Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What I Think About: School Supplies

On Saturday my family and I loaded up the old four wheel drive and went to Target to get school supplies.  As a former teacher and nerd d' jour, I love shopping for school supplies.  Seriously, I have to talk myself out of smiling like a fool when I see the "Back to School" shelves packed with Crayola crayons and washable markers (which, by the way, I'd like to say BRAVO to the inventor of washable markers).

Anyhow, I was at the store buying school supplies for 5 kids (because our church donates school supplies) and I heard to families in the aisle lamenting over the school supply lists.  I looked at the lists (everyone in town has the same supplies) and I was thinking, "This isn't bad" but based on what I was hearing, the fact that parents are expected to buy crayons or {{GASP}} have their children share crayons is totally unacceptable.

I did a huffy breath at them (I'm reading a lot of Junie B. Jones these days) and pranced away with my red cart brimming full of tissue boxes and post it notes but what I really wanted to say is this.


Here is why I think we all need to stop complaining about school supplies.


In America I think it is easy to forget education isn't a right everywhere.  Despite UN mandates that education be free and available for all children, this isn't a reality.  Education is a divine privilege.  We should celebrate that our kids can go to school and a low cost to us (don't get me started on taxes).  There are parents who do not have the good fortune to buy their children school supplies.  How lucky we are that we GET to buy our children school supplies!


Here's is my daughter's first grade supply list:

  • 2 boxes of crayons
  • 1 box of washable markers
  • a pencil box
  • 2 boxes of 24 #2 pencils
  • 2 big erasers
  • 2 packets post it notes
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 1 4 oz bottle of glue
  • 2 composition books
  • 1 1" binder
  • 2 pocket folders
  • 1 box of quart sized ziplock bags
  • 2 boxes of tissue
I also bought supplies for 2, 3, 5, and 6th grade and the lists are about the same.  In total, I spent $150.  That's not bad.  And that's not the half of it.

If you feel compelled to complain about what you are spending, think about what the teacher is spending!  I'm a former teacher and let me tell you, those 48 pencils will be gone by December.  Want to know who buys the rest? The teacher.  Does it come out of some endless budget?  Nope.  It comes out of his/her own bank account.  

The same goes for glue sticks, markers, snacks, etc.  When it runs out (which happens fast when you leave a lid off a marker), parents aren't asked to buy more.  Teachers buy the items.  

Oh, and don't forget about the supplies that are just included at no additional cost to you--like books to read, inspirational posters, dry erase markers, playground equipment, SmartBoards, printer paper, construction papers, clay and other art supplies, P.E. equipment ... I know, I know, this is from our taxes.  Psh.  Our taxes don't cover half of it--just look at the uber poor inner city schools whose property taxes don't address necessities, like working toilets, let alone laptops.


Nothing irks me more than people who think American education sucks.  Riddle me this: If American education sucks, why do foreign countries model their schools after ours? Why do so many come to the States for college?  It isn't because our schools suck, I'll tell you that much.

I know you've heard how poorly we do on tests compared to other countries.  (I don't buy this.  Read THE MANUFACTURED CRISIS for more information or just remember that our tests test ALL students and then compare them the results of the top 1-10% from other countries ... because everyone doesn't get an education elsewhere--see #1).  My response to this (false) claim is you get what you pay for.

Did you know that in countries, like China and India, people pay as much for education as they do for their cars and homes?  What's your home worth?  Is that what you are putting into education, including your taxes?  Not even close.  


As I stated in #3, Americans don't spend that much on education, comparatively speaking.  In fact, we spend more money on homes, cars, food, and entertainment then we do on education.  So the next time you want to complain about spending upwards of $30-$100 on school supplies, ask yourself, are you all worked up that you spend $100/month on a cell phone (or cable)?  Do you think twice about spending $50 on a tank of gas?  How about $25 going out for lunch?  

I understand that buying supplies might seem like a lot of cash at once but when you compare it to how you are spending your money elsewhere, is it really a big deal?  And compared to going out for dinner, is it less important? 


Okay, I've lived in/taught/gone to school in a few different areas and I've never seen school supply lists that include items such as:
  • North Face brand fleece jacket
  • Miss Me Jeans
  • iPhone
  • 5 pairs of new shoes (including the hottest Nikes, Converse, and Jimmy Choos)
  • 7 new outfits 
  • coordinating accessories including but not limited to: hats, watches, scarves, cardies, hoodies, jewelry, Coach purses, acrylic nails, etc.
I get it.  When you go back to school shopping it costs a fortune.  But is it the supplies that cost a fortune or is it you, as a parent, going overboard to get your child every vanity item he/she desires? Are you getting new backpacks and scissors every year because your child has too much pride to use the same backpack twice? Are you actually spending money on what your children want or what they need?

WHAT I THINK is that if you are feeling overwhelmed with the costs of going back to school, I would look at the items you can re-use or live without.  School supplies, in and of themselves, are not generally the culprit to budget stress but the "keeping up with the Jones family" in terms of new everything and trendy clothing might be.  How can you trim the fat (without taking it out on the teachers who are going to supply the items you don't or that run out)?

P.S.  I fully, totally, and honestly recognize that for some families, just the basic school supplies--like pencils--really do break the bank and NOT because you are budgeting poorly or partying hard but because these are hard times. To you, I apologize for the way "back to school" adds stress to your life or makes you feel like you aren't doing a good job.  You are an amazing parent.  


  1. Amen sister! I'm also a former teacher and each year about this time I wistfully walk the school supply aisles. Thanks for the idea of finding someone I can donate supplies to!

  2. Love love love this. So true! You inspired me to call up my mentor teacher and find out which school supplies run out firsr/most so I can stock up and bring them with me in January.

    I'm so glad our church does the school supply drive every year - Lil and I had so much fun picking up the stuff for herself and a few other kiddos. Except then Lil thought she would help and opened all the tissues so I suppose I need to redo that part. :)

  3. I apparently use the word "so" way too often.

  4. Every year when I was teaching, I had at least a few parents who complained that they needed to buy school supplies. And they'd always follow it up with it was THEIR taxes supporting the school so they shouldn't have to pay anything else. It was so hard not to say then look out for a tax hike.

    I paid so much for supplies on my own b/c there were things I thought my students should have access to and no other money to buy them.

    I always kept my school supply list under $20. Some parents did go overboard and have to get the designer brand of everything and so it was more expensive.

    There are some families that struggle with these basics- especially if you have multiple children.

    But for the rest- you are totally right- these are the same people who have their extra bills like cell phones, big cable packages, and think nothing of spending that much on a lunch or dinner out.

  5. I agree with what you said. I think we should work hard to support our children's teachers. We are going into a knowledge based economy. If we do not support education, we will be uncompetitive in the world market place in short order.

  6. As a former teacher, the whining from parents about back to school shopping makes me crazy! i taught in the ghetto where I couldn't even expect school supplies from my kids. The school and I provided EVERYTHING! Spending a few dollars on school supplies versus the cost of private school education is a ridiculous comparison, but really that is what Americans get versus other countries. Shut up parents and buy triple the amount of facial tissue and pencils, your kid’s teacher needs it.

  7. I am a teacher and I feel the same way when I'm getting supplies and the parents are complaining. Half the time I want to look at them and say what those items will be used for but I know that they won't care, they'll still complain.

    I can only imagine holidays - I had parents complain because I only gave books to the kids one year...yet they gave the teacher nothing (not that I expected anything) and still complain.

    Stopping by from Shell's PYHO :)

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I wish you could send them here for a year. In Germany, students are required to supply 100% of the supplies they use during the year (to include their text books, paints, etc) from first grade on. This year I spent just over €200 for my second grader (that's over $250) - and that's even with re-using 3 texts and several of the more expensive items (school bag, etc). This is ONLY school supplies, not clothes or accessories, and she'll be using her book bag, 3 texts and other non-consumables from first grade - about another €75 or so worth of stuff.


{Reverse Psychology}
I DO NOT like comments. Whatever you do, don't leave me a comment about this post or your thoughts or any connections you have to what I wrote. Seriously, I don't care.
(Did that reverse psychology work???)