Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Latest over at Crafting a Green World: Bookshelves (and, Inadvertently, a Long Rant about Educational Equity)

and our own decoupaged bookshelf that we made for our local food pantry

I don't have the photography skills to make the bookshelf look as cute as it does in real life, but the kids and I are really pleased with it, and it looks even better sitting in the children's area of the food pantry, chock-full of donated books, with kids sitting around it in their kid-sized chairs reading happily. There's so much for kids to do at the pantry now--books, crayons and paper, a construction set, some sidewalk chalk that we brought over on our latest work day, afternoon drop-in kids' gardening classes--and the Youth Outreach Coordinator has a ton more planned for after school hours and in the summer. I'm really excited about it!

We had asparagus in the pantry this week, and the week before we had arugula, and Will, both weeks, has seemed really struck by finally noticing that there are plenty of people in our community who can't identify these two vegetables, don't know how to prepare them, have never tasted them, and are nervous about doing so. I'd imagine this isn't super uncommon anywhere, and Will's seen this over and over again for years--one of my happiest memories is cutting open pomegranates for kids, encouraging them to try it by telling them that it tastes like candy, and then watching their little faces when they realize that I don't lie--but watching me answer questions, helping me photocopy preparation instructions, and tasting veggies in front of people to show them that they're good are experiences that she's brought up several times in the past couple of weeks. 

It's a lot of growing this kid must be doing, trying to figure out that other people's experiences are different from hers. The privilege of knowledge is something that we've been talking about for a while now, since the kids' global education unit study that they completed for their Girl Scout World Thinking Day badge. In a lot of circumstances, education is a luxury, I keep saying to her, over and over. You have to have time to spend. You often have to have money to spend. You have to have mental energy available to spend. If you have to work all day in a factory sewing cheap clothes for Americans to buy, you don't have time to learn to read. If you don't have extra money in your budget, you can't buy asparagus just to see if you happen to like it--you're going to buy apples every single time, because you already know you like them. If you're always worried about if you're going to earn enough money to pay your rent and electricity and water bills each month, you're not going to feel like sitting down at your table every night and studying for a college degree.

I remind her of the time that we spent $15 on a jackfruit just to see if we liked it--and we didn't like it! If we'd really, truly needed that $15 for food that week, then we would have had to eat that entire jackfruit anyway, and that wouldn't have been fun (seriously, it weighed something like eight pounds). If we'd really needed to eat using that $15, we would have been better off buying rice and beans and hamburger and spinach, even though we eat that all the time, because we know we like it and we know it will fill our tummies up nice and comfy.

That's why it's so important to make opportunities for people to educate themselves without risk. There have to be places where all kinds of new experiences are free, so that people don't have to spend their money to try or taste. There has to be enough money for every person to allow everyone to have some leisure time to explore, and there have to be courses of study--all kinds, in every possible field--that people can try at their leisure, also for free.

That's why public schools are worth improving, even if you don't have kids who go there. That's why open courseware is worth funding, even if you don't use it. And it's why your local food pantry is worth supporting, even if you don't shop there.

*steps off soapbox, turns off microphone, wanders off to eat a cup of noodles and read the next chapter in her book*


Tina said...

Great points Julie! Thanks for making me thing about all that.

julie said...

I don't know if even I needed to think about all that on a Thursday morning, so congratulations for wading through it!

Clearly I had to get some of that off of my chest, I guess. I don't often write about our volunteer work, because so much of what I see and do there isn't *mine* to write about, you know? But it actually colors so much of what I think about and how I act that I probably need to find some way that feels okay to share it on a regular basis.


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