Community School Supplies? Hands Off My Pencils!

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 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, 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

Community School Supplies? Hands Off My Pencils! — 23 Comments

  1. I had no idea that was going on in elementary schools. Here, where poverty is the highest in the nation, we have a broad range of schools. Some schools send out lists of materials for students to bring, some schools just provide the materials. In high school, where I taught, ALL supplies were supplied except flash drives. I always had binders, pens, pencils, paper for those kids who just didn’t have the resources to get these things. I even had a few flash drives in my desk for students to share. I was so particular about my things that students picked up on that and were good about taking care of supplies.

  2. I had no idea that was going on in elementary schools. Here, where poverty is the highest in the nation, we have a broad range of schools. Some schools send out lists of materials for students to bring, some schools just provide the materials. In high school, where I taught, ALL supplies were supplied except flash drives. I always had binders, pens, pencils, paper for those kids who just didn’t have the resources to get these things. I even had a few flash drives in my desk for students to share. I was so particular about my things that students picked up on that and were good about taking care of supplies.

  3. I agree as a former classroom teacher,current teacher librarian to what you said. I would NEVER take supplies a student brought in to use. I used the number system to identify everything that belonged to a child. We would store extra pencils and gluesticks, erasers, or scissors in a bag labeled for that student. It eliminated a lot of hassel and made ownership easy. I worked at an at risk school where some had no supplies. Though in this day when you could buy enough notebooks at Walmart’s for your entire class to have 4 each for $5. And glue, scissors, crayons, folders, etc for one child only cost about $4 during back to school sales. I never understood parents priorites when they had enough for new video games but not school supplies. But then I saw a lot of “give me what I deserve” in the at risk community.

  4. I agree as a former classroom teacher,current teacher librarian to what you said. I would NEVER take supplies a student brought in to use. I used the number system to identify everything that belonged to a child. We would store extra pencils and gluesticks, erasers, or scissors in a bag labeled for that student. It eliminated a lot of hassel and made ownership easy. I worked at an at risk school where some had no supplies. Though in this day when you could buy enough notebooks at Walmart’s for your entire class to have 4 each for $5. And glue, scissors, crayons, folders, etc for one child only cost about $4 during back to school sales. I never understood parents priorites when they had enough for new video games but not school supplies. But then I saw a lot of “give me what I deserve” in the at risk community.

  5. In a high poverty school, if the supplies weren’t provided, the students would not have them and work would come to a standstill. I believe where there are more students who can provide supplies, that the others will somehow get what they need. However, where all the students are poor, then the whole learning system can be stymied without the right supplies. This may be what is happening in some low performing schools.

  6. In a high poverty school, if the supplies weren’t provided, the students would not have them and work would come to a standstill. I believe where there are more students who can provide supplies, that the others will somehow get what they need. However, where all the students are poor, then the whole learning system can be stymied without the right supplies. This may be what is happening in some low performing schools.

  7. Hello, I am a student. My mother introduced me to your blog and I can say with complete honesty, that I love your writing. I have read this article several years in a row and it reminds me of my unfortunate grade school experience with socialism. My mother and I picked out some nice pencils back in second grade. When I got to school, I received an attagirl for bringing the mandated supplies. Then the nightmare began. The teacher then confiscated my bright, shiny, new pencils. The community bin was then filled with chewed-on, mutilated, left-over pencils from the prior year. I never saw my nice pencils again. The teacher then used shiny pencils as “incentives” (i.e bribes) for good behavior. Ironically, the incentives were obviously stolen from earlier students!!!
    While I’m discussing irony, might I also mention that her son was arrested for burglarizing vehicles a few years later?! Coincedence? You decide.
    Pencils may seem trivial now, but in second grade they held much more value. I remember always thinking poorly of this teacher’s character, for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss for the fact that I am still in the school district. However, in the future, expect further ranting.
    To give you further insight on my views of the subject, there is the fact that I no longer lend my classmates any supplies. I discontinued the practice after losing many objects and having to hound people to retrieve them. Often, when the supplies are returned, they have been broken, abused, and treated with as much respect as I would give a dead rodent.
    Many people support the socialistic approach of shared supplies because they would like to provide for the “Poor” students.

  8. Hello, I am a student. My mother introduced me to your blog and I can say with complete honesty, that I love your writing. I have read this article several years in a row and it reminds me of my unfortunate grade school experience with socialism. My mother and I picked out some nice pencils back in second grade. When I got to school, I received an attagirl for bringing the mandated supplies. Then the nightmare began. The teacher then confiscated my bright, shiny, new pencils. The community bin was then filled with chewed-on, mutilated, left-over pencils from the prior year. I never saw my nice pencils again. The teacher then used shiny pencils as “incentives” (i.e bribes) for good behavior. Ironically, the incentives were obviously stolen from earlier students!!!
    While I’m discussing irony, might I also mention that her son was arrested for burglarizing vehicles a few years later?! Coincedence? You decide.
    Pencils may seem trivial now, but in second grade they held much more value. I remember always thinking poorly of this teacher’s character, for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss for the fact that I am still in the school district. However, in the future, expect further ranting.
    To give you further insight on my views of the subject, there is the fact that I no longer lend my classmates any supplies. I discontinued the practice after losing many objects and having to hound people to retrieve them. Often, when the supplies are returned, they have been broken, abused, and treated with as much respect as I would give a dead rodent.
    Many people support the socialistic approach of shared supplies because they would like to provide for the “Poor” students.

  9. Part 2-Rant

    BUNK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! School supplies are given away free at local churches. Supplies can be found at garage sales, unused and cheaper than Walmart. Folders can be found at Officemax for pennies. You can get free pens at the bank. I haven’t been on one sidewalk all summer that did not have at least two pencils in the cracks. Canvas bags can be found free at the library. These “Poor” students are usually equipped with the latest in technology that they showcase on the bus. Our school provides free lunches. Let’s just say I’ve had to dodge many. My views may be slightly uncharitable, but from my experience, teachers aren’t helping the slightest by giving away free supplies.
    There is also the matter of the schools asking for too many supplies. I currently own 20 folders, 8 spiral notebooks, six three ring binders, and enough pens and pencils to last me through college… and I’m still in middle school. One year the requirements are plain, specific colored folders. The next year I need four 3-ring binders. The year after I need folders with prongs. The next year I need pocket folders WITHOUT prongs. I am thoroughly disgusted with the egregious wastefulness of the public schools. Did any of you read about the Chicago public school that threw out thousands of dollars worth of supplies?
    In conclusion, I’d like to tell parents to stop buying unneeded supplies, tell teachers to quit asking for things they don’t need, and let me be responsible for my own tools. This individual ownership teaches responsibility and respect for oneself and others.

  10. Part 2-Rant

    BUNK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! School supplies are given away free at local churches. Supplies can be found at garage sales, unused and cheaper than Walmart. Folders can be found at Officemax for pennies. You can get free pens at the bank. I haven’t been on one sidewalk all summer that did not have at least two pencils in the cracks. Canvas bags can be found free at the library. These “Poor” students are usually equipped with the latest in technology that they showcase on the bus. Our school provides free lunches. Let’s just say I’ve had to dodge many. My views may be slightly uncharitable, but from my experience, teachers aren’t helping the slightest by giving away free supplies.
    There is also the matter of the schools asking for too many supplies. I currently own 20 folders, 8 spiral notebooks, six three ring binders, and enough pens and pencils to last me through college… and I’m still in middle school. One year the requirements are plain, specific colored folders. The next year I need four 3-ring binders. The year after I need folders with prongs. The next year I need pocket folders WITHOUT prongs. I am thoroughly disgusted with the egregious wastefulness of the public schools. Did any of you read about the Chicago public school that threw out thousands of dollars worth of supplies?
    In conclusion, I’d like to tell parents to stop buying unneeded supplies, tell teachers to quit asking for things they don’t need, and let me be responsible for my own tools. This individual ownership teaches responsibility and respect for oneself and others.

  11. Pingback:   Helicopter Parents of College Students? You’ve GOT To Be Kidding! — Scheiss Weekly

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  13. I agree that students should have their own supplies that don’t have to be shared with others. But as a middle school teacher, I’ve long given up the nonsensical idea of refusing to let kids borrow supplies from the teacher. We’re supposed to be training these kids for “real life.” In real life, if I show up to a meeting having forgotten a pen, a colleague will lend me one. No snarky comments, and no having to give her a quarter or one of my shoes. My pay won’t be docked, either. It’s a matter of priorities – the work to be done is more important than berating someone for not having a pen. I cringe at the memory of how much instructional time I used to waste playing the “pencil game.” Sending kids out to lockers, asking the class if anyone has an extra, giving endless speeches about “preparedness” and “responsibility…” Meanwhile, the rest of the class is already gazing out the window in distracted boredom. Just give the kid a damned pencil and get on with it already!

  14. I agree that students should have their own supplies that don’t have to be shared with others. But as a middle school teacher, I’ve long given up the nonsensical idea of refusing to let kids borrow supplies from the teacher. We’re supposed to be training these kids for “real life.” In real life, if I show up to a meeting having forgotten a pen, a colleague will lend me one. No snarky comments, and no having to give her a quarter or one of my shoes. My pay won’t be docked, either. It’s a matter of priorities – the work to be done is more important than berating someone for not having a pen. I cringe at the memory of how much instructional time I used to waste playing the “pencil game.” Sending kids out to lockers, asking the class if anyone has an extra, giving endless speeches about “preparedness” and “responsibility…” Meanwhile, the rest of the class is already gazing out the window in distracted boredom. Just give the kid a damned pencil and get on with it already!

  15. I am an advocate for classroom community supplies. Today’s kids are easily distracted. As a teacher, it is my job to teach not referee students that both have Dora or Spiderman pencils. I agree that each child should have their own special supplies. However, Keep it at home in their own private, comfortable area where they do their homework.

  16. I will not ever donate to the community stockpile ever again. I had problems after donating 5 or 6 packages of loose leaf notebook paper and getting some teacher complaining to me about my kid not doing his homework. He NEVER had paper and couldn’t do it. It really pissed me off that I donated that and the teacher wouldn’t let him have it. What did I have to do? Yep… had to buy MORE paper so he could do homework and then it wasn’t on sale anymore. I only send two pencils, one box of crayons, one bottle of glue, two glue sticks, one eraser and a binder with the paper in it. Too many parents waste money on themselves instead of buying just the basics such as those listed above and I’ll be damned if I have to pay out of my single-mom budget to fund those leeches to society. I don’t send dora pencils or anything either… just a plain yellow pencil. Character pencils are given at holiday parties in the goodie bags I send. So part with your 12-pack of beer or a few pack of cigarettes… or that stupid pedi-mani crap you spent out the butt to get… You can buy your own stuff for your kids. Keep your claws off of mine.

  17. I am so upset that in 3rd grade my child still can’t keep their own school supplies. They have taken the fun out of picking out the cool car notebooks and Batman folders. I am going to take a stand this year and protest and put my sons name on all his “own” supplies. The issue I’m having is, will he be outed by the teacher and treated differently because of a stand I am taking? Has this happened to anyone?

  18. This topic is something that makes me irate! I cannot stand the liberal mentality here! Everything should NOT be a handout! I paid for those supplies and MY kids should use them! Here’s a letter I just submitted to my school and their response was “thanks for your email, if you feel this strongly maybe you should consider private schooling.”

    I’m quite upset by this list. (And I know I am NOT the only one…there are SEVERAL people I’ve spoken with and they feel the same). These lists are incredibly greedy. For a kindergartener to have FOUR boxes of 24ct crayons and a total of 8 glues is ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind if these purchases were actually for MY kids but they go into a community box on the first day of school. I understand that this is done because there are some students who cannot afford these items and I am ALL for helping out those who can’t…but there are some bigger issues here!

    1. By having community bins of supplies it teaches our children ZERO responsibility for their things. I have actually heard of many students breaking pencils on purpose because they knew there was a never ending supply on the other end of the desk.

    2. This offers ZERO individuality. I remember growing up and back to school shopping was incredibly fun! Picking out fun folders, pencils and notebooks was just as fun as new clothing and new classrooms. It’s crazy that these kids don’t get to express their unique interests this way.

    3. Talk about wasteful! I know several other school districts do this sort of “community” supply program and at the end of the year the left over supplies are divided up among the students and sent home. 4. Prices! To “demand” Crayola and other name brand things doesn’t help out those who cannot afford it. Are you aware that a box of 24ct Crayola crayons cost $2.74/box and Targets Up&up brand is currently on sale for 74 cents?!?

    I know this email sounds incredibly harsh but I don’t know how else to express my disgust for this situation. Our children deserve better! They deserve the opportunity to show their unique interests, demonstrate care and respect for their things all the while showing compassion and concern for the community as a whole.

  19. As a nurse, I am disturbed by the practice of communal school supplies. I find it ironic that schools can ban parents from sending peanut butter sandwiches in their children’s lunches so as not to risk a reaction in an allergic child, but they expect the whole class to share supplies. I suppose it will take the death of an allergic child from using a crayon previously used be a kid with peanut butter on his hands before teachers and parents put an end to it.

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