Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to $chool $upplie$

For reasons that probably have to do with attending a Roman Catholic church, I have lots of friends with lots of children. While this provides any number of Aha Moments throughout the year, I'm currently fascinated by the annual tribal ritual known as Back-to-School Supply Shopping.

During the mid-20th century, each student arrived at school with a three-ring binder, notebook paper, a wooden ruler, a pencil, and a pen. Big Splurge: a Pink Pearl eraser of one's own. Bigger Splurge: pre-printed book covers instead of using brown paper bags.

The public school system supplied everything else. And if I remember correctly, it even supplied teachers with red pencils and gold stars. If teachers purchased anything to enhance the classroom experience, they bought hamsters, turtles, goldfish, and pumpkins. Not any more. These days, school systems force teachers to force parents to buy the basics -- and beyond.

"If I get away with spending under sixty bucks per kid, I'll consider myself lucky," said one friend who has the blessing/curse of four little darlings. (Actually, two of those little darlings are now in college, so the combined annual tab for their education is more like sixty grand, give or take a few thousand dollars).

I knew she wasn't exaggerating when she forwarded the list, which includes things like glue, tape, dry erase markers, and colored pencils in massive quantities. What really got my attention were the facial tissues and Zip Lock plastic bags. Good Lord have mercy, what's next? Toilet paper?

So for what, exactly, do I pay exorbitant school taxes? And why do 7th and 8th graders need to bring Zip Lock bags to school? I probably do not want to know the answer to either question. Do I?


  1. I often wondered the same thing. For some reason buy Kleenex boxes always bothered me. The school can't provide Kleenex? And on top of that teachers are shelling out dough from their own pockets for stuff they need

  2. Schools can't provide much of anything along those lines anymore. I've already supplied napkins for my second-grader's class. For $100 we can "sponsor" his classroom for the year. Plus, we're obligated to provide snacks for his entire class once a month.

    The school provides a plastic folder to put homework in and a spiral-bound student planner that the teacher uses to communicate with us. that's pretty-much it.

    Primary education can be pricey.

  3. Pitiful. All of it.
    As for the snack situation, I'm sure that obligation is accompanied by a list of forbidden food that might KILL kids -- like peanuts.

  4. VERY FUNNY - and very sad commentary about the state of our society. Margaret Ann and I wee thinking that when our kids were in school, we had very little of this (in the '80 & '90's) and when we both started teaching (1966 - 74 for me) we had all the supplies, provided by the school, that we ever needed. As children, I do remember using shopping bags for bookcovers - my wife, however, does not. (I was a poor kid - she was not - in her small town). Your writing produced amusing discussions. Thanks.

  5. Pitiful indeed. In 2005, I was asked by my husband (then fiance) to take his (then 9 yo) daughter school supply shopping, saying that we would have a list. He said we would "work it out later."

    Work what out? A few pencils? Pens? Feh! I had it.

    I had it alright, when all was said and done and I had been to Staples, Office Max and Target and had credit card receipts totaling $145 all I had was a headache.

    Tissues and snacks, no zip locks though. And then the really infuriating things that specified folders and notebooks, by brand and by persnickety detail based on what the teacher wanted.

    I love and respect the teaching position, but what?!

    By the end of the school year, we had many unused supplies. No tissues though - and those we could have used. I did a lot of crying about how much money we spent and needed to blow my nose!

    While we buy her what she needs each year, we do tend to approach it with more prudence.

    And already we bought two boxes of tissues based on the school district list... however have been told by the teacher list that they only need one.

    Great! I can keep crying!

  6. This is not a laughing matter but this post amused me nonetheless. A smile in face of adversity is good for my mental health. Thank you!

    Liturgy of the Hours

  7. Your "exorbitant" taxes go, in part, to pay a fair wage to teachers, who in the historical past were volunteers (women) who were not paid a middle class, living wage. I am in tens of thousands of dollars of debt, because parents and admins don't believe I can teach and love without a litany of certifications and degrees. I was offered a substitute position that paid $12 hours though I have experience, a master's degree, and am half way through a doctoral program. My niece makes more than this at Costco.

    My other niece earns $69,000/yr at a pharmaceutical company. She is 25 years old. For me to earn a similar wage I must work 25 years and go through a series of evaluations, tests (that I must pay for), and have an advanced degree.

    Frankly, at this point I am looking for work outside of institutional education, because I can not afford to be a teacher, and can't stand the though of hearing one more parent whine about buying a box of tissues for the child they claim to love.


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