Hands Off My Pencils or You'll Be Sorry

Mamacita says:

School will be starting soon – or maybe it already has – for most kids, and each year at about this time I like to re-run this post about an issue that really, really makes me want to kill somebody and put his/her head on a post in the WalMart parking lot bothers me a lot: community supplies in the classroom.

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 Crowder’s Drug Store to buy them.

I loved looking at that list, and Mom always let me be the one who got to 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.

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. I learned, to my horror and dismay, that 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 the scissors I picked out at Walmart; 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 on 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.   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.

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 own things is often castigated by the other teachers who are taking the easy ‘community property’ route. 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 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, Teach, gimme one. No, 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 evil 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.

Oh good grief, teachers, 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 more evil.  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 community bin stuff at the Dollar Tree 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 the good stuff.  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 don’t give a rat’s ass about such a policy; you did your chipping in and now you’re seeing to it that your children have their very own stuff and that you expect your children’s very own stuff 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 their rightful owners, you should high-tail it to that classroom and raise bloody hell.

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.

Do I seem overly obsessed about this topic?  Darn right.  The very concept of community school supplies makes me so furious I become incoherent.  Which is apparently happening right now so. . . .


Comments

Hands Off My Pencils or You'll Be Sorry — 30 Comments

  1. I love your post! This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. When I took my oldest son back to school shopping years ago, we had so much fun. He choose his supplies carefully and with pride. What a surprise it was to us when, on the first day of school, his box of Pokemon #2 pencils were dumped into a big community bucket. What?! That’s no fun! Since then, I have bought the same pair of scissors yearly for each of my children. They get dumped into the “scissors bucket”. I understand that pencils and glue sticks get used up, but…scissors? Each Fall we buy scissors for the classroom and they are not returned us. Yet, every year we must buy them again. Where do all the scissors go? These are the things I wonder about….sigh. Glad to hear that an educator share my old-fashioned opinion!

  2. I love your post! This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. When I took my oldest son back to school shopping years ago, we had so much fun. He choose his supplies carefully and with pride. What a surprise it was to us when, on the first day of school, his box of Pokemon #2 pencils were dumped into a big community bucket. What?! That’s no fun! Since then, I have bought the same pair of scissors yearly for each of my children. They get dumped into the “scissors bucket”. I understand that pencils and glue sticks get used up, but…scissors? Each Fall we buy scissors for the classroom and they are not returned us. Yet, every year we must buy them again. Where do all the scissors go? These are the things I wonder about….sigh. Glad to hear that an educator share my old-fashioned opinion!

  3. And since nothing belongs to anybody, who cares about taking good care of them?

    Exactly. Kinda the same argument why public restrooms are so dirty. When “everyone” owns it, no one takes care of it.

  4. And since nothing belongs to anybody, who cares about taking good care of them?

    Exactly. Kinda the same argument why public restrooms are so dirty. When “everyone” owns it, no one takes care of it.

  5. I’m thinking about your post and feeling a little puzzled by it. I’m still trying to work out what puzzles me.
    My experience in a New Zealand primary school (for 5 to 11 year old children) is this.
    We have stationery (exercise books, pencils, pens, erasers etc) in stock at school. This is issued to children as they need it and an account is sent out to the parents. These items are named and used by the child for whom they were bought.
    The school provides art supplies (paper, crayons, paints, glue and other consumables) as well as scissors. The quality of scissors is generally better than the kind available for children at stationery shops.
    It seems a good system. The costs are kept down as the school gets a bulk discount and books are only issued as they are used. The children have ownership of their own pencils and other materials, and art supplies can be purchased in bulk or bought for specific projects.
    Where there are families who find it hard to come up with the money, the school has the discretion to forgive the debt and/or request that materials are brought from home.
    I guess the children may miss out a bit on the joy of gathering all these resources together in a shopping spree before school begins and items are not so personalised.
    There are pros and cons, no doubt, and other New Zealand primary schools do approach things differently.
    I think what I like about it as a teacher and a parent is that there is no drama involved. The children have what they need and they have ownership and a degree of responsibility for their own things.
    We’re all set up to get on with the business of learning, without too many niggles about the materials.
    That, I think, benefits teachers, children and parents alike.

  6. I’m thinking about your post and feeling a little puzzled by it. I’m still trying to work out what puzzles me.
    My experience in a New Zealand primary school (for 5 to 11 year old children) is this.
    We have stationery (exercise books, pencils, pens, erasers etc) in stock at school. This is issued to children as they need it and an account is sent out to the parents. These items are named and used by the child for whom they were bought.
    The school provides art supplies (paper, crayons, paints, glue and other consumables) as well as scissors. The quality of scissors is generally better than the kind available for children at stationery shops.
    It seems a good system. The costs are kept down as the school gets a bulk discount and books are only issued as they are used. The children have ownership of their own pencils and other materials, and art supplies can be purchased in bulk or bought for specific projects.
    Where there are families who find it hard to come up with the money, the school has the discretion to forgive the debt and/or request that materials are brought from home.
    I guess the children may miss out a bit on the joy of gathering all these resources together in a shopping spree before school begins and items are not so personalised.
    There are pros and cons, no doubt, and other New Zealand primary schools do approach things differently.
    I think what I like about it as a teacher and a parent is that there is no drama involved. The children have what they need and they have ownership and a degree of responsibility for their own things.
    We’re all set up to get on with the business of learning, without too many niggles about the materials.
    That, I think, benefits teachers, children and parents alike.

  7. I LOVE THIS POST! My daughter is going to school for the first time this year, this is my first experience with the American public school system as well. I AM APPALLED that my Kindergartener has to bring in so many damn supplies for the ‘community pot’ and I AM REFUSING to do it. Her name will be on everything, she’ll only bring what she will use to school, extras will stay AT HOME if she needs them she’ll get them… My mother when I told her about all this who teaches in the Canadian school system couldn’t believe what we had to supply teh school and teachers with and furthermore that supplies I buy wouldn’t be used only for my child.

    The school can hate me all they want but if I find the things I BUY HER on MY BUDGET are being used for the teacher or other children I will be down there throwing a fit. We work hard for our money and I want to supply my child with things, not the entire school, and the germ factor, especially this year with all the hub bub about the Swine Flu.. EVEN MORE of a reason to not ‘share’ supplies!

  8. I LOVE THIS POST! My daughter is going to school for the first time this year, this is my first experience with the American public school system as well. I AM APPALLED that my Kindergartener has to bring in so many damn supplies for the ‘community pot’ and I AM REFUSING to do it. Her name will be on everything, she’ll only bring what she will use to school, extras will stay AT HOME if she needs them she’ll get them… My mother when I told her about all this who teaches in the Canadian school system couldn’t believe what we had to supply teh school and teachers with and furthermore that supplies I buy wouldn’t be used only for my child.

    The school can hate me all they want but if I find the things I BUY HER on MY BUDGET are being used for the teacher or other children I will be down there throwing a fit. We work hard for our money and I want to supply my child with things, not the entire school, and the germ factor, especially this year with all the hub bub about the Swine Flu.. EVEN MORE of a reason to not ‘share’ supplies!

  9. I love this post-loved it from last year and love it more now. Hate the fact that it had to be written, though. Community school supplies are communistic and lead our kids to expect something for nothing. It’s a cruel, dehumanizing system. I’d buy your book, by the way.

  10. I love this post-loved it from last year and love it more now. Hate the fact that it had to be written, though. Community school supplies are communistic and lead our kids to expect something for nothing. It’s a cruel, dehumanizing system. I’d buy your book, by the way.

  11. In middle school, my son has found that the “hey, this belongs to all of us” attitude doesn’t necessarily begin and end at the teacher’s desk. Last year he was pencil supplier for some of his “friends.” They wouldn’t ask, either. They’d just dig in his backpack for supplies when he went up to the teacher’s desk to turn in work.

    So he stocked his backpack with the cheap, cartooney, dollar store stubs that we had around the house. He then kept the pencils he wanted to use (he’s partial to mechanical pencils) in his pockets. Good strategy, I suppose. Too bad he felt he had to hide his own supplies on his person.

  12. In middle school, my son has found that the “hey, this belongs to all of us” attitude doesn’t necessarily begin and end at the teacher’s desk. Last year he was pencil supplier for some of his “friends.” They wouldn’t ask, either. They’d just dig in his backpack for supplies when he went up to the teacher’s desk to turn in work.

    So he stocked his backpack with the cheap, cartooney, dollar store stubs that we had around the house. He then kept the pencils he wanted to use (he’s partial to mechanical pencils) in his pockets. Good strategy, I suppose. Too bad he felt he had to hide his own supplies on his person.

  13. The school system where I attended elementary school did not require people to buy their own school supplies. (Things are probably different now, since it’s been 42 yrs.) I suspect it was because we had a large number of poor people in the community. Anyway, as such, some (but not all) of the supplies were community (scissors, rulers, etc.) and others were not. The scissors were of especially poor quality, but EVERYONE had the crappy!

    We were given a few pencils per semester and if you needed more, you were supposed to bring from home. Crayons, modeling clay (not sure why we really needed this, but it was fun!) erasers and a few other things were our own and kept in our desks.

    Generally, art supplies like paints and paste were community. I don’t recall that we used watercolors much. We mostly used powdered tempera paint. The art teacher would mix up a batch and then have all the kids wanting to use a certain color sit by each other and share. We rarely used Elmer’s Glue, but if so, the teacher would put a glob on a piece of paper and we’d dab from it. More commonly, we used paste and, again, the teacher would portion it out from a large jar.

    Aaah, those were the days!

  14. The school system where I attended elementary school did not require people to buy their own school supplies. (Things are probably different now, since it’s been 42 yrs.) I suspect it was because we had a large number of poor people in the community. Anyway, as such, some (but not all) of the supplies were community (scissors, rulers, etc.) and others were not. The scissors were of especially poor quality, but EVERYONE had the crappy!

    We were given a few pencils per semester and if you needed more, you were supposed to bring from home. Crayons, modeling clay (not sure why we really needed this, but it was fun!) erasers and a few other things were our own and kept in our desks.

    Generally, art supplies like paints and paste were community. I don’t recall that we used watercolors much. We mostly used powdered tempera paint. The art teacher would mix up a batch and then have all the kids wanting to use a certain color sit by each other and share. We rarely used Elmer’s Glue, but if so, the teacher would put a glob on a piece of paper and we’d dab from it. More commonly, we used paste and, again, the teacher would portion it out from a large jar.

    Aaah, those were the days!

  15. that was SOP when my girls were in school. The first time it happened they were furious (they had firm opinions about crayons and sissors). So every year there after we went to the dollar store and bought the cheapest, crummiest supplies we could for the common pot. Then we went to the teacher supply store and got “the good stuff” which they took to school on the SECOND DAY of school. And kept in their desk or their backpack. And never shared. Which was fine with me. And them.

  16. that was SOP when my girls were in school. The first time it happened they were furious (they had firm opinions about crayons and sissors). So every year there after we went to the dollar store and bought the cheapest, crummiest supplies we could for the common pot. Then we went to the teacher supply store and got “the good stuff” which they took to school on the SECOND DAY of school. And kept in their desk or their backpack. And never shared. Which was fine with me. And them.

  17. I moved down from middle school social studies to elementary librarian. I was appalled that the middle school kids saw no problem with taking things off my desk. (But usually a given class only had that happen one time, because I HIT THE ROOF). I didn’t realize that supplies weren’t your own anymore until I got to elementary, but they’re not in most of the classrooms at my school now. I HATE the community supplies thing. It is the stupidest thing ever–kids need to learn to take care of their own things, and to keep up with them. Especially with pencils. Yick. (I was/am a pencil gnawer and trying to share pencils with anyone would’ve been torture, for them at least, and embarrassing for me because I honestly don’t realize I’m doing it until the pencil is already in my mouth). Now everyone would complain that I was chewing on “their” pencils. I second your rant.

  18. I moved down from middle school social studies to elementary librarian. I was appalled that the middle school kids saw no problem with taking things off my desk. (But usually a given class only had that happen one time, because I HIT THE ROOF). I didn’t realize that supplies weren’t your own anymore until I got to elementary, but they’re not in most of the classrooms at my school now. I HATE the community supplies thing. It is the stupidest thing ever–kids need to learn to take care of their own things, and to keep up with them. Especially with pencils. Yick. (I was/am a pencil gnawer and trying to share pencils with anyone would’ve been torture, for them at least, and embarrassing for me because I honestly don’t realize I’m doing it until the pencil is already in my mouth). Now everyone would complain that I was chewing on “their” pencils. I second your rant.

  19. I don’t know where this is happening, but it isn’t the case in my district. I hated shopping for school supplies though; it always cost WAY more than I expected.

  20. I don’t know where this is happening, but it isn’t the case in my district. I hated shopping for school supplies though; it always cost WAY more than I expected.

  21. Pingback:   Ten Things Tuesday — Scheiss Weekly

  22. Pingback:   Ten Things Tuesday — Scheiss Weekly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.