Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rant: Back to School Shopping

When I was a kid, back to school shopping was fun. My mom would take me to Wal-Mart, and I would tool around quietly, buying the Crayola crayons 64 pack (the biggest one they had when I was a kid), a few Lisa Frank folders and a bitchin' Trapper Keeper. If I was supremely lucky, she would then take me to Sanrio Surprises in the Kingsport Mall and buy me a backpack with Hello Kitty on it. All my pencils came from my mom's office and from gift stores at the beach (that was always my souvenir). These purchases would be made effortlessly, happily even, and then I would go home and organize my stuff, vowing that his would be the year that I actually used those little reinforcements and kept my stuff securely and perfectly in the Trapper Keeper. My mom would be pretty effortless in the whole thing too--it wasn't terribly expensive and she didn't have to do much--just push the cart around and admire the rainbow-hued dolphins on my folder.

School shopping today is nothing like this. School shopping today is more akin to say, having your intestines ripped out through your ear. Yesterday, I took my kids school shopping. We walked into the Target all fresh faced and happy, having just eaten a refreshing lunch at Chili's (where they serve fresh pineapple with the kids meals and have more options than just chicken tenders--yea for Chili's!). Two hours and $160 dollars later, we walked out, defeated, sad and tired. My kids had gotten a few things they wanted--Spiderman lunchbox and backpack for Sam, locker materials for Gab (sniff, sniff, yes my baby gets a locker this year), but mostly we had purchased things that were on their "school supply lists." "School supply lists," I've discovered, were probably dreamed up in a joint conglommeration between Scott Disick and Atila the Hun. Yes, they seem all idyllic and perfect, and I can see their use--the kids get what they need for the classroom, not a bunch of superfluous junk, and the teacher is able to come up with plans that use those items. But. BUT. When you are spending over $80 just to purchase the things on the list, there is a problem. When your sixth grader has four teachers, and thus FOUR seperate lists, there is a problem. I effectively purchased Gabby more supplies yesterday for a year in the SIXTH GRADE than I did for my entire high school experience. For one class, she had to have a 3 inch binder (the cheapest they had was $10) with 2 packs of filler paper and a five subject notebook, among other interesting things. What exactly is she going to write in this class? A sequel to War in Peace? A biography of Proust spelled out in pictograms?

That is not even to mention the amount of time it takes to find all of those things. Especially when you are in a crowded Target with a bunch of other woebegone parents who look like prisoners of war. Especially when your infant daughter just learned to make this noise that can only be described as the cry of the hounds of Hell as they rip out your soul and she insists on making it every 2 minutes or so, always with this big grin so you're not sure whether to fall to ground covering your ears crying or praise her for being so cute and inventive. Especially when you thought this was going to be a fun day and you thought you might even score a dress or a nice cardigan at Target and now your husband is frantically adding stuff up on his cell phone and looking as if he might cry/start a revolution/start trying to eat pencils to smuggle them out unseen so the idea of the dress is now completely and totally massacred.

The other thing that really irked me was that we spent a lot of time (and money) buying disinfecting wipes and sandwich bags and hand sanitizer and Kleenex for the classroom. I have absolutely no problem with the teachers requesting these items--kids need to have these things around, and come flu season, I'm really going to appreciate it. What peeves me is that these items should be provided by the school system. Now, I'm not going to go into too much detail here because the same school system does sign my paychecks (although I work at a high school, and if anyone wants hand sanitizer there, you best be buying it yourself and then having it surgically grafted onto your arm so that it will not be stolen and drank), but I'm pretty sure that each football team in the system could take a tiny financial hit (that they probably wouldn't even notice) and we could buy the teachers some sanitizer. Since I started working for the school system, I have seen the kind of egregious budgeting mishaps that come about at schools. And I think of all this when I'm loading down my shopping cart with dry erase markers for the teachers (yup). Imagine you had come home as a small child with a letter from the school asking your parents to pony up for chalk for the teachers. Wouldn't your parents have been a little, shall we say, quizzical?

And it worries me so about the kids who can't afford these things. In my work as a homeless student mentor, I gave all my students a binder with paper and then talked to them about good study skills, organizing, etc. That was the extent of their school supply. That was just part of my schtick. I can't imagine what they would do at the elementary level when there is so much that they need. Even backpack drives just furnish kids with backpacks--they don't look individually at the list and make sure that if the needy kid has to have a 3 subject notebook instead of a 5 that they are getting it. Or maybe they do, and I'm just not aware of the right ones. It is just so sad that so many kids have not even started school, and they are already behind. I am thinking of calling the school on Monday to see if there is a kid that they know of that I can adopt and purchase his/her items as on the list. Sigh.

I guess this is all just part of my incredible unrest with the educational system, especially in the area where I currently live. I have discovered, though, that there is no "perfect" school--there is always going to be something that you don't like, so you just have to deal. But. I am really starting to realize why people homeschool, and that is really starting to look like a viable option. I think if I lived in a more urban area and was able to join so sort of homeschooling group so that my kids still go social interaction, I would already have done it. I don't know. Maybe I'm just grumpy because my fun day did not come to fruition. Maybe I just need to go back to Target and buy that dress.

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