When I was a little kid, one of my favorite days of the year (besides Christmas Day) was the day the newspaper posted the list of required school supplies, and Mom took us to the drug store to buy them.
I loved looking at that list, and Mom always let me put the little checkmark beside the items as we put them in our basket.
Prang paints. Check. Paint pan. Check. Rectangular eraser. Check. Blunt-tipped scissors. Check. Etc. Check.
On the first day of school, I loved bringing my beautiful shiny school supplies into my new classroom, and I loved arranging them all inside my desk. I loved to look inside my desk and just savor the sight: all those cool things I could draw with and paint with and write with. . . and they were mine, all mine, and nobody else could touch my things unless I gave them permission. Me. I was the boss of my desk things. I took such pride in my school supplies, and mine were usually still looking pretty good even at the end of the year. They were mine, you see, and I had a vested interest in them; therefore, I took pains to take care of them. Back then, down in lower elementary, the school supplied only the special fat pencils and the weird orange pens. Oh, and that huge jar of smelly paste that bore the germs of generations past. . . .
When my own children were little, I looked forward to Buying School Supplies Day with just as much delight as I did when I was a little kid. New binders. New pencils. And the most fun of all, choosing the new lunchbox. My own children loved the new school supplies, too. I think it is of vital importance that all children have their own school supplies; it is the beginning of them learning the pride of possession and the importance of caring for one’s own things in order to keep them for any length of time.
It’s not like that in many schools nowadays. Many teachers do not allow their students to have their own supplies now; the little sack of a child’s very own things is taken from the child on that first day, and dumped into the community pot for all the kids to dip into and out of. There are no “my scissors,” there is only a rack or box of scissors for everyone. “Look, there are my scissors; my name is engraved on them; I wish I could use them but they’re so cool, other kids grab them first every time. . . .” There are no more personalized pencils or a child’s favorite cartoon character pencils to use and handle carefully; there is only a big bucket of chewed-on germ-covered pencils grabbed at and used by everybody in the room.
And since nothing belongs to anybody, who cares about taking good care of them?
I fully understand that the community pot of supplies is much easier for a teacher to control. I wasn’t, however, aware of the fact that teacher convenience was any kind of issue here. I taught in the public schools for 26 years and I never expected things to happen for the convenience of me; that wasn’t why I was there.
I fully understand, too, that some children’s little sack of supplies won’t be as individualized or cool as another child’s sack of supplies. I know for a sad fact that some children will never have their own little sack of supplies, at least, not one brought from home. That’s life; that should not even be an issue. Some children’s shoes aren’t as cool, either; do we throw shoes in a box and let the kids take pot luck with those, too? I understand that in some classrooms, a child’s packed lunch is sometimes taken apart and certain things confiscated or distributed, lest some child have a treat that another child doesn’t have. (this actually happened to both my children, and more than once!) When my kids were in grade school, my mother would occasionally stop by at lunch time with a Happy Meal for them – and for me! – and I was told this had to stop because other children didn’t have that option. Well, you know what, my children were often envious of another child’s dress or shoes or lunch or cool pen, but I would never have tried to ensure that other children would never be able to have anything my own kids couldn’t have. Good grief. Such insanity!
Teachers should keep an eye out for those kids who don’t have supplies, and the school should supply them, but after that point, they become the child’s own and he/she should be required to take good care of them, just as any and every kid should be required to take care of his/her things. Children who take good care of their things should not be required to supply children who had their own things but didn’t take care of them properly. As a little child, I was horrified at the thought, and as a parent, I’m even more horrified. It was like a reward for being negligent! Every year, I donate tons of school supplies to my neighbor’s children’s school; I’m delighted to do this, and I recommend this to all of you. Perhaps, if schools have enough donated supplies, our little children will be allowed to keep their very own supplies once again.
I think most people would be happy to donate a full set of school supplies for children whose families couldn’t afford them. I would, and I do. But I fully expect my donated school supply set to be given to an individual child and become his/her very, very own, carefully tended, appreciated, and lovingly used school supplies. If each parent, or each parent who was able, donated a complete set or two each year, I’m betting the school itself wouldn’t have as big a burden in supplying freebies to needy kids. But community bins containing chewed-on, drooled-on, broken-on-purpose junk that everybody is required to dip into? Required? Absolutely not. No. NO.
A few bins for the forgetful or temporary lack might be a good thing, but the option to keep one’s very own stuff to oneself should be upheld, too.
When I was a child, I had very little that was my very own. Everything that was supposedly mine was expected to be shared with anybody else in the house that wanted it at any given moment. But at school? In my desk, in my very own desk, were things that were inviolably mine, and I can not even describe for you the sensations that went through me when I looked at those things that my teacher had ruled were mine and only mine. Kids who violated another kid’s desk were quite properly labeled ‘thieves,’ and they soon learned what happens when a person put his hands on property that was not rightfully theirs.
Things are very different now. I hate it. The rare teacher who takes the time and trouble to allow his/her students to have their things is often castigated by the other teachers who are taking the easy ‘community property’ route – or being forced to by an administrator. Kids are sharing more than gluesticks and pencils, too; I don’t even want to THINK about the incredible pot-o-germs they’re dipping into daily. Gross. My child using a pencil some other child gnawed? I guess so, because teachers who don’t want to bother with a child’s private property are forcing the kids to dump it all in the pot for everybody to use. “Don’t be selfish.” “Share.” Well, you know what? I don’t like that kind of forced sharing. I had to share everything, EVERYTHING, and that little pile of school supplies was my only private stash of anything. I do not feel it was selfish, or is selfish, to want to keep school supplies that were carefully chosen, to oneself. Children who have their own things learn to respect the property of other children. Children with no concept of personal property tend to view the world as a buffet of free, unearned delights awaiting their grasping, grabbing hands. Both tend to grow into adults with the same concepts learned as children.
This business of everything being community property in the classroom causes problems in the upper levels, too. Junior high, high school, even college students, are expecting things to be available for them without any effort on their part. Upper level students come to class without pencils, erasers, paper, etc, because they’re used to having those things always available in some community bin somewhere in the room. They have never been required, or allowed, to maintain their own things, and now they don’t know how to. The stuff was always just THERE, for a student to help himself to. And now that they are supposed to maintain their own, they really don’t know how. Plus, why should they? HEY, I need a pencil, gimme one. Not that one, that other one there. Indeed,
Well, it worked down in the lower grades, with community property. You just get up and help yourself; everything in this room is for me, ain’t it? Gimme that pretty one, I want it.
But guess what, kids, it’s bad enough down in the lower grades, but it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work at all when you hit the upper grades. I’d like to have a penny for every hand that tried to help itself to things on my desk, because, well, they were there. I’ve even had students who opened my desk drawers, looking for supplies. Not poor kids who didn’t have any; just a kid who didn’t bring any and expected everything to be supplied because, well, down in the elementary, everything WAS. I have had COLLEGE STUDENTS look around the room expectantly, looking for the bucket of pencils and pile of paper.
Oh good grief, teachers or principals or boards or whoever has the authority, let the little kids keep their own things, put their names on them, and learn how to be responsible for them. Secondary teachers and future employers will greatly appreciate it.
I know that in some cases, it’s not the individual teacher’s decision – it’s a corporate mandate. This is even worse. It’s like a national plot to make future generations needy and dependent and reliant on others to fulfill all their needs. And don’t we already have more than enough of THOSE people?
Let me sum up, as Inigo Montoya would say: Community school supplies are wrong on every possible level. Period.
Parents, if I were you – and I am one of you – I’d buy the required community bin stuff at the dollar store instead of the overpriced educational supplies store in the strip mall that the school supplies newsletter instructs you to patronize. Send them to school and let them be dumped into the bins for mass consumption and germ sharing. Then you and your children go shopping and pick out individual supplies – favorite cartoons, personalized, Hello Kitty, Avengers – whatever your child likes. If your school informs you that it’s against their policy for any of the children to have their own supplies, you inform the school that you did your chipping in and now you’re seeing to it that your children have their very own things and that you expect your children’s very own things to harbor no germs except your own children’s germs, which will be considerable, but that’s another topic. What’s more, if your children come home and tell you that their very own supplies are not being respected and are in fact being accessed by others without permission of the owner, please hightail it down to the school and let them know what you think about that.
If I am privileged to supply individual children with supplies, however, I will buy them the best – personalized, if possible. No child should go without, and each child deserves the good stuff to be kept in his/her own desk to be used by only him/her. Generic supplies go in the bin; personalized supplies stay in the desk.
But stuff I know is going into a bin? Dollar store.
I am happy to see to it that all of the children in the room have adequate supplies, but I can’t stress strongly enough that each child needs and deserves to have his/her very own personal private stash of supplies that nobody else can ever touch. Maintaining one’s own personal things is a life lesson, and will benefit the child for the rest of his life.
Do I seem overly obsessed about this topic? Darn right. As a parent and as a teacher and as a former child, the very concept of community school supplies makes me so furious I become incoherent. Which is apparently happening right now so. . . .
Jane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison for Steve Spangler Science. She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.