Pitching in has its limits

Imagine you're a corporate executive and on the last day of your vacation, you have to go shopping - for your office. It has run out of paper, there's no bulletin board, and you need a broom because paint is peeling where the pipes leaked.

It's an absurd scenario, right? But change the executive into a teacher, and that's simply the way it's always been.

Teachers routinely spend personal cash to keep classrooms pleasant and well stocked. Caring volunteers also periodically pitch in to repair school buildings.

Such efforts deserve praise, but a recent TV ad campaign by Office Depot suggests our society has gone a little too far in romanticizing this charity approach. One ad depicts a teacher struggling to find enough money in the family budget to buy classroom supplies. In another, a janitor laments the poor condition of the school building, and his co-worker reminds him how much learning still goes on there. The solution: 5 percent of purchases go toward a credit for a school of your choice.

In this political campaign season, there are signs that Americans are ready for a less ad hoc way to keep up our schools. President Clinton is pushing for $25 billion in interest-free bonds to help build or renovate 6,000 schools, and for another $6.5 billion for emergency repairs. Democrats and Republicans disagree on how big the federal role should be, but polls by both parties show most people do want the federal government to help ensure that schools are well constructed.

Teachers will still dig into their pockets for posters, but maybe more of them will soon be able to hang them on sturdy walls.

*E-mail teichers@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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