05/27/2014 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Have You Taken a Good Look Around Your Child's Classroom Lately?

Last fall, my daughter started attending public school here in Los Angeles. On the first day, her teacher sent home a note welcoming everyone to her classroom and letting us as parents know what was provided within the school's budget, and what was not. For example, photocopies were not covered. The teachers at Delilah's school are asked to pay for every xerox out of their own pocket. The same is true of most things being used by our children every day in the classroom -- crayons, markers, storybooks, toys. I'd say text books, but our class doesn't use textbooks, the children are given photocopies of workbooks to practice their reading and writing skills. You get the gist. It's not an ideal situation.

Recently when a friend of mine who works with students in classrooms all over Los Angeles posted the below photo on Instagram from a school he had been working at nearby, it took me a minute to realize what I was looking at: a map that was outdated by more than two decades, still hanging on the wall of a classroom in L.A. County. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it.


Let's actually put aside for a moment the obvious culpability of the broke and failing California school system. And I'm not racing to pin this one on the teacher alone, either, since they've obviously got plenty of battles they're fighting for our kids. What I couldn't stop wondering was how could a map sit there for 23 years, with thousands of parents and possibly hundreds of school personnel passing through that classroom and no one, not one person saying, "Hey wait a second, I'm going to take the ten minutes and $9 out of my own day to replace that inaccurate learning tool both for my child and the rest of the children who still have the U.S.S.R., Czechoslovakia, and Constantinople on their list of places to visit." (What? Plenty of elementary schoolers have a jonesing for Eastern Bloc travel.)

According to Next Generation, a San Francisco based non-profit dedicated to promoting solutions for the diminished prospects for families and children, "China and India, our primary competitors in the global marketplace, are investing heavily in their children. China has set a goal of providing 70 percent of its children with three years of preschool by 2020." Not only does the U.S. not provide preschool for the general public (an intervention that would save an estimated 1.1 billion in prison costs in debt-stricken California alone), but my friend's Instagram reminded me that we're not doing much better by our slightly older children. So much so that on a cellular level, we're not even providing our elementary school students with maps representing up-to-date geopolitical changes for their social studies class.

That first week of school for Dee, I donated money for copies as was requested. I also bought a bulk pack of markers and some party favors to donate because Delilah's teacher (who happens to be freaking amazing) likes to give the kids occasional prizes for good behavior. Just this past Monday I sent her to school with a fresh package of jumbo crayons because her teacher had mentioned that she was having trouble writing her name with the thinner ones provided in the classroom since she's a little on the small side.

This isn't something I do because I'm wealthy or better than you. I can assure you I'm neither of those things. It's because I want my child to have the tools necessary to do her best both in school and in life, and I know that when we see something amiss and assume someone else is handling it, the sad reality is that often no one is. I know that it's the parent participation that makes a school successful just as much as it is great teachers and proper allocation of funds.

I also know that not all parents know this. I was lucky in that Delilah has a proactive teacher who didn't shy away from making the needs of our classroom known. Which is why I'm writing this post. If you haven't been inside your child's classroom lately, find some time to go look around. Take note of what's lacking. And if you can afford to in even the smallest way, improve it. Just like my friend (who incidentally does not have a child in that or any classroom) did yesterday when he went out and bought that class a new map. It's for the good of all of us.

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