“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

It used to be the chant of June liberation when I was a kid – and likely it still is,  just one of the many defiant little rituals that constituted the love-hate relationship with the school year.  For the socially inept, school meant navigating the minefield of the hall locker society, where those square pegs that could not fit easily into the nice round holes of the strict youth caste system were relentlessly hammered.  Nevertheless I loved school.  I loved class; the new school booklist, the cup of newly sharpened pencils and the clean lined lettering paper.  It made crossing the fire of between-class transitions bearable.

When I was an elementary school kid,  basic classroom supplies were provided.  We gathered into our groups around the table and were dispensed a new-sharpened fat pencils and a writing tablet on which we painstakingly formed our letters by rote.  For art class, the shiny art paper and paint appeared, each child with a different color that we were expected to share with our neighbors, and the communal cup of quickly-dingied rinse water.    Our reading books were issued at the beginning of each new section, sometimes new, but more often passed from year to year.  We quickly opened the front covers to see whose book we had inherited, which of our friend’s older sisters or brothers had left their doodles in the margins of the pages.

Having put so much temporal distance between my school years and having my son, my awareness of the subtle decline of the classroom supply concept was non-existant, until I started noting the classroom supply lists posted in the local Walmart at the start of each new school year.  Our primary school websites offer the “option” of donating the money directly to the school for the issuance of a supply pack on the child’s first day, containing all the anointed educational necessities.  Textbook fees as early as middle school are commonplace.

I was stunned.

I grew up poor, one of six siblings and half-siblings, and a product of the New York public schools.  Everything I have now, I owe to the public educational system, the great class equalizer.  The fact that I can afford to buy new clothes and backpacks and shoes AND school supplies for my son every Fall is predicated on the fact that my parents were NOT required to provide them for me.  My pencils looked like everyone else’s pencils.  I took my crayons from the communal box.   My notebooks were of the same black compositional cover as the girl from across the tracks (literally) in more affluent Chili.  The idea of my own potential as being just as limitless, my access just as justified, was not diminished early by what basic equipment I could afford to have in my desk.

We have systematically dismantled public access to decent basic education in this country.  My sister is a teacher in an impoverished district, and often purchases hundreds of dollars in supplies over the school year for those children whose parents either cannot afford them, or are too strung out to care.  She is giving them probably their only chance at breaking the class cycle and making their lives, and the lives of their children better, and she is doing it on an elementary teacher’s salary.   I am very proud of my sister, but this is not something she should have to do in a society that, even now in this financial downturn, is one of the most economically prominent in the world.  Somehow we have become so successfully affluent as a society that we have decided that we can afford to ignore an enormous pool of potential, a resource that was recognized and acknowledged by the founders of this country themselves.  We have abandoned the have-nots.  We have cemented class, not just in the hallways, but in the classroom itself.

“No more pencils, no more books…” has become less a cry of vernal freedom, and more a sad fact of schoolyear life.

Feed the Children has recognized that a child needs more than food for his belly, but hope for a better future.  An $18 donation can provide a backpack of school supplies, personal care items and healthy snacks for a homeless school child.  Give back that chance, that feeling that as children, our future is limitless, and can be fueled by a love of learning and a daydream of hope.  Help send the message to these kids that WE believe that we all have a place, if we want to claim it, if we will work to make it so.

August 31st, 2009 at 10:06 am
5 Responses to “No more pencils, no more books…”
  1. 1

    So – where the HELL are my tax dollars going? I PAY taxes so the we can have decent roads, and informed electorate, and bomb people we don’t like.

    One out of three is not ok.


  2. 2
    gerbil Says:

    We do a similar program and supply collection here at my worksite, in addition to volunteering at the local schools. It should be criminal instead of shrugged off as a fact of life. Everyone harps on No Child Left Behind, which is a great sentiment, but how is that going to happen when there aren’t the resources and teachers are forced to purchase what they need to do their jobs? I could go for hours on this.

  3. 3
    Pinkpelican Says:

    It’s not just school supplies. For years I’ve listened to co-workers who tell stories about schools sending notes home with kids requiring funds for things like paper towels and toilet paper. I have friends who have had to “have words” with their kids’ school administrators about harassing their kids during class because mom and dad haven’t sent money.

    No Child Left Behind is a big steaming pile of fail. Every teacher I’ve talked to gets frothy at the mouth over this. The kids have to take tests which are used to evaluate school progress … tests that have no implications for the kids (don’t affect how they are taught, what they are taught, don’t evaluate the students’ weak or strong points, they are simply used to measure school performance). So teachers spend ridiculous amounts of time teaching kids to take these tests rather than teaching them substantive information, or HOW to learn, or the JOY of learning. Plus, the older kids know that they will suffer no repercussions, so teachers they don’t like may find themselves in trouble when the test scores for their classes do a nose-dive, and it may be totally unrelated to the capabilities of the teachers.

    Additionally, teachers say they aren’t allowed to hold kids back who aren’t performing like they should be, so we are graduating more and more kids totally unprepared for college, for the labor market, etc.

    Oh, and all of this crap? Unfunded by the federal government.

    I DESPISE NCLB, because I am convinced it does not achieve what it should … children who are well educated and have the skills they need to be competent voters and responsible, contributing adults. Of course, in my more paranoid moments, I wonder if that isn’t the point. If you don’t teach kids to think, they will become adults easily swayed by fear, rumor, suggestion, and lies.

    Oh, sorry. Rant button. I will go back to work now.

  4. 4

    NCLB wasn’t a deliberate effort to tank the education system, just a desparate attempt to measure it. The electorate is chanting “fix the schools, fix the schools,” but without an objective measurement, how can you know your baseline? Or if you’ve improved?

    I’m good at the questions. It’s the answers at which I suck.


  5. 5
    Maysun Says:

    I’m a product not just of public education, but a parental unit who was a teacher/principal/superintendent before retirement. I work at a university with an excellent education college where a lot of exciting research is done. I am also the mother of a three-year-old. So, NCLB (which educators do froth at the mouth about) and the state of education is something I have contemplated on a regular basis.

    There was a great study done by a professor here that found that some of the best performing schools in the country were the ones on the military bases run by the DoD. Yes, they had a standardized curriculum (so students being transferred when mom/dad moved bases would be in the same place as their old school), but what the study found was the crucial difference was astounding in its simplicity. PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT.

    Because of the culture at the bases, parents tended to know one another and the teachers much better than your “typical” public school. They were also much more involved in communicating and volunteering with the schools. They knew more about what their child was or was not doing and were more likely to be addressing issues at home as well as at school.

    IMHO, nothing can replace a parent who cares about and is involved in his/her child’s education. And too many parents can’t/won’t do that today.