Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Evil School Supplies List

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts from friends (younger friends, that is….) complaining in one way or another about the school supplies list their school has foisted upon them.  I am unalterably convinced that these lists are created, supported, and perpetuated by merchants.

In other words, I think the whole thing is a racket.

I saw a post a few days ago from a mom-friend complaining that one of the many items on her kid’s school supply list was “20 sharpened pencils”.  TWENTY.  SHARPENED.  PENCILS.  She admitted that rather than “fight city hall”, she also blew 20 bucks on an automatic pencil sharpener.

Another mom of my acquaintance attempted to fight city hall by calling the school and saying “why 20 sharpened pencils?  That’s silly.  I’m sending my kid to school with ONE mechanical pencil.”  Her comment was not well-received, and she was told that “mechanical pencils are not allowed”.  (These are the people who brought us “zero tolerance” about a decade ago, a policy which I have long referred to as “zero judgment”.

One mom-friend posted that she was surprised at the length of the list for her middle-schooler and the cost of buying everything on the list.  In the comment thread below the post, a woman who said she was a teacher posted that many of the kids in her district simply could not afford to buy all the things on the list, and every year she and her husband pony up their own personal funds to buy the stuff the less fortunate kids and their parents can’t afford.

No doubt she’s one of “the spoiled few” that the Walker billboards referred to during the recall election campaign.

But the biggest scam of all is the graphing calculator scam, which annoyed me no end when our kids were at LaFollette High.  For some math class, they’re told to buy a Texas Instruments TI-84plus graphing calculator.  A TI 84+, and as I learned, NO SUBSTITUTES will be accepted.  (I think the reason for that is, the teacher doesn’t want to have to become familiar with the operating system of a handful of different kinds of graphing calculators.)

Ever checked the price on one of these TI-84+ models?  When our son Dru needed his, back around the turn of the century, they were $99.  So, what do you suppose they sell for now, twelve years later?  Anywhere from $89 to $129, according to a quick internet search I made.  People who are supposed to know about such things say they could be sold at a profit with a price around 11 dollars.

The next year, when our daughter Mallory needed a TI-84+ for her math classes, we asked her to use her older brother’s.  He, of course, had no idea what had become of his TI-84+, so we shelled out another hundred bucks for the damned thing.

At the end of school that year, my sharp-as-a-marble memory came through, and I collected Mallory’s TI-84+ before it could “disappear”.  I also collected her boyfriend’s TI-84+.  And they were able to come up with a handful of friends who would have no further use for their graphing calculators, so I collected the lot of them and called their math teacher at LaFollette, who said he would LOVE to have the TI-84+’s, all seven of them, and would make them available to students whose parents would find it difficult to shell out a hundred bucks for one.

The whole thing is a damnable racket, from “20 sharpened pencils” (no mechanical pencils need apply) to calculators that should have been “obsoleted” 15 years ago.


  1. A friend says her daughters' list includes two boxes of Kleenex AND two boxes of facial tissues. This extremely bright woman is currently trying to figure out what the hell's the difference.

  2. Agree with your thesis (albeit that blaming 'the merchants' may be an oversimplification--after all, TI is not a 'merchant,' they're a manufacturer.)

    Interesting that both the private AND the public schools that our darlings attended specified the TI.

    How the Hell did we ever manage to graduate without having several boxes of Kleenex available to us, Tim? Is Kleenex good for the IQ?

    1. Having done all my prep schooling within a few miles of about a dozen gigantic paper manufacturing companies, including the maker of Kleenex, we were usually the beneficiary of the largesse of outfits like Kimberly-Clark which donated tons of product to school districts - or, at the very least, vended them at a very reasonable discount. So we never wanted for tissue to blow our nose. BTW it is generally believed, up in the Fox Valley, that Kleenex use raises your IQ by at least 3 points.

  3. Good story. Good deed, too.
    Cheers on you, no matter what.