Kickstarting Education

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Kickstarter: Educate Our KidsKickstarter: Educate Our Kids

Unfortunately, this project would never actually get approved on Kickstarter.

I know you’re probably tired of hearing this, but I love the idea of Kickstarter. I love that anyone can come up with an idea and put up a page, explaining their project and asking for funding. Backers can pick projects based on their own merits (and personal tastes) rather than relying on what some company exec has decided people will buy. It allows people to sell to the long tail, and it helps creative folks figure out whether or not there’s actually a market for their big idea.

As with anything on the internet, it’s not all perfect. There are lousy projects, and there are great ideas with lousy pitches. But the biggest problem is that there’s just too much. I back a lot of projects myself, but there are a bunch that I wish I could have backed that I turned down simply because I’m already spread too thin. If you think I’m constantly pitching Kickstarter projects to you here on GeekDad, you should see the list of things I didn’t talk about.

Of course, Kickstarter is pretty big business these days. In 2011 nearly $100 million* was pledged, and I can imagine it’s only going to keep growing, at least in the immediate future. Musicians, filmmakers, board game designers, actors, painters, illustrators, writers … the list of folks who have benefited from Kickstarter is huge. If only we could add “teachers” to that list.

Last week my daughter’s elementary school sent out a message about impending budget cuts for next school year. Like all of the other schools in Oregon (and, I would wager, across the United States), our school is facing a budget crunch. Despite the hefty fundraising they’ve done this year, it looks like they’re going to lose two of their three arts teachers — a huge blow to a school that has been an arts magnet. Even though things were looking grim last year, they were able to keep all three (who teach visual arts, drama, music, and dance) thanks to their fundraising. This year, however, the gap is simply too big.

In addition, there will be cuts to other programs as well: the group that runs the after-school programs and various activities during school breaks may not get funding. For working parents who rely on these activities on a daily basis, this is a crisis. Our particular school also had a swimming pool, part of the Portland Parks & Recreation, which the kids got to use during P.E. sometimes — and that appears to be on the chopping block as well.

I was reading this email and marking my calendar for a school-wide meeting about the budget, and then at the same time I was thinking about the various Kickstarter-funded board games I meant to write about. It occurred to me that I feel totally comfortable telling you to throw money at a cool board game or comic book or documentary, but the idea of asking people to give funds for my kid’s school is really awkward — and not just because there’s a good chance your own school is in similar straits. It just isn’t as fun or exciting. You think waiting ten months for a board game or a year and a half for a video game is a long time? How about waiting for the payoff for a well-funded educational system?

But the truth is, this really matters.

We geeks — particularly geek parents — need our kids to have great schools. Who is going to make great geeky culture, whether it’s movies or books or board games or music, if there are no arts programs? How will teachers be able to draw out the best in our kids if they’re overworked and underpaid, dealing with enormous class sizes and having to buy school supplies out of their own pockets? Even if you don’t have kids of your own, this matters to you: do you want the future leaders (and, for that matter, followers) of this country to be poorly educated, good at standardized tests and not much else?

Some of you will bring up homeschooling, but let’s face it: being a parent doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher. I know that I could teach my kids some subjects, but there are some that I never cared for as a kid, and I know they’d be getting short shrift if I was their only teacher.

So, here’s my proposal. Sure, I’d love it if you funded my daughter’s school and we had all of our art teachers and our pool back for next year — but that’s just one school. Instead, I challenge you to take a look at your own local school district, and find out how you can support it. Maybe consider a one-to-one matching program: for every dollar you spend on Kickstarter, kick in a dollar to your school. If everyone did that, maybe 2012 would see a $100 million raised for schools, and we wouldn’t have to keep reading stories about cutting arts and sports and so on.

Now that’s a project worth backing.

*I don’t know if that counts the amounts pledged to unsuccessful projects that weren’t actually funded.

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