Why Johnny Can’t Write? He can’t afford designer pencils.

It’s that time of the year again, when I vent about the ridiculous level of mind-numbing ineptness and lack of reasonableness invoked in the name of education. You know it as The School Supplies Scam.

That’s right, I’m calling Bar-S Baloney on the notion that the education of our children requires the complete and utterly devoid of common sense purchase of supplies and materials to enable educators to properly equip them for future roles in society.
Why does this continue to happen? Fortunately it seems this year that there has beens some recognition of the economic fraility that impacted many (albeit, about 4yrs too late). But still as I look to the list of supplies I’m troubled by what appears to be a non-collaborative, hackneyed process with no sensitivity to economy or practicality. Even worse than the economic impact is the societal impact on children who may not have the financial means to purchase name brand supplies, much less in bulk. And so without further ado, I give you my Top 4 School Supply List Pet Peeves.
  • Glue Sticks. Seriously, why in the world do kids need 6 glue sticks for a 9 1/2 -month school year?! I’d like to think I’m a fairly attentive dad. Can’t recall any of my children bringing home anywhere near enough glitter-festoned sheets of construction paper to convince me there isn’t some nauseating glue-eating or other misuse going on somewhere. I was told once that they are placed into a common basket for the entire class to use, which makes the quantity look even more ridiculous. If abuse is that rampant, teach the little munchkins how to use a stapler instead (a valuable life skill) and ditch the glitter.
  • Brand name anything. I can be a real spend thrift and have always been puzzled by the insistence some educators have on specific brands of everything from crayons to erasers. Really? Are you that much of an school supply expert that you cringe at the very thought of a child using a Great Value Box o’ Crayons or generic eraser? Come on now. This smacks of insensitivity and/or laziness but probably won’t change unless someone creates a movie and gets some celebrity to make a PSA.
  • Loose leaf paper vs spiral bound notebooks. Let me get this straight: for this class the educator wants a 1″ notebook with college-ruled loose leaf paper, but the class down the hall insists on multiple 70-page wide-ruled spiral bound notebooks. Oh and there’s the professor who will mark you down a 1/2 letter grade if you set foot in the classroom with anything other than a Composition Notebook? Good gravy. Make.It.Stop.
  • Too many lists. Here’s a suggestion that will be ignored, but I’m on a roll: use one of those April/May “Teacher In-Service” sessions to review the draft of everyone’s supply lists and come up with a base set of supplies that cover 3 or 4 grades. Again, I don’t think there is any reason why a 6th grader and an 8th grader would have such a chasm between tools necessary for the educator to fulfill their role.

Now let me be the first (or perhaps second – Kanye seems to be the first at everything) to say that I appreciate the hard work and dedication most teachers bring to their craft. As in any profession, there are some who seemingly phone it in. I think they draw the short straw for coming up with these lists. Here are a few suggestions on how this can be improved.

  • Group Buying. Surely this warrants just as much consideration as pies, pizzas, and candy bars when considering ways to peddle stuff to parents. Maybe the parent organization, athletic boosters or some other quasi-governmental group would jump at the chance to work with the educators to plan out the supplies for the next school year and figure out a way for group buying and/or creating kits for purchase that would save everyone time and money.
  • Use the Web. Rather than sending home papers that will get lost during the summer months or wasting paper by printing lists for distribution at all of the stores, why not post them to the web? Even better, use Google Docs, Evernote or OneNote to make it easy for parents to keep them on their mobile phone or tablet.
  • Listen to your community. I’d like to see more opportunity for parents to participate in how these lists are created, to the extent that there be a chance for educators to explain the purpose behind some of the asks. At the very least, there needs to be more thought put into what is needful.

In today’s economy and highly competitive job market parents and educators need to use every opportunity made available to them to inform and educate our children. It would seem to me that the determination of, purchase, and use of school supplies is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of principles that will be used throughout the rest of ones life: budget, collaboration, rational thinking, and economics.