The Politics of Giftwrap
Say it isn't so, Mom101! Say it isn't so!
I loved the performing (a chance to be up on stage! In front of people!) but I hated the practicing. If they had allowed me to do freestyle interpretive dance in front of the stage, while the band played the theme from Star Wars, I would have been just as happy as I was sitting there in the fourth flute seat with my ankles crossed.
But still, I was in the band. Which meant that once a year, I was asked to perform the humiliating act of selling jumbo chocolate bars to help pay for our annual band trip, so that we might have the very important educational experience of seeing a Broadway matinee of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from the twofer seats in the balcony.
The entire charge was led by this creepy marketing guy - I still remember his lanky sillhouette, his pointy goatee and his enormous square glasses - who showed up at band practice once a year to give us a big rah rah speech about how exciting it is to sell chocolate bars! and how the students who sold the most would get...I don't even know what. Something great. Something really really great that I would never have. Because that privilege was reserved for the Irish kids with a built-in network of buyers in their nine older siblings. Or for Michael Ochs who was a musical prodigy and had some sort of kidney problem that swelled his cheeks and made it impossible to say no to him.
Me? I didn't stand a chance. Of course I wanted the prizes, but I just dreaded ringing my neighbors' doorbells. I wasn't cut out to stand on someone's doorstep like a dork and give them a big spiel, then collect their money and organize the money and account for the money and turn in the money. Sales was not my forte.
So instead, I ate all the candy bars myself.
Of course the day of reckoning arrived when we had to turn in all our checks to the creepy goateed guy who I just imagined would announce each of our sales totals aloud for the entire band to hear.
Karen raises...one hundred and twenty dollars! Michael raises...three hundred and ninety-Seven dollars! Liz raises...um, is this right? Liz? Why, you've somehow managed to raise negative thirty-two dollars.
I would have to beg my father for the money to cover my indiscretion, which of course he would give me after an appropriately stern lecture about responsibility and accountability.
The whole traumatic episode flooded back to me when I read Badgermama's amazing post yesterday about how now, school systems are using their children to sell--well, crap--not as a way to subsidize an extra-curricular trip, but to subsidize the school.
To subsidize the school!
Not having school-aged kids yet myself, I had not considered that the sweet neighbor kids who knock on my door each November asking me to buy ugly wrapping paper and a gift box of peanut butter meltaways, are doing so as a form of forced child labor by an economically stressed school district.
One of Badgermama's assertions is that while her school gives no awards for academic achievement (another example of sensitivity gone wild that drives me batty - God forbid our children learn that yes, some children do better in school, or life, than others), they reward children for selling the most crap. As well the school has to.
They need the dough.
She makes an excellent point about the socioeconomic inequities of such a scheme:
These fundraising sales schemes give the message that it's okay to lean on people's class privilege -- because being able to sell a buttload of wrapping paper depends on class privilege -- and that it's okay to give prizes for that, and guilt the children into guilting their parents. You'll get a prize if your mom takes you around your neighborhood to sell stuff, or if she takes your sales catalogue to work and gets her co-workers to buy the stuff out of their regard for her and desire to be nice to her.I immediately forwarded the post to my mother for a progressive educational consultant's take on the matter and with minor edits, I've posted her response below:
This kind of fundraising also further supports the class differences in our school district. How much money do you think the school in the hills will raise, vs. the school across the train tracks?
As you probably could have guessed, I agree with her in principle. Personally, I was a horrible seller. I hated the fact that we were forced to sell stuff, to face rejection, to ask for money. I used to make [my mother] buy all of the seed packets I had to sell as a third grader so I wouldn't have to go door to door. And we didn't even have a garden. Fortunately, I was never a Brownie or a Girl Scout or would have weighed 200 pounds!(Who knew! What's that about the acorn and the tree?)
Our education system-hell, our whole social system- is predicated on the conservative's belief that if you're not rich you somehow did something or didn't do something right to deserve it. If you only tried harder, sold more, had access to rich friends and neighbors, you could become more like us. Therefore, they wholeheartedly endorse the idea of rich schools getting richer any way they can (when California voted for Prop 13 and thereby ruined the California school system forever, Beverly Hills HS began marketing clothing with their logo as a way to make gobs of money).I keep telling my mom she needs her own blog.
The richest side of the mountains in Vermont, where the people are lucky enough to live in tax-rich ski country, care little for their poor neighbors in the eastern part of state who have nothing in their schools. When the Vermont courts mandated that the rich find an equitable way to make sure all schools got the same amount, the rich began litigation that is still pending. The prevailing belief about schools is that somehow poor districts deserve it; they brought it on themselves ("Not all poor people are criminals," our president famously said several months ago)
So....I think that as long as PTAs and 'School Foundations' have found the loophole that allows schools to disregard child labor laws by having kids sell products that support the companies' profit margins, we will never have to face the real problem:We finance our public schools in a disgraceful and patently unfair way.
You tell me where a kid lives, and I'll tell you how well she'll do on any test. And I'll tell you what technology equipment she has, how big her classes are, how many books are in her library. Do I sound angry enough?
I love Badgermama's passion and her commitment to a cause. She'll have to be strong, though, because whenever we live our principles, we're bound to be told that we're boorish, or denying kids or Communist.
Believe me: I should know.
All of this scares me because as Thalia gets closer to school-age, I'm going to have to make some serious decisions about where to send her to school.
I'm lucky. I'm a person of relative privilege and while it would require sacrifices, I could probably manage send Thalia to a private institution where she wouldn't be forced to compensate for our government's inattention to its schools. But then, I'm a big proponent of the public school system; I'm a product of it myself. And knowing that a school is often as good as the committment and involvement of the parents, I think it's somewhat wrong for parents like me to cut and run, leaving the rest of the community to its own devices.
But then, I also don't intend to choose idealism over what may be best for my daughter either.
This parenting stuff is hard.