3 Reasons Why I Support St. Baldrick’s Foundation

I can’t think of anything worse than childhood cancer. Can you?

Too many people (myself included) complain about stupid, mundane things like the traffic on our daily commute; the snowstorm that hits AFTER the first day of Spring; or the dirty socks that your spouse continues to leave on the floor day after day.

Childhood cancer is extremely humbling. It bitch-slaps you right in the face and makes you realize what’s really important.

There are lots of great (and not so great) organizations out there doing work to raise funds to fight cancer. But I think this one organization is different. If you’re not familiar with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, maybe you’ll want to check them out. They do wonderful work. Their only goal is to raise funds for grants for childhood cancer research. You can Google them for more info, but the statement on their website that absolutely floored me was this:

“About 60% of all funding for drug development in adult cancers comes from pharmaceutical companies.
For kids? Almost none, because childhood cancer drugs are not profitable.”

That statement turns my stomach. Childhood cancer drugs are not profitable. What’s even more striking is that all types of childhood cancers COMBINED receive only 4% of US federal funding for cancer research. FOUR PERCENT.

It’s worth noting here that St. Baldrick’s Foundation spends more than 3/4 of the money raised on funding research grants (79.5%). The remaining 20.5% is spent on fundraising and administrative costs. That is an impressive ratio.

As their website states, yes, cancer strikes more adults than children. However, when we’re talking about the allocation of money, the game becomes less equitable. Childhood cancer simply isn’t “profitable” enough. That really makes me angry.

I’m supporting St. Baldrick’s this year. Here are my reasons:

1. Because my money goes to fund childhood cancer research grants. My money is not going to purchase accoutrements like ribbons or balloons (which are all well and good to raise awareness) and it’s certainly not lining the pockets of big wig boards of directors or administrators.

2. Because my husband and I have friends who have lost their children to some form of cancer and it was the most gut-wrenching experience for us as outsiders to observe. I cannot imagine the hell the families went through.

3. Because by some sheer stroke of luck, my son and my two girls are healthy. Thank God.

There’s one more reason I’m supporting St. Baldrick’s. A dear friend of mine has supported them for years. He’s a cancer survivor and I admire his efforts to “go bald” this weekend to raise money for this worthwhile cause. If you want to join me in supporting his efforts, here’s a link to his page.

The Disappearance of Joy

What do you remember about kindergarten?

I remember:

  • Those cute little carpet squares for rest time and cubbies for winter coats and hats and mittens
  • The Dick and Jane books and the artist’s easels where we could all be Picasso for the afternoon
  • My favorite place: the book nook! And the smell of paste and the thrill of using safety scissors
  • The yellow, upright piano where Mrs. Greene would sing the hello and goodbye songs each day
  • I remember making a Christmas tree out of an old paper towel tube that we glued with different sizes pieces of green-painted pasta

There is a piece dated yesterday in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss that should make every parent in America angry.
In it, the author shares the story of a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who became so fed up with the endless requirements, testing, standards, methods, and assessments (which she believes are robbing her students of an optimum learning environment and taking her out of the classroom for inordinate amounts of time), that she gave her notice.

“We (her colleagues) found ourselves in professional development work being challenged to teach KINDERGARTNERS to form persuasive arguments, and to find evidence in story texts to justify or back up a response they had to a story.  What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them?  When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated.  They don’t understand. They feel stupid.  Joy disappears.”  (the bold and all caps are mine.)

Her resignation letter is included in full on the site. This is a teacher who worked for 18 years in the public school system. You can feel the passion she has for her students and her profession in this piece. And you can hear her heartbreak as she tells of her decision to leave.

“I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

What I found most interesting about this whole piece was how many times (I count 12) that she refers to the amount of time she has to spend outside of her classroom, away from her students to attend meetings/conferences/workshops so she can learn about new methodologies, assessments, and standards to which she and her colleagues would be held. Take that number and contrast it with the amount of times she makes any mention of additional compensation for the extraordinary amount of personal time spent out of the classroom (I count twice – but note that she isn’t spiteful; she is a realist. She mentions that she and her colleagues simply asked if they could apply some paid leave to compensate for the time).

I don’t have any recollection at all of tests or memorizing math facts because, um, it was KINDERGARTEN. I also don’t recall there being a student teacher to occupy the class while my teacher was off at a conference or another meeting to learn more about how she will be held accountable for every little thing I would learn or worse, might fail to learn.

Let me just say that I have absolutely zero background in education apart from my own schooling (K-12, associate degree and a bachelor’s degree) and a good part of my professional career working for a stellar two-year school in upstate New York in PR, not as an educator. I am not a teacher, but I have one child in the public school system and another one ready to begin soon. As a parent, I want the best for my kids. I want them to love learning just like I did. I can rattle off all of my elementary school teachers easily and recall at least five or six fond memories from each grade. I adored school and yes, I excelled at school. But I attribute that not to some innate gift but rather to the ability of my teachers to motivate me and get me excited to learn. The last thing I want for my kid, or any kid, is for them to feel stressed or pressured into performing for some arbitrary standard that may or may not mean anything in the long term, but that will surely frustrate the hell out of them in the short term.

Let me also say that I am a big believer in testing. How else can we know we’ve mastered a particular subject or concept well enough to progress? I’m not a believer in the “every kid gets an award for participation” thing. In fact, I think that’s the most ridiculous concept. There are tests in life and you either pass or fail or fall somewhere in between. That said, I firmly believe that when learning is forced and play is either compromised or reduced to an extracurricular activity ESPECIALLY IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD YEARS, that we’re doing a great disservice to our kids. And to the teachers who teach them.

Kids are supposed to be joyful. I mean, do we really want our kids to go through some archaic, militant-style school system that is only concerned with test scores and rigorous academic work which will probably sharpen their brains, but also harden their hearts?

I don’t. And I don’t think you do, either.

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” – Fred Rogers