School supplies socialism makes for an angry village

10 years ago

Before moving to Georgia, the back-to-school issue that constantly stuck in my craw was dry-erase markers, of all things. Yes. Every child was required to bring a 4-pack of dry-erase markers as part of their supplies, at the kids' old school.

This was in a fairly well-off small New England town. As a struggling single mom, those stupid $10 packs of dry-erase markers came to symbolize everything that made me feel out of place there. Two kids + two packs of dry-erase markers = $20 I scarcely had, on top of the supplies they'd actually need/use and the inevitable new sneakers and winter coats.

(C'mon now -- with at least twenty kids per class, exactly how much time would the teacher have to spend writing on the whiteboard to need eighty markers??)

When we moved down here last year, I got the school supply lists and was relieved to see that no dry-erase markers were required! Of course, everything is different, now -- we can afford school supplies much more easily, and our new district is poverty-stricken, making us the "upper crust" (such as it is). Quite a change from our old life.

I bought every item on each child's list, last year, and was shocked when they both came home and informed me that their teachers had given them each all the supplies they needed. Apparently they distribute lists, but so few kids can actually afford to purchase anything, most teachers have made a habit of buy for the entire class.

This year I didn't buy anything other than the cheap doorbuster items -- nickel glue sticks, dime notebooks, etc. -- and I gave the kids some basic supplies and then send giant bags of extras in to the teachers (most of whom are purchasing with their own money). I don't really have any philosophical issues with it; I appreciate what the teachers do and I can afford to contribute, so I do.

I was aghast, however, when I read this recent post by Bill on Queercents, titled 4th Grade Economics: An Intro to Socialism:

The 9-year-old came home from school and explained that the supplies we bought her had been taken from her and distributed to other students. For instance, we bought her four folders as instructed on the school supply list - she came home with one. We bought her several glue sticks - she came home with one, smaller glue stick. All the students were told to stack these items up, and then the teacher went around and redistributed the items. Apparently, their first class was Socialism 101.

Bill goes on to share the letter he wrote the teacher in question, requesting the return of their purchases; at the end of his post, he concludes that they will be trying to come up with the money for private school, so disgusted were he and his partner at this state of affairs.

The Dallas ISD Blog takes up the story and asks for comments, which evoked this telling response from one reader:

I am a 4th grade teacher in a low income school. I do take up the students school supplies and put them all together. When a student needs something or runs out of something during the year I get it from the supply. Do the students get the exact folder or spiral they purchased? No, but they do get one of equal value. I also buy crayons, markers, glue, and scissors myself so that parents do not have to purchase these items( and so the students do not have to keep up with them). It may seem wrong to some parents but I have been teaching 7 years and it has always worked in my classroom. Is it fair? I don't know but I have never had a complaint.

I can see the logic, quite frankly, but I think this response misses the point. It's one thing to ask parents to bring contributions for a communal set of supplies, and another for a parent to think she is purchasing for her kid and suddenly discover that the items they specifically chose are being taken away and given to someone else. The not knowing adds a whole 'nother dimension to things.

On the other hand, I can also see where the communal supply idea is problematic in and of itself.

At IndyMoms, Jody is asking if others feel the way she does:

It seems like every year, I am required to buy more school supplies to be shared by the entire class and less supplies to be used personally by my children.

I can understand the need to make sure there aren’t any children going without school supplies, but I kind of like my kids having their own things as well.

Those fun pencils and folders they select at the store don’t even end up being used by my children. Instead, they go into supplies for the entire class.

Is anyone else experiencing this trend toward communal school supplies? What do you think of it?

The comments reveal a range of opinions, sure, but certainly no shortage of them.

And at Frugal Village, IamBlessed takes issue with both the communal pot and the micromanagement where certain brands are dictated:

I am a teacher myself, and I wouldn't dream of putting a brand name on a supply list. Neither would I ask parents to fund my supply closet. I know from experience that teachers are underpaid etc., etc. And I know that school districts are always griping about funding. HOWEVER, I know that every child is guaranteed a "free and equitable" education. I also know that if you make enough noise, the school districts will come up with necessary supplies and funding for whatever is needed in the classroom.

I'm not sure I agree with her; I doubt that our teachers would be buying supplies with their own money if it was that simple. Certainly if everyone took a stand and demanded the district pony up, change might be enacted, eventually, but there's principle and then there's reality. Should the teachers be expected to try to teach a roomful of supply-less kids while the administration figures it out? That's unrealistic, I think.

Emily of Grisham Family News has three kids and has put up with the communal supply situation for years, but she's had enough:

Now, the main grumble of this post....Anissa is going into seventh grade. When i was in middle school, the communal thing STOPPED. We no longer had to turn in tissue, hand sanitizer, paper towels, whatever. This year, Anissa has seven classes. One of them is band, so that doesn't really count. Each teacher is asking, to be turned in the first week of school, those items listed above. Not only that, but, ranging between 200-400 sheets of papers, graph paper, 72 pencils, post its, white board markers. So, that means, they are TURNED in, that they are being used for a communal pot. Sorry, but i don't think so. I told Anissa she could tell her teacher (s) that we have the things that are on the list, but we are not turning them in. When she runs out of paper and pencils, she can just ask to get it at home. That way, we aren't being penalized by students who chronically loose things and aren't responsible.

72 pencils?!? I have to agree that even if you buy into the ideal, here (which I'm not sure I do), that's just ridiculous.

The writer of Kimagine this thinks the supply pool is diluting the joy of back to school:

Part of the joy of starting school for me was always the new crayons, the crisp reams of paper, the unmarred soldiers of Number Two pencils lined up, waiting to be sharpened to dangerous points, and folders that featured pictures of my favorite things (for me, this was typically Duran Duran and horses). This isn't the case at their school -- all of the supplies will be mixed up and handed out to students as the teacher sees fit. I should also note that this is a public school.


What ever happened to, "get your children school supplies and allow them to take part in taking care of them"? What ever happened to, take care of your children, and don't mandate that parents have to pick up the slack for other people who just don't feel like it?

Though not a parent, The Monday Report asserts that the world needs to Keep Your Hands Off My Protractor:

The school system is damn lucky I don't have kids. I would begin by etching my kid's name onto every thing I purchased for them. I would then direct my child to keep all their belongings to themselves. Then, if the teacher took issue, that teacher would have me in their classroom every single day ensuring the stuff I purchased for my child stayed with my child. If they take issue with that then they would find me in the superintendent's office getting an earful every day. Then I would demand that the superintendent give me their car for the day as I want to use it. It's communal, right? Then I'd ask my kid's teacher to give me their lunch. It's communal, right?

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.

So what's the solution? Are the schools which solicit extra supplies for the needy from those who feel moved to donate getting what they need? If not, why not? If so, why aren't other schools doing it that way, so that people who don't want to donate aren't being forced to do so?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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