(POLL) How Do You Feel About Community School Supplies?

3 years ago

Over the next month, kids across the country will be headed back to school (and some are even there already, including my fourth-grader). With back-to-school comes back-to-school shopping: for clothes, for shoes and for school supplies. Unlike your kids' sneakers or shirts, crayons are sometimes put into a pile and shared—a practice known as "community school supplies"—and this practice has some parents really mad.

Credit Image: nick.amoscato on Flickr

When I helped haul my daughter's school supplies in at Meet Your Teacher Night, I asked her teacher if she did community school supplies or not. She said "a little of both," which is what I expected considering the school supply lists in our public schools include things like two boxes of 250 tissues, dry erase markers and a ream of copier paper. Unlike in my daughter's earlier elementary years—when things did get dumped into bins and shared by the class—I noticed my daughter did load her own markers, pencils and glue sticks into her new desk. Whether they stay there or not doesn't really matter to me. I didn't buy her anything special except a backpack and a binder, which I know she'll keep even if the rest of her stuff goes into a classroom pot. Where the markers and glue end up when they're all supposed to be the same brand in the first place? Phhhhhhhhhht.

Not everyone shares my opinion, though. Jane Byers Goodwin writes on BlogHer about her distaste for the practice. She makes some good points about learning to take care of your own things and keep them nice so they will last longer and also learning to show up prepared with pencil and paper at the ready. She writes:

Teachers should keep an eye out for those kids who don’t have supplies, and the school should supply them, but after that point, they become the child’s own and he/she should be required to take good care of them, just as any and every kid should be required to take care of his/her things.

My daughter's public school doesn't do school uniforms—and I've always been happy about that, because I don't want to have to buy two sets of clothes for my kid—but I get the reason behind them. It doesn't seem so different from the reason behind community school supplies—just one less thing the kids can compare and contrast about who has and who has not when they really should be learning long division. In terms of germs, I fail to see the difference between community school supplies and shared music books in the music room and shared sinks in the bathrooms and shared cafeteria trays in the lunchroom. That's why we have immune systems.

I'll admit it: I don't get the furor. It's public school—it's a community resource, i.e. the community contributes to it for the betterment of the community via an educated populace. Just as I want to tell the old lady with no kids in school any more griping about the school bond issue to stick it in her pipe and smoke it, I'm a little put off by getting bent out of shape over some other kid using the erasers you fished out of the same Target bin as everyone else. Public schools = community resource, and I'm fine with it if they share the Crayolas as long as it gets us all down the road to well educated kids who have learned enough to get themselves through life (and go to college, if they so desire).

Kristin Ann Hunter started out being peeved at the community school supply idea but eventually got the core of what was really bothering her and switched gears:

And what I’m coming to realize is that it’s not always a good thing to have your name painted across every aspect of your life. I’m not saying everyone should go live in a commune where everything from the toilet paper to the minivan is up for free use, but my grip could be a little looser.

Back in 2008, Mir Kamin wrote on BlogHer about her ambivalence with community school supplies. She focused more on the bait-and-switch element than the actual sharing, which is something I saw popping up again and again in other posts:

I don't know what the solution is. Now that I live somewhere with a fairly significant "have not" population, I can't feel okay with saying that we're each responsible for our own children and that's that. I know kids who need and deserve more than that. At the same time, I am choosing to assist, and I don't know that I'm okay with other parents being forced to help. I am definitely never okay with a child's hand-picked supplies—thought to be his own property—being take away and redistributed.

I do get that. I totally agree if the school supplies are communal, the list should say that so no parent or kid goes into it thinking she was robbed. But even then having a folder go into a pot when you didn't realize that was going to happen is a fair life lesson that won't do much harm. Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug, you know? Life is way easier when you don't put so much stock in the My Little Pony folder in the first place—really why should your folder be a status symbol, anyway? Is that actually fair?

Then I thought perhaps I was being all "and I walked uphill both ways, too" about the whole thing, so I asked my daughter if she cared about sharing school supplies. She said no, it wasn't like it was her backpack or something. She, too, views stuff you use at school as stuff you use at school. There are many possible explanations for her casual attitude. A) She's an only child and doesn't have to share much at home—which is often seen as something that will make an only child spoiled but in my experience has made her more laid-back about sharing other places. B) She started sharing everything—even diaper wipes—in daycare and preschool, and she just accepted it once the community pot happened in kindergarten, too. C) It could be she inherited her father's easygoing nature or her mother's apparent socialist tendencies. D) She was actually watching TV while I asked her.

It all boils down to parental control, which is for the most part (outside ensuring her personal safety or academic progress) is something I realized I had to cede when I sent my daughter to public school. I'm guessing they don't share school supplies in private schools for all the same reasons people send their kids to private schools. Right?

POLL: What's your opinion on community school supplies? Choose as many as you like.

How do you feel about community school supplies?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.

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