Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back to school is an investment

My memory might be a little fuzzy, but I recall school supplies a generation ago consisting of a pen, a pack of filler paper, maybe a pencil box and a permission from my mom for the nuns to use the paddle as necessary if I got out of line.

I also remember classes starting after Labor Day, no air conditioning on hot days and walking to school in chest deep snow (and did I mention it was a five-mile uphill walk both to AND from home). But that’s a story for another day.

The 2008 list reads like a geek scavenger hunt. And I have to wonder what the teachers are planning when they ask for 10 glue sticks and a box of Ziploc bags per child and erasers only in the color pink.

With four kids (three elementary, one preschool) school, the outlay of supplies and books for free and public education approaches the Gross National Product of Luxembourg (or at least a few hundred dollars). That’s better than the Piper household’s former Gross Domestic Product, which consisted of dirty diapers until 2007.

The economy being what is it, I wouldn’t be surprised in some kids with August birthdays get their gift list and school supply list merged.

Little Sally: “Uh, thanks Grandma for the plain pocket folder. This will go great with my Fiskar scissors, five-subject collegiate notebook with its own folder, and my pack of 3x5 index cards.”

Mom: “Alright kids. Let’s see who can bust open the piƱata.”

Kid No. 1: “Is it filled with candy?”

Mom: “No, but it’s loaded with No. 2 pencils, red pens and paperclips.”

Kids (in unison): “Awwwwwwww.”

You can’t blame schools, though, for turning to students to help subsidize the supply field. Budgets are tights everywhere. I’d hate to see what classrooms would be like without funding from local organizations that provide funding to classrooms as well as provide school supplies to low income families.

State government lends a hand in some regions. Alabama, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia were among states with “sales tax holidays” last weekend that applied to certain school supplies.

But if your kids are blessed by having excellent teachers (as ours have had so far), that box of crayons or dozen ink pens is a cheap investment if the outcome is a quality education.

Although I’m still wondering what they do with all those plastic bags …

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