Tuesday, September 22, 2009

School Fund Raising and Harsh Indoctrination

My daughter was pretty excited when my wife picked her up from school yesterday. She had just finished an assembly where they showed her "all of the cool prizes" that she could win by selling stuff. In her little folder was a whole catalog full of useless stuff at outrageous prices. Along with that was another catalog of much more useless stuff that she can win just for selling these items. A particular favorite of hers was the stuffed cow you can have for selling 65 items. ("65 items" echoes in the background and fades out). A particular favorite of mine was the choice you get for selling 150 items--either a cell phone with 30(!) prepaid minutes or an actual $100 bill.

I know that you know this by now, but she's four and she's in kindergarten.

Bribing a kid her age with an exciting assembly featuring things you can "win" just doesn't seem fair. A hundred bucks? Do you have any idea how many hours you would have to work (or your parents would have to work) to sell 150 items such as $20 wrapping paper, $15 cookie dough, and $25 picture frames? Hours and hours.

I' ve looked through this catalog. It's not like I can just take it to work, pin it up above the coffee pot and wait for the orders to come spilling in. No one will buy. There's nothing worth buying. What the hell is this plan all about anyway?

There is something wrong with a school fund raiser that aims directly at the parents to order a few things so that their kid might get a prize or two (there is a generous "mystery prize" for selling one item...I think we'll take the cookie dough). The problem is overwhelmingly apparent: the parents lose money and the school doesn't make very much.

A public school gets funding from the surrounding community in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, and in some cases, income taxes. When I school sets up a fund raiser like this, they are asking for a little extra money from that community. But my $15 of cookie dough will not go directly to the school. A few dollars has to pay for the dough and the company that puts on the fund raiser. Then, about fifty cents or so goes to the "mystery prize" that will brighten my little kindergartener's day. At the end of it all, I'd guess (and it is purely a guess) that $3-5 will go to the school. Honestly, I'd rather spend the five bucks to directly support the school, if they need the money so bad.

The same thing happens with soda machines. The school installs them and they get sometimes up to fifty cents on the dollar. But, in order to keep their contract, they have to push the product, install more machines, and in many cases allow the students to drink sodas in class. Let's not tough the health issues that go along with this, but from a purely money point of view, this still picks the community's pockets without giving much to the school.

I know that schools are hurting for money. I know teachers should be paid more, too, and class sizes should be smaller. I hate to be the one to throw this out there, but maybe we should--as a community--be handing more money over to the schools if we believe in what they are doing for our community and expect them to do a good job. If we don't, let's tear the damn things down. I can't see how selling cookie dough and wrapping paper while teaching my kid to be motivated by money and prizes is a good compromise.

Anyone want to order anything?


Useless Sophist said...

I'm in college, and faced that same fund raising scheme throughout my k-12 education. My family would begrudgingly accept it each year and casually post up the order forms at work. That, in retrospect, was a poor choice. In my experience, direct contact with and support of children's teachers is far more worthwhile. "What do you need, Mr. Bob? Tissue paper? A set of books? Pencils? Alrighty then."

Know that whatever you do, the same fundraiser will probably follow your child all the way through high school, like it did with me. Try shopping with your kid for things the school really needs, and reward her with ice cream at the end. Anyway, that's my two cents, from someone who dealt with years of that crap.

Laura said...

Hi Sol--I stumbled upon your blog through a link from mothering.com and I've been enjoying reading through your posts (although I'm a mom, not a dad). It's always nice to hear a guy talk who has his head screwed on straight. :)

I wanted to comment here that I totally agree about the stupidity of these school fund raisers. We have the exact same overpriced cookie-dough and made-in-China-junk catalogues here in Canada too. It really would make more sense to just ask for direct donations--after all, the last thing we all need is more STUFF!

I homeschool my daughter now, but when she was in public school it was a new fundraiser of some kind every few weeks or so...got to be pretty annoying after a while. I would rather they just said "Hey, can you parents pay for some new soccer balls?" or whatever.

dd said...

Girl Scout cookies seem like the same scam - except at least people like the cookies - but they aren't very healthy.

Yay for schools teaching the values of crap.

Anonymous said...

My first grader (his first year in public school) came home with that same catalog...and a few days later came a scolding note from the PTA saying "It's really important that you buy something to support the PTA."

It seems ridiculous to me that the school would expect my child to go door-to-door selling stuff that nobody wants.

Add to that the fees for everything from folders to headphones for computer lab, fees to participate in "Science Week", mandatory fees for presents for teacher birthdays, and ridiculous school supply lists that have to be purchased from the PTA vendor...and frankly, it all starts to feel a bit like a racket.

Mum o 2 said...

It is a ridiculous fact that our schools are under-funded. Only schools with strong PTA's (read lots of middle to upper class families) have a full spectrum of arts and language opportunities. My son is in K and so far we have had a jogathon and Xmas wreath buying fundraisers. We have two neighbors whose kids hit us up for fundraisers in the past so we hit them up for the jogathon. Our school also partners with local supermarkets who donate a percentage of receipts. If my kid comes home with a catalog like you describe I will return it with a note expressing our dislike for this form of fundraising and a check for $25 made out to the PTA.