I remember a student at Alpine Valley School, some years ago, telling me something he owned was worth a lot of money. I can’t recall the object or the amount, but I remember thinking or saying that in order to be correct, he’d have to find someone who agreed with him and had that amount of money.
I also remember how, during the two years I worked a desk job at the University of Colorado, I was paid more than I ever got as a teacher for merely filing and purchasing things, navigating simple computer systems, and providing basic customer service.
This won’t be a happy post, or a terribly practical one, but it touches on something fundamental: how we as a society determine what’s valuable.
Of course there are the obvious examples of professional athletes and other celebrities, people who draw outrageous sums of money because…why? Because we crave entertainment and distraction, false passions and empty causes (“My team’s better than your team!”). Then there are the CEOs and other corporate executives whose annual salaries and bonuses dwarf what most of us can expect to earn in a lifetime. Does their compensation really suggest that they’re so much more valuable? It angers me that some make more money than they could ever spend while others don’t have enough even to live.
As an educator for over twenty years, it’s always frustrated me that teachers get lip service as valuable members of society, yet not the monetary compensation to go with it. As a Sudbury advocate since the late 90s, it’s bothered me even more that this culture values maintaining the status quo far more than sincere attempts to make things better. It’s understandable, yes: skepticism toward change is an evolved trait; but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating.
All I want to do is give as many young people as possible a way to grow up that preserves their curiosity and drive, their unique gifts and creativity, and their selves, their intuition and joy. I want to establish an example for the rest of society of what’s possible and desirable in education, what we could and ought to do. I don’t need a basketball player’s or CEO’s salary to do this, but I do require enough to eat, live indoors, get myself about, and repair things when they break or wear out.
Is that too much to ask?
When I was growing up, it seemed every single group I was in wanted me to fundraise. I was constantly selling items of questionable value (e.g., Christmas wreaths, cheese and sausage, magazine subscriptions, raffle tickets) in order to continue participating in my favorite activities. Lately it’s occurred to me that, by going off the beaten path, I will likely be fundraising in one form or another the rest of my life. The mainstream simply does not value what I value, so I must be creative and thorough in finding ways to fund my dream, and in finding like-minded people.
Thankfully I have a cause in which I deeply believe. But for now, and possibly forever, I’ll have to seek out side jobs to pay the bills and donors to sustain my greater quest. I’m okay with that—this is my mission, and I do choose to accept it—but I will need your help, your ideas and your support.
Who’s with me? What’s it worth to you?