This post could end up being long or short. It has the potential to be either right now.
Most schools are publicly funded via taxes. People pay their taxes, and some of that money is divvied and sent to someone who sends it to someone else who approves it for use in maintaining some random public school somewhere in your town.
I know, how very general of me.
When I was in high school, this money was used to build a new wing onto the school. Then it was used to buy new football equipment. Then it was used to beef up security because, o noes, the goth kids are hanging out under the stairs (no, seriously, they were), and we can’t have that, because they’re probably doing drug. zomg.
I’ve blocked a lot of my younger school years out, simply because that wasn’t a great period for me.
But one thing I do remember, that Mark pointed out, is that in Elementary school (and sometimes Middle school), kids have items on their school supply lists that are for supplies for the entire classroom.
Commonly, these items are things like “tissues” and “computer paper” (my stepbrother is 10 years younger than I, and I believe he’s had to bring the latter, though when *I* was a kid, computers were just something you played “Oregon Trail” on), and you’re to bring two packages.
The reasoning here is that kids get sick and have runny noses, and stocking the classroom with tissues keeps them from wiping their noses on their sleeves (this is why military uniforms have buttons on the sleeves, FYI – they had the same problem). But now that every kid is using tissues rather than messing up their noses and sweaters, they need a way to stock the room. Let’s divide the cost evenly by making everyone contribute to the Tissue Fund!
And the Protractor Fund! (I shit you not, in 7th grade we were to buy 2 protractors, and if we ever broke/lost ours, we would get a random replacement from “the bin”).
And the Loose Leaf Paper Fund!
And the Binder Fund! (Same with protractors…if a binder spontaneously combusted, we could get a replacement from the pile of binders we were asked to buy at the beginning of the year).
I suppose this is supposed to teach kids how to be altruistic, but it always made me feel like a chump. I rarely got colds (I went straight to snot-free bronchitis and flu), so I never used the tissues. Whenever someone DID get up to blow their nose, it was usually one of the same 5 people. Most kids borrow loose-leaf from their friends when they run out, and then they go home and buy more. There was only ever one or two kids who would actually ask the teacher for some…and she would shame them for running out even while doling out the 2 or 3 sheets she would allow herself to part with, even though each child brought packs of 100 at the beginning of the year.
This pretty much reeks of communism, doesn’t it?
Anyway, so this communal supply bin really doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t sit well with Mark, either, per his comment:
How about a topic of how schools are supposed to be funded and why I have to pay to supply just not my kids but the teacher and other kids in the class?
As far as the “how schools are supposed to be funded” portion, I’m actually an advocate of a fee-based system. People think education is a right, and it’s not…it’s a privilege. If we want to do a per-household fee, where you don’t pay more than you can afford…well, whatever. Fine. I’m ambivalent, because if I ever have kids, I’d totally homeschool them. I don’t trust the public school system for a variety of reasons that I’m not going to bore you with right now.
This all, predictably, is rounding out with a “personal responsibility” slant. Once again, that’s my big pet peeve. When those lists are handed out, and kids see that they have to buy extra supplies for the classroom, they don’t feel anything, really. They might be embarrassed to have to carry a package of TP (no joke) on the bus that first day, or might feel like a mule with the load of pens and paper in their backpacks, but for the most part, it’s just not a big deal. Some parents are like, “Woo! This is great! If little Geoffrey Marcus runs out of pens, he can just ask the teacher, and she’ll dole them out!” Some are like mine: eye-rolling complacency, and a question: “Do you get them back at the end of the year if no one uses them?” (answer: no)
What a child will learn from this is that in order to be included, and in order to be allowed all the things the other kids are getting, they have to bring something to share. This is a nice lesson to learn in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. Not when you’re buying school supplies.
What should a child learn from school? How to work with others without being dependent. How to take responsibility for their own actions. How to take the things their parents teach them about life and apply them in one of the most volatile settings they’ll ever encounter. Seriously – school is one giant psychological experiment.
But back to money. Because it’s all about money.
Once you get to high school, this sort of thing tapers off. Teachers will often just steal toilet paper from the restrooms and tell kids to blow their noses on that. They’ll spend their personal money on supplies, and then if a kid loses something and asks for a replacement, the teacher charges them for that replacement. $5 for a protractor now, eh? This is a good way to encourage kids not to lose their supplies.
Hey, how about that…personal responsibility in action! On both the teachers’ part and the students’!
In the current society, with the way things are run now as far as public education, I don’t think anything’s going to change. And I don’t really have a proposed solution, though the high school teachers have the right idea (and why can’t they just buy a bulk package of tissues? Seriously. $5, and it lasts FOREVER). But how do you translate that into elementary school, where kids are always chewing up their pencils and losing things and not realizing the value of that textbook they have in their grubby little paws? Sure, you can fine them at the end of the year, but parents pay that cost, too.
Where does “communism” end and “personal responsibility” begin?
When is it appropriate to say to a kid, “When you have a cold, bring your own personal package of tissues to keep in your desk”?
And will we ever be able to do that, as more and more parents are depending on their child’s teachers to be babysitters? Probably not.
So, as a waaaay shortened summary: You have to pay because it’s too hard to try to answer those questions I just asked. If they could be answered, we’d have a more specific system in place. But how specific and specialized can we get? Where do we draw the line?
How does everyone else feel about this issue? Or have you even thought about it?