The Drug of Individualized Compassion

School is starting back, and so are the requests from teachers to fund their classroom items and from non-profits and faith based organizations to purchase backpacks and school supplies for families who struggle financially. In the absence of just and equitable school funding systems, these appeals are necessary and the generous responses to them are noble. But the whole enterprise is an inefficient use of our time and money. Teachers shouldn’t be required to side-hustle for necessities, and families who can’t afford backpacks and a year’s worth of folders with brads in them shouldn’t have to endure the stigma of charity that other families don’t have to go through.

These calls for help are a drug peddled and exploited by government leaders who rely on the dopamine hit we receive by practicing individualized acts of compassion. It absolves them from the guilt of presiding over broken systems.

A pencil that costs $.10 in a box of 100 will cost $.06 in a box of a thousand. Employ a talented procurement officer and you can probably get the same pencil for every child in a school district for $.03. Now do the same thing for paper, notebooks, classroom decorations, and tissue paper to wipe snotty noses, and you’ve saved a LOT of money, time, and indignity. Not to mention the fact that individual classrooms wouldn’t be competing with each other over who has the most compelling GoFundMe campaign.

Imagine if teachers were paid to teach, not be public school development officers.

On a gut level, we understand economies of scale. It’s why Costco and Sam’s Club are so popular. But the only effort we seem to have the public will to utilize the principle on is war.

Why have we relegated generosity and compassion to the ridiculously small avenues of individual acts of charity?

What if a church decided to fund the budget for all needed school supplies for an individual campus, rather than asking members to donate to a particular family or classroom?

What if, instead of (or in addition to) purchasing backpacks for the “poor schoolchildren,” suburban soccer moms and dads showed up at the offices of their state legislators to demand a massive overhaul of the school funding system that gave equitable treatment to school districts with lower tax bases?

What if a foundation provided all the money necessary for teachers of a school district or campus to decorate their classrooms?

And, get this– What if all that was part of our general operating procedures. So much so that we didn’t advertise what we were doing?

Would we be able to sustain the generosity without the high we get from buying an extra pencil pouch and throwing it into the school supply donation box at Wal Mart?

Or are we so addicted to the drug of individualized compassion that we’d rather the system stay broken so that we can preserve our status as the providers?

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