school supplies

pencils

School days, school days

“Dear child, take my plastic to pay” days

You’ll learn reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic

With supplies so boring they’ll make you sick

MoT‘s Ministry For Nostalgia And Regret recently filed a landmark study on the state of school-supply shopping in the United States that reveals the dismal outlook for America’s schoolchildren.  Historically, the one single solitary joy of facing the advent of another school year has been hunting for and purchasing the goods that will brighten a student’s day in between all the lectures that prep her for the end-of-year standardized tests.  Readers of a certain vintage will, no doubt, remember the small thrill of selecting a shiny new folder bearing the smiling image of Kermit the Frog or Peter Frampton wielding his talking guitar, or the delight of deciding between the pencils that write in multiple colors or the ones that smell like bubblegum.

Like mandatory art programs and term papers based on reading actual books, those sweet days are long gone.

Based on exhaustive research (extrapolated from the case study of MoT‘s junior staffers’ back-to-school readiness requirements), the Ministry can decisively state the perilous condition of the American education system.  The problem?  As with the rise of the standardized test, school supplies are now stringently homogenized.  School Boards provide a list that stipulates not only what supplies to purchase, but their exact model, number and color.  The No-Choice political faction has won, and most of Us did not even realize there was a war: a war for our children’s future!

Maybe No Child will be Left Behind, but his happy panda notebook surely must be.  And don’t even think about those Smurf binders: they are as welcome in the in classroom as Jamie Oliver is in the school cafeteria.  And the cool mechanical pencils that would have saved your darling all those trips to the sharpener?  Confiscated like a bottle of contraband Bayer Chewables.

This issue demands attention because, although a school district’s directives to parents to purchase a certain number and kind of spiral notebooks (five, in each of the hues of the color wheel except purple), pencils (No. 2, yellow, with eraser) and two-pocket folders (plain, no decoration, same number and colors as the notebooks) are not terrible in and of themselves, the real problem is that the poor children of this great nation are missing out on an exceptionally important right of passage and developmental milestone.  Children are dressed and housed and carted around by grown-ups who make most of the aesthetic choices in their lives (the clothes, the bedspreads, the bikes).  Back in the day, Peanuts characters, funny felines (the hang in there, baby! cat being the proto-LOL kitty), Leif Garrett and monster trucks were all fair game in this ceremony of exercising one’s taste for the very first time, and in a setting that was just about as public and judgemental as could be.  School supplies are one of the places where kids should be able to go nuts–making their own selections, and taking the products away to some other place where the parents don’t have to face the acres of Hello Kitty that dear miss can cart off to school instead.  School supplies should be a first, furtive display of self, the building and defending of an ego which is way too coddled due to other breakdowns in our educational system.  Like the air-brushed Pegasus leaping through a rainbow that gave certain of our grade school classmates the wings to soar through Science class, another’s three-ring binder sporting heroic Jedi was not just a favored design, but indeed a pronouncement to the world: I am here!  And with my Luke Skywalker folder the Force WILL be with me in third-period Algebra!

Making the choice of one image or another forces the exercise of Taste, which is a concern for all age brackets; sadly the American elementary education system is not nearly concerned enough with this developmental issue.  Granted, many of the folders, notebooks, binders and such that were hauled from home to school and back again in terrible taste.  But it takes practice to get taste right; perhaps we are all born with a little crudeness that needs to get worn out through the mistakes bad decision-making and the resultant public critique and shame for choosing poorly.  And for the sake of the rest of us, that needs to happen the sooner the better.  That’s why it is of paramount importance to allow children to have their ugly school supplies, in the hopes that they will get used to the idea of having personal opinion on matters of aesthetics, to avoid maturity as an adult with no preferences save a mediocre status quo.  The current system, in which bland products are dictated to our children promises generations of Applebee’s-munching, Hyundai Sonata-driving, Rachel Ray-watching, khaki pants-wearing automatons.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: Caught indoctrinating our children to use pink erasers, and pink erasers only? Could be.

This would not be an issue if this was the policy of one of the scary commie countries that we are supposed to fear.  But this is America!  Where is our leadership in Washington?  The US Department of Education is no help at all: just try searching “personal taste” and “school supplies” in their press releases (really, you can do this right here): there’s nothing!  And that’s not how it ought to be: crummy, boring, mediocre school supplies just like everyone else has is just not what the Framers had in mind.  Do you think anyone ever told Benjamin Franklin he couldn’t have that Roller Disco folder in home room?  The Ministry rests its case.

So what’s a concerned parent to do, especially when it’s so hard to know where to turn for help?  MoT first considered this a free-speech issue and immediately sought the ACLU, but then reconsidered: what if the ACLU overheard MoT‘s CEO encouraging the junior staffers to consider a folder featuring Han Solo rather than General Grievous: would we all end up in court?  (Unfortunately lawyers from the ATLU [American Tasteful Liberties Union] would be no match for the ACLU attorneys, seeing as ATLU’s law studies rest solely on watching episodes of Law and Order when Jill Hennessy used to be on the show.)  Then we wondered about getting Glenn Beck and his Magical Chalkboard of Stunning Insight on the case.  If there’s a conspiracy here, you know he (with just some chalk, 30 minutes and a few Kleenex tissues) will get to the bottom of it.  But, chalk is an irritant that can trigger asthma attacks and is thus prohibited by the school district, which has gone all-white board, which may prove too slippery even for Glenn.

So if we are stuck with school supplies even more boring than the classes we are stuck taking, do any glimmers of hope remain in this time of hopelessness?  Are there any last avenues open for our children’s self-expression and school-day joy?  Yes! They haven’t thought of making any demands of lunch boxes.  Yet.

Strength & Beauty, Truth & Justice, Cuff Bracelets & Tall Boots, Peanut Butter & Jelly: That's what We call the American Way.


Huge regrets and apologies to Will Cobb and Gus Edwards, who penned the original “School Days” song in 1907.

This post is dedicated to MoT‘s junior staffers, who are super tasty, in spite of their school district’s draconian school supply policy.


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2 thoughts on “school supplies

  1. OK, right on. But now the question is, what’s behind all this well meaning silliness? Surely not the fine folks at Mead, purveyors of the Trapper Keeper, etc.. Or is this just a warmup for your 12,000 word excursus on modern educational theory in general?
    Either way, in the short term, a couple of new Sharpies will brighten up the covers of those spiral notebooks nicely.

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