Who knew school supplies were so controversial? A Facebook post by an Austin, Texas, news station revealed comment after comment from resentful parents confused by the nature of the items on their kids' list, irritated at the specificity of the supplies or angry that their purchases would end up being shared with the class.
Frankly, I'm appalled at the attitudes that some parents are displaying toward their children's education and those who are trying to do nothing but teach them. When did we all get so disenchanted with the world that we started hoarding our children's crayons? How is it that we raise our children to share, do good, be considerate of others, but then we become outraged at a list of common supplies?
What is on the list?
I reviewed the list for my two kindergarteners and didn't see anything too out of the ordinary: a ream of copy paper, three boxes of crayons, two glue sticks, among other things. Still some say that supply lists are getting out of hand. Students are asked to bring in items with strict color, size or number specifications.
AllParenting editor Laura Willard was surprised that she was asked to buy 15 brand-specific glue sticks as part of the list for her daughter's Kindergarten class. "I know that the teachers need the supplies, and they definitely should not have to buy them," she says, "but I have no idea how a class of 24 kids needs 360 glue sticks for a year! I had no issue with buying the long list of supplies and I made sure my kids' teachers knew I'd happily bring in additional items as the need arises over the year, but I do think the long list of supplies left many parents wondering how they're used."
The truth is the kids and teachers will go through these supplies and then some. According to Reba Mussey, an assistant principal at an elementary school in a suburban district in Central Texas, students run out of supplies, misplace them or leave them on the bus or who knows where else. It's extremely common for teachers to run short on supplies before the year's end, and then items start coming out of the teachers' pockets, after the school's meager budget has been exhausted.
How are the supplies used?
We're used to the idea of each student keeping their own supplies in their desk or locker, and for the upper grades, that's exactly how it works. However, parents of younger elementary children are crying foul that their child is asked to bring three boxes of crayons — three! — when they can only use one at a time. And that makes sense. But if you think about the nature of the kindergarten classroom, it makes more sense that supplies are pooled into bins for community use at tables and stations. Not to mention the fact that asking a 5-year-old to keep up with a box of supplies is akin to getting your cat to bring in the newspaper. It's also worth noting that a box of crayons during back-to-school season costs around $.50. Not exactly breaking the bank for most parents.
But what about the top of the line, name brand crayons you bought for your child? Why should those have to go into the pool with the lesser crayons that someone else may have bought? Well, that's why schools ask for specific brands, counts and sizes. "Some kids argue and complain when they have something different than others," explains Mussey. "If we can be as consistent as possible for all kids to have the same thing, there is less instructional time wasted on discussing the differences in school supplies each of us have."
Bottom line, keep the special glittery crayons at home for personal use.
Sharing is caring
One of the most disturbing complaints I've seen from parents on social media is the unwillingness to pool their children's supplies or to provide items that are clearly for the teachers' use. Some even refused to send the entire list of requested items, informing the teacher that they would send supplies "as needed." And thus conveniently placing their child in the middle of a parent/teacher disagreement.
Others point the finger at someone else, blaming parents who can't buy the proper school supplies because obviously they wasted it on beer and cigarettes. Personally I tend not to make sweeping, childish generalizations about someone's financial situation until I've taken an extensive look inside their bank statements.
Socioeconomic standings vary between various school districts across the country, but practically every district is going to have a number of students who cannot afford the supplies requested. Districts in and around Austin are fortunate to have school supply drives where items are donated by local businesses and the community organizations. Volunteers put together boxes of items for students in need, estimating how many each school might use.
Unfortunately not all schools have that luxury. Katie Sluiter, a high school teacher in an urban district in Michigan, has a long wish list of common items needed for her classroom: notebook paper, dry erase markers, a calendar. And a lot of it will go unfulfilled. In an article she wrote for Borderless News and Views, Sluiter states, "Teachers all over the country are busy trying to figure classroom supplies into their family budgets. Many, like myself, have part-time jobs on the side to help deflect the costs, but it still piles up."
What can parents do?
What should parents do if they are concerned about an outlandish (to them) supply list? If I were to answer that question, I would say, "Deal with it, and stop complaining." Fortunately Mussey has a much more constructive approach.
"Ask questions. Most schools are willing to work with parents to help them understand the reasons behind decisions that are made."
And when asked what parents can do to help their educators?
"Volunteer, support, help, be present and available for your child and in their education."
Sounds easy enough to me.