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That’s it. As a society, we’re probably doomed.

A couple of days ago, I got the following email from a member of the Teach for America corps who knows me through my connection with William and Mary. (I’m posting this with the teacher’s permission and have removed identifying information.)

Read it and weep.

I am finishing up my second year of Teach for America in [an inner-city school system], and am preparing to begin my third year of teaching at my school. I was shopping at the [local] bookstore the other day and I came across “The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child.” Flipping through it, I got very excited at the way in which it is written. I’m a 6th grade ELA and Social Studies teacher in a district with next to no resources. My school has textbooks that the children cannot read, and extremely incomplete classroom “libraries” from which we’re supposed to somehow construct a curriculum, though there are no books at the children’s reading levels with which to teach, and teachers do not have access to copy machines from which to make curriculum-related worksheets. (I have spent hundreds of dollars this year just to provide any sort of suitable reading materials for them!) As I read your book, I became very excited because I realized that, finally, I found a text that covers all of the 6th grade social studies curriculum in an accessible manner. This is exceptional, because you must understand–I taught seventh and eighth graders last year who told me that they had never received social studies instruction before (probably because of the resource and curricular difficulties that I just enumerated).

I immediately bought one copy of the book itself and of the activity book for my own reference. However, I know that without some sort of waiver from the copyright holder, we cannot make any copies from these books. I believe that “The Story of the World” would be an amazing curricular resource for struggling readers eager to learn Social Studies content. Unfortunately, given the current economic crisis, my principal recently announced that the school will not be purchasing any new supplies next year (paper, chart paper, pens, notebooks, etc.), that we will not be able to pay for substitutes to come in on days when teachers are absent next year, and that, most likely, a few teaching positions will be cut in order to conserve funds.

I was wondering if you have any advice on what can be done in this situation. My first thought was that my I should somehow purchase class sets of these materials- either thirty (enough for one class), sixty (enough for the two different SS teachers to use), or 90 (enough for each student to have his or her own copy to reference). However, I realized soon after having this thought that if my principal is unable even to hire substitutes for next year, there is no way we can afford this. Can you tell me what the cost of a class set of these books would be, in case I am somehow able to fundraise and try to get money to purchase a set?

After reading this, I am more impressed than ever by the recent grads who join Teach for America, and stick it out.

I know there are no easy solutions to this educational mess. In this one situation, I can help; Peace Hill Press is organizing a charitable donation to try to get this dedicated teacher the necessary resources. (If you’d like to give us a hand, call our office.)

But what a knotted mess this teacher’s dilemma represents. How do we find the end of the string–the one we’d have to pull to unravel the knots?