Have you seen them? Are you one of them?
All across the country, millions of parents, more often than not with children in tow, have descended upon stores and shops in search of coveted school supplies. If you’re not one of them and think that sounds like an easy task, think again. Many of today’s students are given a laundry list of very specific items to bring into the classroom, ranging from the classic wooden ruler to allergy-free wet wipes. The length of some lists rivals the size of the parchment on which the Declaration of Independence was written.
According to figures recently released by the National Retail Federation, back-to-school spending in America will reach an astonishing $47.5 billion this year. Families with children in grades between kindergarten and high school average $548.72 as compared to those with kids in college, who spend, on average, $618.12 getting them ready for another year in the classroom.
That’s a lot of pencils and notebooks.
There is, of course, a “cost of doing business” when it comes to kids and school. Plus, the “averages” we read and hear about every year are always somewhat suspicious to me. In reality, they’re inflated by subjective and discretionary spending and certainly driven up by those with expensive tastes and maybe even demanding children who are begging for the latest fashion or piece of cool technology.
But getting ready for school has come a very long way (what hasn’t?) since I was a kid in the 1960s and ‘70’s in Southern California. Back then, I can remember coming home from the first day of class with a stack of textbooks and a pretty modest shopping list. We were told to cover the books, which we did, with discarded brown paper grocery sacks. We were expected to have a few Marble notebooks, some loose-leaf paper, a pencil and later, a pen, a few erasers and a small bottle of Elmer’s glue. Easy. Cheap. No big deal.
How times have changed. Several weeks ago, our boys, Trent and Troy, were given advanced notice during the summer months about the long list of supplies they were going to need for the school year. They were expected to show up with a year’s worth of No. 2 pencils, boxes of wet wipes, along with Ziploc baggies, several boxes of tissues, a wooden ruler, 1″ binders in three colors, 2″ binders in navy blue only, several green, blue and white folders and a half dozen glue sticks.
There was much more stuff on the list, but this gives you an idea. In order to comply and stave off expulsion, Jean and I piled the boys in the car one Saturday afternoon, packed a suitcase and a cooler, a few maps and a compass and set off with the gritty determination of Vasco de Gama. By late night, bruised, exhausted and wrung out, the family arrived back at the house with the trunk filled with all the necessary supplies. A successful venture!
Though we were the beneficiaries of good timing, not everyone was so fortunate. As we moved from store to store, the saddest part of the adventure was seeing exhausted mom’s sighing loudly when they realized there were no more No. 2 pencils in the whole store. Then the next sigh, as the 1″ binder was also missing from the shelves. Frustration was rampant.
In response to these demands, several companies are selling “supply packs” stocked with all of the required material. One-stop shopping. Not a bad idea.
Only in America.
All kidding aside, it’s my understanding the reason students are required to bring all these items is due to the fact that school budgets just simply don’t have any room for what was once considered standard operating fare. As a result, if the kids don’t bring it, teachers, most underpaid and living on thin margins, are left to foot the bill. None of us want that to happen.
But as taxpayers and parents, we’d be wise to consider where all the federal and state money is going when it comes to our schools. During the last ten years, educational spending has continued to skyrocket. Politicians love to talk about “investing in our children” by funneling more and more revenue into the public school system. Yet, is spending more money going to result in better-educated children? History suggests otherwise.
Rarely is more money the answer to most problems—in school or in life.
For now, our home is awash in No. 2 pencils, one tired mother, two excited boys and one proud father.
If you have children heading back to school—whether in your own home or in the brick building down the street, please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can help here at Focus on the Family. We have excellent parenting resources as well as books and CD’s and DVD’s that might appeal to the student in your home. It would be our privilege to do so.
Here are five valuable articles to get you started:
- “Help Your Child Succeed in Public School”
- “When Your Child is Bullied”
- “Parents’ Role in Homework”
- “Choosing Your Home School Curriculum”
- “Boost Curiosity and Thinking Skills”