Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back To School, Biggie Style

I'm at one of those big box office supply stores today replacing an ink cartridge…

Why is it you always run out of ink in the middle of an important print run of say, monthly bills, invoices, or timely application forms, but never when you're printing out jokes, or recipes from the internet, or dream kitchen layouts…

And I'm not even going to say which office supply chain I'm talking about here, except to clue you in that the exterior had a lot of red on it…

When to my surprise, (really a mixture of shock and delight at the instant "material" it provided me), I spy a kiosk with back-to-school "suggested supply list" print-outs by the entrance door, neatly copied on different colored paper, broken down by grade beginning with Pre K & Kindergarten on up, ostensibly to organize your shopping experience and help you remember what you need.

Looking more like a grocery list than anything else, I quickly scan the Pre K and Kinder supply list since that's where we're headed this fall. I count 18 "suggested" back-to-school items.

For 4 and 5 year olds.

Of the office /art supply /personal hygiene variety.

18 items?

For Pre K or K??

As you can imagine, the next list for 1st, 2nd & 3rd graders jumps to 28 items with a quantity count totaling 44.

I can't even bring myself to look at middle school at this moment, but I'm sure by then they've got you on a 2-page list with an added assortment of handheld electronics and computers.

You do the math.

Ok, I get it with the uber-competitive, over-scheduled, hyper-vigilant parent types who don't wish Little Junior to be un-provided for come the first day of school, and I do love a good organizational tip here and there to streamline our wonderfully full and unruly family lives, so that's not what's bothering me...

And, living in this town, the entertainment capitol of the world, the town that put spin and marketing on the map, not to mention cross-platforming and product placement…I mean whole careers have been made out of merchandising and
ancillary rights

I don't begrudge the effect of a smart business marketing campaign, or a strategically targeted ad, so that's not really it…

But come on, does my 5 year-old Kinderkid NEED 18 items in his backpack on the first day of school?!

Ok, I get the lunchbox and the backpack part, but will the rest of it even fit into his backpack? Or into his little mousehole-sized kindergarten cubby? I guarantee it wouldn't fit in the overhead bin of a Southwest airlines flight let alone inside one of those little wooden school desks.

I feel a bit like a party-pooper, but what will the teacher say when several of the class show up with their very own set of personal paintsets, colored markers and glue sticks, and begin their version of art anarchy, despite the rest of the class?

Speaking of the rest of the class, doesn't the school supply anything anymore?


Then what do they do with our tuition, or our tax dollars?

And furthermore, does each little 5-year old really NEED to bring 2 pocket folders, a handheld pencil sharpener with two hole sizes to Kindergarten, in addition to his own tissues, paper towels, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer gel and hand sanitizer wipes, as this list suggests?

What, will they be setting up an emergency triage?

Or is this the beginning of some Howard Hughes-style, Michael Jackson boy-in-the-bubble-type germ-o-phobic training?

Besides, didn't we determine that all that antibacterial stuff was actually dangerous and should be taken off the market? Did we forget that hand sanitizer gel if ingested in large doses contains enough alcohol to make a small child dangerously toxic? Should we really be dispensing it so freely to youngsters, or are we falling victim to blatant marketing?

Do they really need all this stuff? And more importantly, should they HAVE all this stuff?

Hey, I'm not here to begrudge the inalienable all-American right to entrepreneurialism, or our right as individuals to load up and hoard warehouse-quantity supplies on the backs of our lower-class third-world citizens. That's what this country was founded on, right? It's capitalism at its very best, survival of the fittest, kill or be killed or make a killing, I'm not sure which. But c'mon folks, from one doting parent to another, I ask you, does little Timmy really NEED all this stuff on his back too? At age 5?

Is it just me, or is this blatant consumerism starting younger and younger and getting way out of hand?

(Don't even get me started on the baby marketing plan that tags you
in utero.)


Carrie Wilson Link said...

I think it's actually the schools, not the marketing, the schools know if you don't bring it the first day, and buy it all when it's all cheap and available everywhere, most people won't. This is a year's supply of everything they need. The teachers stock pile it and dole it out as needed, most of the supplies will be shared. The teacher, likely, is at the same store buying, with his/her own money, much of the same things to make up for all the kids that won't be bringing anything. School budgets barely cover construction paper and computer/copy paper.

Sorry - but after 12 years as a teacher, I had to defend the back-to-school lists!

riversgrace said...

Love your writing here, your thoughtful, witty, funny, serious, sharp commentary. The whole marketing thing - it's all kind of daunting.

Eileen said...

I love your writing and have been wanting to tell you thank. I have been reading your blog through Jennifer Lauck/Carrie Link's Links and I think you are an amazing writer. You are funny, detail oriented, thought provoking and a gifted story teller. One of your posts a few back really touched my heart, about not feeling comfortable at a social gathering, it was PERFECT.
As for school supplies, I laughed because 2 of my 3 daughters picked up the school supply list Staples suggested for their grade. It would have been over $300.00 each if I followed it. It was bad enough that their own school list came to $130.00 between the 2 of them. I think it is CRAZY what they are asking.
My school has tons of stuff donated, that I give away to the students. My friend, who teaches 5th grade, gets all kids supplies because she waits for the cheap deals. The parents really appreciate it.
Take care and thanks for sharing your writing.

Nancy said...

Just wait till highschool. Can't take algebra II without a graphing calculater (roughly $100) and were told on back to school night that students who didn't have one for the next the next day would not be able to take the test. Geeesh! What the heck did we use back in the day... our minds?

sheila said...

I've been teaching for 19 years, and I usually spend $2,000.00 plus each year for supplies. I buy books (class sets of books as well as books for the classroom library), paper, markers, glue sticks, post it notes, tissue, water, ink for my printer, you name it. I have 180 students, and the high school provides very little. In fact, I use my own computer, LCD projector and printer in my classroom because the school hasn't provided the technology I need. It's a MAJOR issue that I think the general public is not aware of -- that teachers spend a lot of money in order to do their jobs well. I was at one of those office supplies stores too, and there was a huge banner hanging from the ceiling that said in red letters, "TEACHER SUPPLIES." I nearly had a meltdown because after 19 years, I'm pretty tired of buying classroom supplies. This year I only bought a desk calendar!

I agree with you that the lists are long, and I don't think parents should have to buy this stuff necessarily, either. But, certainly teachers shouldn't have to spend their own paychecks in order to do their jobs effectively.

Sorry you had to experience this with your kindergartener. Welcome to public education!

Jerri said...

Yep, T. I agree it's out of hand, but I know it's not a marketing trick either.

Schools don't supply art stuff or much of anything else when it comes to supplies. Gotta bring your own kleenex or use your sleeves.

When my Katie was in high school, we had to pay $50 for her to take choir class. A fee to provide sheet music. It set my hair on fire that only kids whose parents could afford to pay for the music could take a choir class in high school.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Hey, I hope I'm not part of the reason you haven't posted again, Tanya! I check every day, I like hearing what you have to say!!