Friday, September 20, 2013

Price versus Value

As anyone reading this blog in the past, oh five years, knows, I am a card-carrying PTA member. But in the Internet age, it's difficult to be a member of a volunteer-based organization that also charges dues. A common thread in PTA membership recruitment is what units get from PTA. Why pay to join PTA when you can join advocacy groups like Raise Your Hand, Parents 4 Teachers, Common Sense Coalition, or More Than a Score for free? 

Indeed, if you don't value membership in the PTA, there is probably little I can say to change your mind about the importance of the nation's oldest dues-based advocacy organization. But if you're on the fence, here are some reasons why PTA is a good value:

PTA has longevity and staying power.
Unlike the other groups that have popped up in Chicago over the past five years, the PTA's history runs longer than a century. I am not questioning the validity and good created by these other organizations in calling attention to the problems of CPS. Nor am I saying that being older and better established means an organization is fail proof, as the recent collapses of Jane Addams Hull House and Catholic Charities have demonstrated. But, being old and well-established can have some advantages, like having a seat at the table in policy discussions, brainstorming sessions, and on advisory boards.

PTA makes decisions democratically, using due process.
Unlike newer organizations that lack structure for--or worse, deliberately exclude would-be stakeholders from--determining their organizational agendas, PTA follows a formal process to direct its agenda. Progress toward reform is made more by bottom-up movements than it is by top-down mandates.

PTA's strengths come from within.
We are (almost) all volunteers. Why pay $5 to volunteer? Because PTA gives you a structure in which you can channel your volunteer efforts. Since its inception as the National Congress of Mothers in 1897, PTA has sought to improve children's lives in the areas of education, arts, juvenile justice, bullying and conflict resolution, nutrition and wellness, child labor, and parent engagement.

PTA has influence.
Because of the reasons above, PTA has some influence among local, state, and federal decisionmakers. PTA's standards for parent involvement formed the basis for the NCLB standards for parent involvement, and it helped in the adoption and rollout of Common Core.  

PTA has a relationship with CPS.
Since 1996, the PTA Advisory Committee has enjoyed an insiders' view to CPS departments, programs, initiatives, and policies. Departments present and seek feedback at monthly meetings, and members of the advisory committee share their ideas for increasing family engagement at the school, network, and District levels.

PTA advocates for all children and youth.
This is what it all comes down to. Although it does charge nominal per-capita dues, the PTA is not an elitist organization. It works to advocate for all children and youth. I am making a difference in my children's lives, but I also want to make a difference in the lives of their peers and classmates at their school and through the District. 

As with paying it forward and exhibiting kindness and respect toward others, being a part of the PTA is the right thing to do. I fondly remember the Jaycee-sponsored carnivals of my youth. Rotary International sent me to Belgium and then to France on cultural exchanges when I was a high school student. Alternative Spring Break allowed my college self to support forestry service in Virginia. I subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell's hypothesis that successful individuals come from a cultural background that values hard work and seeks to lend a helping hand. The PTA mission seeks to improve the lives of children and youth; my mission in life is to improve the lives of all members of the society in which we live.

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