, people like Tom Foolery cite a flat number for spending, suggesting that everyone is getting a fair share.

    This is a straw man, I didn’t suggest anything like that.

  27. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm |

    Tom Foolery, I think many of us who call the education system underfunded are referring to the amount the education department budgets as opposed to, say, defense and homeland security.

    (I’m a little puzzled by your figures, by the way, since the CIA World Factbook estimates the total 2009 expenditures at $3.52 trillion for the whole nation; I can’t fathom education being such a big chunk of our expenditures, unfortunately. I know we’re talking about huge sums of money regardless, since that’s what nations like ours deal in, but maybe I’m reading the charts you linked incorrectly, because I don’t see a trillion there either…)

  28. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery December 3, 2010 at 4:21 pm |

    In contrast if you look at non-sectarian private school funding (which obviously vary from free non-profits to for-profit institutions), the average tuition is $17,000. And those institutions may choose their students.

    http://www.capenet.org/facts.html

    When you look at it that way there is a ridiculous underfunding problem.

    That’s a very good point, but I disagree with the way you arrived at the conclusion — the average, nonsectarian Private school education per-student fees aren’t indicative of what it takes to educate a student. Those fees are inflated by the fact that there’s no market for low-cost private education, since the potential consumers for those services instead opt for free public schooling, or more inexpensive parochial schools, crowding out potential providers of cheaper options.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in education as an entitlement. But it’s pretty clear when you see education spending rise every year, but none of the problems go away, adding more money into the system is not the solution.

  29. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie December 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm |

    My kids are in one of the best public school districts in the U.S. The “opportunities” for volunteering are endless. Field Day. Halloween “parade” (kids come dressed in costume and spend half the day hanging out outside listening to music and watching each other march around the field). Fun Fair. Thanksgiving Luncheon (come eat crappy “turkey” with your kid in an overcrowded cafeteria!). Book Fair (5 days AND several nights). The “end-of-the-year party,” for some classes, is held at a kid’s HOUSE instead of in the classroom. 6th grade graduation. Strings concert. Voice concert. Band concert. There is TOO MUCH stuff going on.

    Parents! JUST SAY NO! Kids will not die if they don’t have all these stupid events. I save my volunteers for things like photocopying hundreds of pages of tests and handouts so the teachers don’t have to do it.

    Bleah. I am definitely lacking in “school spirit.” I already went to school. It’s their turn!

  30. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 3, 2010 at 4:57 pm |

    Tom Foolery:
    That’s a very good point, but I disagree with the way you arrived at the conclusion — the average, nonsectarian Private school education per-student fees aren’t indicative of what it takes to educate a student. Those fees are inflated by the fact that there’s no market for low-cost private education, since the potential consumers for those services instead opt for free public schooling, or more inexpensive parochial schools, crowding out potential providers of cheaper options.
    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in education as an entitlement. But it’s pretty clear when you see education spending rise every year, but none of the problems go away, adding more money into the system is not the solution.  

    Possibly, possibly not. That number includes schools that are non-profit and free. Plus, that tuition number doesn’t typically include lunch programs, counseling, support for those with additional needs, etc. As I said above…the public school system is a portal to provide social benefits and they still try to do all of that for 60% of what it costs to educate children who (typically) do not need those additional programs.

    These difference in cost are not insubstantial. For example, programs to assist students with disability is in the neighborhood of $40 billion annually. In NY it is 2.5 times the cost of the general curriculum and 27% of the instructional budget.*

    http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/funding_mechanisms

    http://www.cptr.state.ny.us/propertyTaxCap/CPTRFactSheet_SpecialEd_Final_20081229.pdf

    *Just to be clear…this is not to criticize funding of these programs, just to point out the cost differences not typically incorporated in the budgets of private schools.

  31. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm |

    Tom Foolery: Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in education as an entitlement. But it’s pretty clear when you see education spending rise every year, but none of the problems go away, adding more money into the system is not the solution. Tom Foolery

    Or said differently (from my comment in moderation). If you’re putting out a large fire with a single fire hose…peeing on it isn’t going to make much of a difference.

    Double education spending, reduce class sizes to a more reasonable size, provide quality food, provide quality social training, do this even in disadvantaged neighborhoods where it may cost significantly more and then you’ll likely see substantial change….change in economic growth, crime, innovation, health, etc.

  32. oldfeminist
    oldfeminist December 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm |

    Note that in the old days, women’s labor was so low-paid, and their choices were so narrow, that much of that labor could be considered voluntary as well. Women were limited mostly to pink-collar jobs like teachers, nurses, secretaries, sales clerks, waitresses, hairdressers, cleaning women, stuff like that.

    Nowadays, smart ambitious women have more choices, and no one wants to increase teacher salaries to compete with those choices. So you have fewer superstar teachers — if they’re not really interested in teaching, they have other choices.

  33. Honest to Christina
    Honest to Christina December 3, 2010 at 6:43 pm |

    @GallingGalla and @jill

    You are both correct. I was not exactly clear with my knee-jerk reaction.
    There was no blame put on the teachers by Jill (thank you!) but what it comes down to is that these volunteers are managed by teachers, and so the blame is usually put on teachers for whatever the current uproar is.
    It’s articles like the one in the Times that makes the general public all upset that teachers aren’t doing their jobs, but as Jill stated – there is clearly something drasticially wrong with the system. NOT the teachers.

    So, my apologies for my frustrations which were unclear :)

  34. mk
    mk December 3, 2010 at 9:25 pm |

    oldfeminist, I appreciate your larger point, but I’d love some data to back up the claim that we have fewer superstar teachers, or that no one is interested in raising educator salaries overall. Thanks largely to unions, we *are* raising salaries–not to mention new pilot and charter schools experimenting with extremely highly paid teachers.

    Just as spending is inequitable and largely tied to the socio-economic indicators of a community or region, however, salaries are similarly skewed–if I’d started out in Boston Public Schools, I can guarantee you I’d currently be making less than I am in a suburban district.

    And no matter where I go, many of my college peers will scoff at my career choices, because I’m “wasting” my degrees on education when I could’ve used the old boy network to get into a more lucrative field. (Not that the old boy network works as well if you’re queer and female, but it’s still there.)

  35. Athenia
    Athenia December 3, 2010 at 11:32 pm |

    You know what’s sad about that article? Like, zero of the activities they mention are actual in-class, assisted-learning type activities.

  36. mk
    mk December 4, 2010 at 9:17 am |

    Exactly, Athenia. Notice the article is in Style and not in Education, too–because, you know, anything about the womenfolk goes in style. If the author had decided to include volunteer activities that are in-class and academically-oriented, she might have also had to put a little journalistic rigor into the piece.

    (I can’t really blame Stout that much–it looks like the bulk of her articles are in the style section, which isn’t exactly known for academic excellence, at least in my opinion.)

  37. Carolyn
    Carolyn December 5, 2010 at 12:28 am |

    I’m glad someone mentioned the fact that the activities mentioned in the NYTimes article are not in-class, educational (in a strict sense) ones. I mean, really, Donuts for Dads Day? Seriously? (I admit part of my reaction to that one is the gendering. Do moms not like donuts? I LOVE donuts. But maybe that will change when I have children. Though I’ll be a gay mom, so my partner won’t get donuts, either. No donuts for women, or lesbians. Sigh.)

    I think that to study this issue, we need to separate out the volunteer hours used towards basic, fundamental needs (photocopying tests, providing classroom support to get the adult/child ratio down, working in the library, providing supplies, fundraisers if they fund the aforementioned supplies, etc) and volunteer hours used to augment an increasingly wide range of “extras” which, while nice, are not necessary, and are probably NOT offered at low-income schools.

    How many schools rely on volunteers just to function? What are the volunteer hours there? The article doesn’t address those functional needs, perhaps because Donuts for Dads Day has more punch (Gee! Those moms are asked to do Really Silly things! Moms who do that stuff are Dumb!) and perhaps because the NYTimes focuses on upper income demographics to an alarming degree. Thus we’re assuming that functional volunteering exists, in part due to references in the comments, but with no backup in the article. It seems to me that the two different types of volunteering (functional and supplementary) stem from two different, and in fact diametrically opposed, problems: on the one hand, drastic cuts in funding to already-underfunded schools which encourages reliance on volunteerism (if in fact it does – many underfunded schools have high-poverty populations, and as mentioned above, low-income parents often don’t have the luxury of volunteer work, so to speak) and on the other hand, volunteerism as a requirement for the ever-escalating “needs” of over-privileged childhood, and as a sign of the ever-rising standards for “good” mothering.

    I have to say that I also find the “opt-out” mentality portrayed in the article more complicated than just “moms undervalued/overstressed = moms quit.” First, there’s the troubling undercurrent of “bad motherhood” which inflects both the need to volunteer AND the need to quit. The moms who quit feel that their volunteering makes them “bad mothers” – the kids lose out when mom is “too busy.” The moms who quit are also afraid of being bad wives (one mom referred to even has her husband leave her over her volunteering). Then there’s the privileged entitlement which likewise inflects both the volunteerism and the quitting: the kids MUST have Dads for Donuts Day, and the kids MUST have a mom who plays Wii with them (and the moms must have “time for themselves,” something that often leaves a bad taste in my mouth when discussed in relation to very well-off people, but which is undoubtably a real issue, so I’ll set it aside). All of this represents a real issue – what are the demands we make on “the mom” as defined in an upper-middle class context? what are the requirements for “childhood,” and are they reasonable? – but it isn’t necessarily the issue Jill articulates, namely the reliance on female volunteers as a stopgap in underfunded schools.

  38. lauredhel
    lauredhel December 5, 2010 at 2:09 am |

    I’d receive the requests for volunteer labour much more amicably if the school system here showed the slightest interest in making the schools accessible to parents (and students, and teachers) with disabilities.

    As it is, I just assume they’re not addressing me.

  39. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie December 5, 2010 at 9:20 am |

    and the moms must have “time for themselves,” something that often leaves a bad taste in my mouth when discussed in relation to very well-off people, but which is undoubtably a real issue, so I’ll set it aside

    It’s critical for everyone to have a bit of time to herself, in my experience. 15 minutes a day to sit in solitude. Half an hour to take a walk around the block. Women give, give, GIVE so much of themselves to everyone else. I think “time to herself” has been given an entirely bad rap. It’s not selfish to preserve one’s sense of self – it’s essential to one’s well-being – and carving out a bit of time is part of that.

  40. mk
    mk December 5, 2010 at 9:45 am |

    Really good point, lauredhel. Our school does a very good job for deaf or hearing impaired students (from what I’ve seen, anyway, although I do notice that students are used to fending for themselves when it comes to switching the microphone from a classroom teacher to someone like me when the class moves to a new setting) but I’m not sure if the automatic door(s) at the main entrance even work. (Just two examples–I’m now much better acquainted with how my colleagues handle mental illness, for better or worse…)

    Carolyn, I think you’re spot-on on the socio-economic divide here. These volunteering “extras” simply don’t exist at many schools. And when superintendents propose closing or significantly altering these struggling schools, they cite lack of parental involvement as one reason students are failing–which may be true, but completely ignores any of the very good reasons these parents cannot spend every waking hour at their children’s schools.

  41. Carolyn
    Carolyn December 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm |

    Tinfoil Hattie, I do agree, which is why I decided not to go into the “time for yourself” issue. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. I just find that there’s a gap between the very real need for real mental space for many women and the proscribed yet entitled “space” suggested in these articles.

    For example, one woman’s reaction to having more time was to host 27 for Thanksgiving. I don’t deny that many probably would use extra time in that way, but why don’t the women we see in mainstream media ever use their time for… writing? crafting? Playing World of Warcraft? Sports? Volunteering at an animal shelter? Clubbing? Joining BDSM communities? Watching TV?

    It seems like there’s a set list of feminine yet expensive things you’re allowed to do with your time off, which is just as restricting as the volunteer demands in the first place. Women in conventional “time for oneself” parlance use their time for spas (expensive), family (already prescribed), the gym (must stay healthy!), etc. It seems like “time” in this sense reeks of both privelege and restriction – a gilded cage, if you will, which is why I don’t like it. But I do agree that women (and everyone, really) need time and space to do their own, non-societally prescribed thing.

  42. Left Blog Feeds | NYT to successful women: suck it up

    [...] Filipovic makes an important point that “When your school system runs in some substantial part on the free labor of parents (and [...]

  43. insignificantwrangler
    insignificantwrangler December 6, 2010 at 9:50 am |

    Two points: 1) As far as the money issue, schools are under-funded. Class sizes should never exceed 20 students, since face to face acknowledgment is largely what drives motivation. However, the underlying myth that “every child is capable of learning” is highly suspect. This does not mean every child isn’t capable of something–but learning (and–more importantly–what is learned) is a highly constructed body of information. Not every human body can do it (and philosophers have been stressing this fact since Plato and Isocrates). Suddenly, there exists the presupposition that every child can succeed at the highest level. That fallacy needs to be confronted if only to help those students who struggle and thus consider themselves failures.

    2) In terms of the original post, and its emphasis on volunteerism as extending, rather than confronting, the problem: there’s an interesting Royal Society lecture by a Lithuanian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, in which he addresses the automated charity of contemporary corporations (specifically Starbucks). If you can get past his tourettes, its an entertaining and relevant talk (drawing on Oscar Wilde).

  44. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig December 6, 2010 at 10:26 am |

    Insignificant wrangler: It’s Socrates, unless you were referring to another philosopher.

  45. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub December 6, 2010 at 10:44 am |

    writing? crafting? Playing World of Warcraft? Sports? Volunteering at an animal shelter? Clubbing? Joining BDSM communities? Watching TV?

    Many of those things sound a lot like work. When I take time for myself, I’m either reading fluffy novels, eating Chinese takeout, hanging out in my jammy pants, napping, or watching reruns of Burn Notice or Ren and Stimpy. Sometimes I do several of these things at once, as I am ambitious in my laziness. ;)

  46. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 6, 2010 at 10:57 am |

    insignificantwrangler: Suddenly, there exists the presupposition that every child can succeed at the highest level.

    Or perhaps the problem is we have different premises for the function of education? Every child should have equal access to the opportunity to succeed at their highest level.

  47. insignificantwrangler
    insignificantwrangler December 6, 2010 at 11:05 am |

    Politicalguineapig: Insignificant wrangler: It’s Socrates, unless you were referring to another philosopher.  

    @political: yeah, Isocrates was a rival of Plato/Socrates who founded one of the first “modern” institutions of higher learning.

    @Kristen: I agree completely with you–education is not some monolithic thing. Unfortunately, in the wake of NCLB and other such nonsense, it is increasingly framed that way. I’m a teacher myself, and I often tell my students that, rather than spoon feeding, a good teacher presents students with an opportunity or a question and then gets the hell out of their way. Education should be about helping them discover what they want to do, not telling them what has to be done.

  48. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig December 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    Insignifcantwrangler: I’d never even heard of him until now. Thanks! (Of course, I only ever took one philosophy class, and philosophers don’t really interest me much. They’re either hopeless idealists, or they engage in pointless mental masturbation.)
    I’d add to your statement: a good teacher is one who also edges students out of their comfort zone. Thanks to one of my high school teachers, I know how to handle birds and I made a functional small animal cage.

  49. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm |

    Politicalguineapig: philosophers don’t really interest me much. They’re either hopeless idealists, or they engage in pointless mental masturbation.

    *going to tell her SO that he engages in pointless mental masturbation*

    Response: masturbation of any sort is never pointless.

    LMAO

  50. rain
    rain December 7, 2010 at 12:04 am |

    Chiming in late –
    “It’s not the school system’s fault, of course —”
    Sure it is, the part about the volunteers being women, anyway. It’s not like the people asking for volunteers aren’t part of the culture that devalues women’s labour and sees childcare as women’s work, and that the way they ask reflects who they expect will be volunteering. I found that in many ways, some subtle and some not so subtle, men were largely insulated from requests to volunteer. Those asking for volunteers saw women as volunteers, directed their request at women, and surprise, got only women volunteers.

    “And dads don’t seem to feel the kind of guilt that women do . . .”
    Same idea here. It’s not that dads don’t feel the guilt, it’s that they’re not getting guilt-tripped like women are.

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