Part of the Solution: Education

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Apparently, I am not. At least this is how I feel whenever my oldest daughter, Ella, brings home a fifth grade math assignment. Which is daily. Here’s an example of what usually goes down in our house around 3:30:

“Mom, I need help with this.”

“What is it asking you to do?”

“It says I need to create an array at least four rows wide and three rows deep for the number eighteen.”

“What the heck is an array?”

This is the point where our youngest daughter, Lenna, says precociously, “Mommy not so smart.”

She’s a little whipper- snapper, that one.

But while I make jokes about my level of mathematic skills, and television game shows all over the world pit eleven year old geniuses against the smarts of average adults for a cash prize, the starling fact that, according to the September/October issue of World Ark magazine (put out by Heifer International), one in every three children will not even have a chance to make it to the fifth grade is humbling. Furthermore, only one in every five adults can read, putting them at a level even below our national kindergarten standards. And here’s the worst statistic:

93,000,000 school-age children did not go to school in 2006.

At this point, it might behoove us to ponder the importance of the education we have received, most-likely for free. What has your educational experience done for you? (Besides scarring you for life as a result of lunchroom or semi-formal drama.) My educational experience, for example, opened a myriad of doors for discovery, sending me across two oceans, providing me with a sousaphone, teaching me analytical problem solving skills in classes that simulated the United Nations, and giving me a voice through participation on the debate team. My education provided all this and more, not to mention the reading, writing, and arithmetic that prepared me for college.

These, I believe are the tools of empowerment. And as a former teacher, I don’t take this lightly.
Wouldn’t we want those 93,000,000 children to experience the same empowerment, providing them an avenue that could eradicate poverty through knowledge and skills? (That was a rhetorical question.)

Here are a couple of ideas on how to impact those kids by affecting the systemic issues that thwart their access to education, both directly and indirectly:
  1. Purchase Fair Trade items whenever possible. Earning enough money to support a family frees the children from having to earn their own keep, allowing them the time and energy for school. Even items such as makeup from The Body Shop, for example, contain fair trade ingredients which help support education.
  2. The Peace Corps uses its volunteers to equip teachers around the world. You can apply to volunteer yourself, or donate to the cause. (I wanted to apply in college, but they didn’t need a German major. It seems that Spanish and French are the desired languages.)
  3. Support organizations, such as Global Citizen Corps, that are already making a difference in helping children worldwide attend school. Support can be financial to aid what is already being implemented or practical to help spread the news about the issues at hand or be the hands and the feet need to carry out the organization’s mission.
  4. Shop Unicef and support this organization in its goals to ensure basic education and gender equality around the world.

If you know of any other solutions to the global education crisis, please share them in the comments section so we can learn together and empower each other into action by sharing our knowledge. Or if you have had an experience working to support education, please share your story with us!

I realize that the ideas listed above work to ensure education primarily on an international level and don’t even begin to address the needs of our national educational system, with plenty of its own cracks through which children often fall. We’ll look into these issues in the coming weeks. And if you find yourself particularly passionate about improving national education and empowering all of us to do so, please send your own 800 word Part of the Solution to reviews@burnsidewriterscollective.com, with Part of the Solution, Kim Gottschild as the subject.

Now, I simply have to ask:

What is an array?


  1. An array is an list of values (e.g. [1,2,4]). In a lot of math and computer science these are nestable to create multi-dimensional arrays (e.g. [[1,2][2,3]] is a 2x2 array that might also be drawn like this:
    1 2
    2 3

    Though i'm not sure what precisely is meant by "for the number eighteen". Totals to 18? Each row/col totals to 18? I went deep into college math and never recall hearing such a problem description.

  2. An array is a visual representation of a multiplication problem. An array of 18 might look like this:


    or this



  3. Thanks for telling us the small things we can do to make a difference. It gets so frustrating to hear people complain about the problems and to see the problems myself and not know how to do anything to help.

  4. If you've read Greg Mortensen's "Three Cups of Tea" - in that book he describes his efforts to bring education to Afghanistani children, girls in particular, in mountain villages. So far he has built 55 schools with the foundation that followed his first, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants efforts to build one school for one village. He spoke at a high school near my home yesterday, and while I did not attend, I read this morning that the school's students presented a check for in excess of $34,000. Giving to his foundation would be another way to support education for people sorely in need of it.