The Politics of Giftwrap

For a brief time I was a band geek.

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.

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?

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:

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).

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.

I keep telling my mom she needs her own blog.

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.


72 thoughts on “The Politics of Giftwrap”

  1. I was fixing to write a little something on this very predicament. Annabel, you see, is going to preschool and the fundraising, well, she’s begun.I’ve joined the board to do some PR (whatever that means for a preschool) and I went to my first board meeting, wherein parents were gleefully sampling inedible (my opionion) danish pastries that we will likely sell to ourselves for $10, making the school a $4 profit. … Uhm … I’d rather GIVE you the $4 than pay the company that bakes this inedible confection the other $6. In fact, I’d rather give the school the whole 10 smackers.My thoughts are that we need to stop nickel and diming parents for this crap we don’t need and start thinking about the future, and what an education really means. Which in my little pea brain means E-N-D-O-W-M-E-N-T-S. Somehow we’ve got to build a nest egg that will help feed the little chicks as we go.

  2. Public or private school, the fundraising happens in both! As committed as hubby and I were to public schools (we both went to public schools), Rachel, at least for the moment, is at a private (or “independent”) school that’s smaller and more touchy-feeling than the neighborhood school. Every year, there is the gift wrap thing, plus we sign up our grocery cards to earn extra $$.My thought is — do the fundraising and “bonus bucks” and then give the cash to some school that really needs like, like the inner city schools in D.C. or other large cities.

  3. Private schools do the fundraising too, except they will let you pay a set amount(ex. $350)to get out of it if you don’t feel like slanging the trash bags, flowers, etc. Though I can almost understand it in the private school case, they don’t recieve government dollars, they survive on tuition. I heard public school has a budget of about 6,000 dollars per student while private/parochial schools have about 2,500 per student. And who is doing the better job of educating?

  4. My brother-in-law decided to take matters into his own hands. His little girl just turned four, but he recently ran to be on the school’s board of education, and won. If that’s not a dad looking out for his daughter’s education, I don’t know what is.

  5. I have heard these horror stories and dread when my daughter is school age. Being Canadian it is slightly different because the schools are funded slightly better. I like the get on the school board idea! Always envisioned being on the PTA! The only way to make a difference is to get involved!

  6. I have two kids in school and a toddler. The school age kids attend a school in a different district than we live in (because of custody crap) and it’s a very, very poor school. They don’t even bother to do fundraising because they can get more grants by being poor. My stepdaughter came home from school last week and told me they got all new computers. Yet they can’t afford textbooks for many of the students. I don’t get it. It scares me to no end that this poverty is determining the education that my kids are getting. We try to be as involved as we can as parents, but the attitude of doing “just enough” is starting to leak into my kids. I hate it.

  7. Ah yes, you’ve so eloquently explored the subject that has been bouncing around our walls since the day the baby was born-where to go to school? The kid is 8 months and we’re already talking this one into the ground. I’m terrified of him actually approaching school age.I went to private school, and like Marcie said, they do fundraising too. I think we sold…wrapping paper? Something like that? Probably stale chocolate candies as well. I just remember everyone wanting to sell however much money so they could get the janky water bottle or keychain “prize.” Hooboy. My mom was like, jeez, I’ll just buy you a damn keychain, OK???

  8. he. i send my two older kids to private school. i pay over $4,800 a child for 9am-12pm each day (that’s 3 hours) and yet i still manage to have to raise $400 for the school, plus buy $3,500 in superdollars….how does that happen? i’m definitely in the wrong school…

  9. As the parent to two school aged children, this post really resonates with me. We happen to live in the wealthies school district in our province. We are one of the handful of school districts that repeatedly run a surplus. Year after year.Yet, every year this same district asks for us parents to whore ourselves out to raise money for the school system. And try to explain to your child why she will be the only one in the class not participating in this activity.Yes, your mommy is a bitch, dear. Get over it.But after several years of complaining about this, I have found a better solution. I have joined the parent council and I attend the board meetings. And if things don’t change, I will run for the school board.We will see who’s complaining then.Great post. And I agree. Your mom needs her own blog!

  10. Oh the school dilema. This has been a big question in our house even now before he is born. It makes it even harder since we have no idea where we will even be living by the time he hits school age, so no clue of the options. I am a big propponent of the public school system, but I am frightened by some of the trends we are seeing. My biggest worry is the stress on homework and learning to read earlier and ealier. As a woman with a learning disability I know how we all develope at different rates. Our newest throw around is Waldorf education. Ug I think this will definately be one of the toughest choices coming up.

  11. When we were still back in the New York area and I was researching school systems – because that was my top priority in deciding which town we’d move to – there were definitely a correlation between the affluence of the town and the test scores of the kids in public school there.Interestingly enough though, there were several towns that were hugely wealthy – but the schools were fair to middling. That is, while the tax revenue was there – the results (in the form of test scores anyway) were not. My guess is that most of the parents sent their kids to private schools, and therefore the absence of parental involvement in the public schools was a major factor in the performance.I’m a huge proponent of public schools myself, but dollars aren’t everything. Parental involvement is huge – we need to ensure that our voices are heard when it comes to where those dollars are going.And the child labor business? I was chatting with a friend Friday night who told me tales of fundraising and guilt-tripping that made my mouth hang open. It’s worthy of a post in itself, so I won’t hijack your comments further here.

  12. Eh. Stay in the city. Then Thalia will surely have to attend private school and you’ll be shaken down the old fashioned way: They’ll just ask you for the cash outright.None of this guilt/shame wares hawking…

  13. Issues of the public schools, class and priveledge have been large in my mind over the last year. Because funding is determined by enrollment in Washington, and because many Seattle parents with means have moved their children to private schools, the school district has been working to close schools. The socio-economic and racial skew of the closure recommendations were unreal (see the graphs at if you want to see what I’m talking about).The really good public school near my home with a Montessorri program was on the inital closure list. Moon isn’t even 2 yet, and I found myself going to PTA meetings, creating a website to act as a mouthpiece to try and make the point the school shouldn’t be closed, etc. While I expected (and wanted!) to be involed in Moon’s schools, I didn’t think I’d have to start 5 years out…Here, it seems to be a vicious cycle — parent perceive public schools as bad, don’t enroll their kids, district looses money and gets worse, so more parents eee the public schools as bad… and both sides blame the other.

  14. I still feel sorta traumatized from my “fundraising” experiences as a child… My little heart always knew it just wasn’t right- but it wasn’t until I was reading this post that I suddenly understood why I felt so SLIMED ON as a kid when “fundraising time” came around.Thank you for shedding some light on all of this. It’s given me a lot to think about.

  15. Liz,You will probably get tons and tons of comments about this. My son went to private school. It was convenient (I worked there) and I got a discount on tuition. It worked for us. Yes, there will be fundraising at a private school, too as others have shared.My daughter is going to a public school because I found this amazing multi-age program that is just too good to be believed. My introduction to the world of public school politics and goings on has been somewhat shocking. Everything everyone has already commented about is pretty much true in my case. Worse in some ways. There is actually a poorer school in my city that had its Title I money transferred to the district. Now of course, they couldn’t “take” it away because that would be illegal. They just “asked” for it. Well, principals around here are in fear of their jobs. What was the principal going to do? Of course the money was transferred over. Money this school desperately needs and won’t get from fundraising because the families at this school don’t participate. It is also rumored that the principals in this district were told that their job performance reviews would be greatly influenced by their ability to fundraise. FUNDRAISE. Not educate.I am a hard-core non-partisan. I hate politics. Right now I could give a good smack to mouthpieces on both sides of the fence. I am not comfortable with generalizations about conservatives or liberals. The more hard core the smack talk the more likely I am to turn around and walk away. It feels like hate-mongering to me. Having said that, even many conservatives I know in California are beginning to realize that No Child Left Behind in reality means Many, Many Children Left Behind. It isn’t working. I don’t have a problem with using test scores to determine a school’s ability to teach. But it has to be fair. You have to factor in the socio-economic and cultural issues at play. If your students only attend school sporadically, don’t bring homework back, have parents who can’t communicate with the teachers, it will affect the results. Oh, and the tests that determine the scores that determine a school’s money and a principal’s job? Thost tests are designed so that only 50% of the kids will get a passing score. Some bell curve, percentile thing. If one question gets answered correctly by too many students, it gets kicked out and a new, harder question put in. The test does not test the state standards! There is grade material on say, the third grade test, that they kids are never taught. Fine, you can find out what kids have a certain aptitude, but you have no idea if they were taught that in class or learned it elsewhere. Teachers in struggling schools are told to teach to the higher students so you can average out your scores!!!! Is my typing voice sound screechy yet?This is where I get postively socialist in my thoughts. We need to have fundraising? Fine. Hire a district fundraiser and all the funds get distributed equally to schools based on the percentage of the population they have enrolled there. 10% of the kids in the district get 10% of the money. Arghhhh! Let educators educate. Let schools develop programs that are unique to their specific challenges. Give them more money. Parents, use your voice wisely. The reason kids have so much unnecessary homework? Parent’s fault. The reason some schools don’t have arts? Not just because of money but because some parents were freaking out about their kids not getting the basics, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Phonics good, whole language bad? Parent’s freaking out about their kid not learning to read in kindergarten. We get so worried about our kids having the best and having things as good as the next kid that we lose our perspective.Okay… I’m wearing myself out and probably becoming a huge bore. Lord help me if I end up on the school board or city council some day. And Lord help those who would have to deal with me!

  16. sighThis parenting gig is hard.We carefully chose to sacrifice in order to afford to live in the best area school district.They still have “perks” like art and music…sometimes.They have one nurse for six schools.And this is the good one.Private schools are cost-prohibitive, but might be something we pinch harder for anyway ongoing. I do know we don’t escape the fundraising in private schools.My DDs go to a non-profit Catholic school now. The fundraising is a Big Deal. We have a whole committee for it. We don’t ask kids to sell though. We do Scrip, and any kind of “you buy this anyway, use our card and we get a percentage back from your purchase” methods we can. This is to fund the school so tuition stays lower than anywhere else in town while quality of education remains high. The remainder is for scholarships for needy kids.I don’t like the fundraising simply for the school to be able to operate…in public schools.I don’t like the selling.I like the panhandling/begging even less.I was appalled to regularly see high school teens accosting shoppers at the grcery store begging for money—donations—to subsidize the band, cheerleaders, and “lesser” sports teams.And yet…there is a real problem here. If not this, then what?

  17. It’s incredibly confusing. I am a huge proponent of public schools. I would LOVE to send my kids to one. Now that we live in Chicago, it seems like it might be a possibility, but figuring out WHICH public school is a nightmare. There are magnets, magnet clusters, school fairs, school guidebooks, gifted programs, sibling preferences, and so on.I am lucky to have the time and energy to devote to understanding this. I’m sure most kids go to the school closest to them, without even knowing that they can go to better.

  18. Mary-Lue: No bore at all! Thanks for your very comprehensive perspective. However if I may clarify my mother’s comments about conservative beliefs – she’s speaking about specific policies of the republican policy. Not all conservative voters. (Although voters should know that when they vote for conservative representatives, that this is essentially the pov they’re voting for.) So I’d hesitate to call it a generalization when it’s the party platform. I’m very glad to hear that people are realizing that NCLB is a failure. Although it begs the question: when the nation’s educators said it would be a failure from the get-go, why did no one want to listen? I do appreciate hearing your point of view on all of this. I need to rely on you and all the older, wiser parents who are actually going through it now, to point me in productive directions.

  19. i know that the star wars reference was just for me and that you love me so much, you put secret jennster-ologies into your posts. lol

  20. Feeeerrr-eeeeee-kkey. I just sent this email out to my office this morning…SUBJECT: Help My Duckling Peeps Out…This email is mainly to inform you that I’ve gone over to the dark side. The dark side being the side where the annoying co-workers with kids give you “opportunities” to purchase your very own Sally Foster giftwrapping, gifts and gourmet food items (Exclusive Designs. Distinctive Gifts. Exceptional Values.)If you choose to purchase anything, you’ll be purchasing items from the 11-month-old Hurricane in the Duckling Class. Because, what St. Paul’s School is teaching us, is that really, you can never be too young to pedal designs, gifts and values.But don’t worry. We’re also making him walk by himself from house to house around Montrose (Even though he can’t talk. He can point. And grunt. And accept cash or checks made out to St. Paul’s School.) while I get my manicure tomorrow. I mean, I’m not doing ALL the work. But I will help my Ducklings out a bit by placing the Sally Foster catalog (chock full of tantalizing treats) in the ad kitchen for anyone who’s interested. I have to turn it in on Thursday.And the Duckings thank you in advance.So yeah I’m one of those moms. And I feel bad about it. And I was going to blog about it tomorrow. But now you did, so I don’t have too. However, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned that I was fourth-chair flute too. But I was. And you covered that for me as well. So thanks.And now that you’ve taken care of this one, tomorrow I can post that fab chicken salad recipe I’ve been meaning to share.P.S. Oh, and please, tell your mom, we need her to blog. Maybe at least she could be a guest on Mom 101. Maybe.

  21. Oh also, the Hurricane’s school is really a glorifed mother’s day out. That apparently sells candy. So yeah. And I’m very pro public school. And yes, I think I do believe that there should be public school for 11-month-olds. For a variety of reasons. But that’s another topic entirely.

  22. We don’t have any sort of fundraising at my son’s preschool other than the sign-up-your-grocery-card-and-the-school-gets-a-percentage kinda stuff – no selling for the kidlets. They never ask for any money for anything beyond a blanket announcement in our monthly newsletter that some kids are on scholarship and if you want to donate to the fund, talk to XXX person. It is a dream. No school supply lists, either.My first grader, on the other hand, goes to public school, and the fundraiser is here. I already told her the prizes are junky crap she doesn’t need, and that I would buy 2 rolls of wrapping paper because I happen to like it (really, it is great paper, thick and lasts a whole year worth of presents), and I would write a check to the school as a donation. Then, I will be happy to take her out for a special afternoon, just the two of us, as her “prize.” She was good with that, bless her. There is so much peer pressure to do this, and we live in an extremely mixed socio-economic area, everything from “projects” to apartments to modest townhomes to single family homes selling in the upper hundreds. It is terrible and really sets the kids apart, and I hate it. We are right in the middle and we try to donate directly to the school in a way that is meaningful, from straight cash to school supplies and other things the school needs. We also donated supplies to another school in our district that is worse off than we are.It’s really sad, frankly. We live in a very, very expensive area and have a high tax rate – check Montgomery County, Maryland if you are interested – and really, there is no excuse for this. Our school budget is in, I think, the $3B range – they need to hire business people who can manage the money better, and professional fundraisers if they decide that is needed, not pimp our kids out.

  23. Like others have said, fundraising projects like this are not limited to public school. I have to send back my son’s wrapping paper order forms this week….ack. His school did an interesting thing – they made it very clear that kids were not to sell door to door. I love that they did that, but it also pissed me off that they suggested parents sell the crap at their offices. What about parents who don’t work in an office and who don’t have a work environment that would be friendly to this? Or families (like us) who don’t have any extended family living nearby to participate?As another commenter suggested, a professional fundraiser would be a great approach for public schools. A few school districts around the US have already established a foundation/endowment with a handful of staff to raise funds. Many Catholic high schools have a foundation and/or a staff. A professional fundraiser identifying and personally asking for support from individuals and companies with major poential is pretty much the most cost-effective way to raise funds and build a solid future. More schools will catch on to that soon.

  24. I’m sure others have said this, I know Mrs. Davis touched upon it, but most school systems no longer encourage – and a lot prohibit – kids from selling door to door. So who is really called to task to sell these products? The parents, that’s who. Sell to your family. Don’t have enough family? Sell to your work colleagues. Send out newsletters to your neighbors. It’s probably not coming across in this comment but I’m really bitter about the whole thing.My husband and I often have this conversation. He came from a wealthy community and I came from one that barely had two nickles to rub together, nevermind enough money to send us to museums. When we first met he was still convinced that the wealth was evenly distributed among the towns in our state. Now that we have a kid I think he’s changed his tune. I can’t wait for him to read your post tonight when he comes home. I love it when he gets up in arms about these types of things. 😉

  25. The fundraising does start early now. When Cordy was in daycare, at 3mo. old, the school was putting fundraising information in her box before we finished the first week there!I hated fundraising as a kid. The guy would come in to pump everyone up about selling, and even back then, I thought it was stupid. Instead of going to school to learn, we were now going to school to become little sales agents. And rewarding us with cheap little trinkets was simply insulting. Even though Cordy is 2, we’re already focusing on schools also. We currently live in the main city school district – a district with a 60% graduation rate. The schools are overcrowded and underfunded, which results in closing more schools and cramming the kids into the ones that are still up to code. Your mom is right – the entire educational system is screwed up and gives better education and opportunities to the rich while the poor districts can’t afford new textbooks. I wish I knew of a solution.

  26. Hell yes. This is exactly what I see as wrong on a larger scale with the American Dream myth. It makes it easy to ignore, step over, or even kick those at the bottom. They clearly aren’t trying, are lazy, don’t care, etc., because <>anyone<> can make it in the States. It helps support and perpetuate the gap between those who grow up with all the benefits and privileges and those who don’t. And another reason why I was insistent that I would return to Toronto before having kids so I could send her to public schools without having to choose between her education and my principles. Our schools’ infrastructure might be crumbling, yes, but the educational foundation remains solid.

  27. Woah, you’ve opened up a can of worms here. Big fat fried ones. At the school I last worked at, they had a magazine drive in the fall. Now, the kids are no longer allowed to go door to door to sell them because that’s not safe. So, they just had to sell them to relatives, parents co-workers, etc. Talk about stacking the deck in favor of the privileged kids (and it was an economically diverse school). This isn’t the worst part. One of the prizes for selling was actually (and I’m so not making this up) the chance to stand in one of those glass boxes with all the cash blowing around and grab as many $1 bills as you could before the time ran out. I called in sick that day. I’m serious. It was done in a school wide assembly. Your mother should start blogging ASAP. But private schools are just as bad. They need money way more than the public schools, it’s just that ALL of the parents are rich, not just some of them. A public school fundraiser equals magazines and cash grabs, a private school fundraiser equals a silent auction for a Harley and foie-gras on toast. Same house, different furniture. Jeesus, sorry I wrote a novel.

  28. I recently bogged about Florida’s public school systems insistance on using my autistic 4 yr old to turn tricks. She has been in school 2 months now and has been asked to sell Entertainment Books and Wrapping paper. We were asked to donate extra supplies over what was required, we are asked to donate to the PTA so THEY can buy the teachers supplies… it’s insanity. If I could afford private schooling and therapies my daughter would never cross pathes with a public school until possibly MAYBE highschool. Schools here are busy selling kids on sell and teaching to teh FCAT tests.. hell some schools have gotten rid of recess. *shaking head here* I so need tyo move to another state

  29. I hear everything you said and I even agree. But since I live in CA where public school is a joke pretty much, I felt I had no choice but to send mine to private school. While that sucks, I won’t risk my kids education, just hoping for the government to pull their heads out of their asses and do what is right for all kids. I wish I could say I felt differently, but Maya needed something more than a public school can give her.And MrsFortune, I am sending my kids to Private school, but I am not rich. Able to pay the tuition, yes, but not rich. And my daughter did come home with wrapping paper to sell the second week of school. Really all school systems are in trouble. This society does not find education to be an important thing…you know, like war.

  30. You should be scared, Liz – having four kids attending public school – between all the selling, buying and begging (don’t even get me started on teachers’ gifts nearly every freakin’ holiday ever invented and why, oh, why do I have to donate toward a gift certificate for a spa, when I don’t friggin’ even go!?!) opening up my kids’ “take home folder” can get really, really scary!I’m not ragging on our P.T.O. (P.T.A., whatever) I know they have to raise a shitload of money, as our town rarely want to pay for anything with the words “increase in school tax” is used in the same sentence.Though, private schools most certinaly must have their own shit to deal with, yes?My husband and I do what we can – and bag the rest…along with the trash.Good luck.

  31. Great post, Liz, as was Badgermama’s, and I have to applaud you for pointing out what a disgraceful financial situation our schools are in.But I participate wholeheartedly in the fundraisers. While I would love to affect social change, my more immediate (okay, <>selfish<>) concern is for my kids’ present situation, and without these fundraisers my kids wouldn’t have a minute of art instruction or be able to participate in the six-week drama workshop our candy sale paid for last year. We earmark our proceeds for specific things, so that the money doesn’t go to pay for a chandelier in the teachers’ lounge or a new iPod for the vice principal.(And unlike Badgermama’s school, our school DOES give out awards for academic achievement, as well as for effort, improvement, ‘Being A Good Friend’ and a host of other things. In fact, if I’m not mistaken Kira brought home an award for ‘Most Effective Disposal Of A Used Kleenex’ last sememster.)

  32. I was a girl scout and my mother was “cookie mother” two years in a row which meant all of the cookies people ordered went through our house first. I believe my parents could’ve sent us to private school with all the money they spent after teaching us accountability. I also believe that we are get a bit too touchy feely in our public school system. Uh, not giving academic awards? Really? In the real world people are consistantly awarded or rewarded for a job well done.I think your mom’s opinion is spot on and you are right, she should have her own blog!

  33. Tommy Lee on his NBC show “Tommy Lee Goes to College” made the case that band geeks can indeed be cool. Stand tall, be proud.🙂

  34. Wow, this is a discussion going on almost daily between me and my other mom friends. We live in Philadelphia and the school systems are not just bad, but dangerous. Yet, I went to public school all 12 years in this city and had a great education. So, I know how you feel about not wanting to run out, but step up. I feel the same angst. I want what is best for my daughter. But our community affects her as well. It’s a real tough call and I am still struggling BIG TIME. As for the selling, I hate the thought of it, thinks it’s awful, but will most likely hit up the coworkers in the end. Great post. Off to read Badgermama!

  35. Don’t get me going. My kid just started band and two seconds after he enrolled we were handed a packet of high priced low-quality crap to sell. But, we’ve had to do this for band, for baseball, for cub scouts…oy.The things is, I don’t. And this past summer when I was team Mom for Allstars, I didn’t make anybody else either. What the hell ever happened to bake sales and cake walks and school carnivals and paper drives? Remember PAPER drives??? Man. We had a great time with paper drives. There are alternatives, but people are lazy and greedy and stupid.

  36. After I read your Mom’s response I thought “She needs a blog!” The fundraising thing is a huge irk for me. We have the option to “opt out” of this (for our girls’ school, our son’s preschool and the dance school!) and I always pay it. I explain that I would rather they just ask ME for the money than badgering my friends. Thankfully our school DOES give award for academic achievement (and civic and sport ec…) because that would be piss me off.

  37. Oh the fundraising. Well, it may seem cold, but we have banned it in our house. The fundraising drives are started by Pep Rallies in the gym, whipping the children into a frenzy of how much to sell, and what prize do we get! I resent how it breaks down into a socio/economic issue, kids who come from more privilige, well they just get the better prizes because their families have more $$$$. Instead I volunteer alought, and believe me, that is worth lottsa dough. And when we can, we give whatever extra money we have to a charity we really believe in.The kids kick up a fuss because they want , really want that cheap piece of crap they might win if they sell a certain amount of magazines. But I will not cave. I can’t.

  38. I’m glad I’m not faced with school fundraising yet. It sounds like a nightmare. I think I’d probably just pay the fee, like many of the commenters have said, but it makes me sad for the students whose parents can’t afford to do that. I guess there isn’t the door-to-door selling like there used to be, but that used to take hours and hours – hours that could have been spent doing homework or playing or learning! We’re not making anything more balanced.

  39. What surprises me most after reading your post is that I am suprised. I am a teacher in a well funded district and I have never heard of students selling things to subsidize the school. For fundraising and special events, sure. But to support the day to day runnings of the school? No way! I completely agree with many of the thoughts offered by other readers…the school system and the way the money is divided is inherently unfair. The schools in the wealthier areas continue to get more money and therefore have more resources to produce better test scores, which leads to more money! The schools in less advantaged areas start off with less money, are not able to provide as many resources and therefore do poorly on the tests. This gets them even less money (don’t even get me started on NCLB…nice idea, but completely unrealistic).The only new(?) thought I have to offer is that while the idea of private school often sounds like it would be a better alternative (and for some kids may be) they often do not have access to many of the resources that good public schools have. Many people don’t realize that kids from private schools are often sent to public schools to receive support services (speech, etc) because the private schools do not always have these services available. I guess my point is to investigate all of your options and make sure wherever they go, the schools can meet the needs of your kids.Hopefully in the future we will find a way to more equitably distribute our resources!Nicole

  40. Yes. Hard. My head is all fucked over by this walking-the-idealist- talk thing as a parent. But yes, we need to do what we can to support that communities that our children are going to live and learn in.(Phew. Do you know how hard it was say something serious when I was all a-giggle at the thought of you doing interpretive dance to Star Wars theme as a teenager?)

  41. It tears one up to have to decide whether to stay in the public schools. We stuck it out for a while where I used to live because we had choices. You could choose which city school you wanted, and if none of them floated your boat there were always the charter schools. Where we live now everyone raves about the local schools, but I’m convinced it’s because they don’t know any better, only worse. In the end we decided to homeschool. Rather drastic, but we can’t afford private and frankly they don’t turn me on much either. I don’t know what the answer is, only that you have to do the best you can for your kids.Of course, as a homeschooler, you never have to sell wrapping paper. Or buy presents for the teachers.

  42. Liz,This was a passionate post for sure!! Many people have paragraphed you up and down!So I will just keep it simple…..I have 4 kids selling gift wrap right now….If anyone’s interested?🙂

  43. Most private schools do things on a shoestring and have fundraisers, they’re just free of schoolboards and can offer many of the extras public schools can’t. Here;s an idea: the room omthers at my daughters private school just sent home a letter asking for a $75 “room contribution” that will pay fpr parties and any extras. As for keeping the art or P.E. program running on candy bar sales: my tuition payment every month guarantees I’ll never have to worry about her programs being but because people don’t want to pay taxes to support schools.We aren’t wealthy, we just decided we wanted to do this more than, say, buy clothes or save for retirement.

  44. “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.”Hear, hear! I, myself, am a product of private (Catholic) school and my grandparents offered to pay my kids’ tuition to go to the same private school (as they did when I went) but DH and I decided against it and put our DD in public school for the reason above. Then again, it’s a really good public school. It would have been a much harder decision if it was a not so good one.I despise the school fundraisers. (I blogged about it recently myself.) But more so, I despise the fact that schools are so woefully underfunded that they are forced to turn their students into little salespeople.

  45. OH wow. THis isn’t something I’ve thought about. ITs bad enough trying to sell stupid raffle tickets for my son’s soccer league (which is not funded by any school organization.)

  46. Wow, I had no idea that these school fundraiser sales weren’t actually to subsidize the extra-curricular trips, but rather to subsidize the school itself! Ugh, I hate school fundraisers. I’m always guilted into buying something from my co-workers for their kids.

  47. My kids attend public school, complete with several fundraisers a year, and do sports which also encourage (if you do not “buy out” like I do to avoid eating all the candy bars) fundraising. As a parent, you can see right through all the marketing and abuse of the school system. On the flip side, as a parent who sees just how many parents are helping out in the classroom or donating their time, energy, money, etc. in other ways to help the kids, I can understand the chokehold the fundraising companies have on the schools. Something needs to change. I know tons of parents/grandparents who would happily skip the “crap” altogether to simply write a check to the school, and I’ve done that myself on more than one occassion. If enough people did this, or something equally substantial, than the schools could give those greedy, Cat-in-the-Hat assembly giving, stupid prize fundraising companies the boot!!!Carrie

  48. You should have a look at Elizabeth from Half Changed World ( who has got a good roundup of posts about school choice (not so much about fundraising).After reading this, I do feel grateful that I live in a country (Australia) that funds schools by state, not by district, although that only reduces the problem rather than getting rid of it entirely.My own school doesn’t do any fundraising, but instead asks the parents for a donation (they suggest the amount – $350) and if you don’t go ahead or donate a lesser amount, there is no stigma attached. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it does reduce the class issues.

  49. All your points are excellent and I agree with everything you’ve said here. But let’s also not forget that it’s just not SAFE to send kids door to door selling things.

  50. Sigh. This is a very interesting issue. In D.C., where schools are a laughing stock of the nation, you would hear about a few “good schools.” They were always schools in the well-off parts of town where PARENTS donated school supplies and money for text books etc.. It seemed so unfair. A system that doesn’t adequately fund public schools is ripe for corruption. In D.C., they cannot handle special education. Parents are incentivized to fight to get their kids labeled “special needs” so they can get sent to a private school at tax payer expense. Pretty hideous. Then lots of tax dollars go to paying private schools to do the job that public schools should do if they had enough resources. A vicious circle. I never thought about the candy sales being part of that, but you are right!Another interesting issue is PTA membership. Lots of schools are choosing to form PTO’s instead of PTA’s which has a state and national office. This is because some of the PTA membership dues goes toward state and national offices for lobbying purposes. Many parents want or feel the need to keep the funds close to home and give it all to the school. I think that’s another example of how the parents need to subsidize hurts public schools. Without a lobbying voice on school legislation, parents and teachers may suffer etc.. Sigh. Thanks for raising this issue, and pointing me to that other post. I really enjoyed your mom’s comments. I used to cover education issues and special edcuation for a national education newspaper. This post really resonated with me as a parent and as someone who cares about public schools from a public policy standpoint.Lisa

  51. The huz and I talk about this stuff all the time. We didn’t lift a finger to sell the crappy wrapping paper, which was foisted upon my six year old, cheap dollar store rewards and all, on the second week of school. I’d rather just write the school a check than make my kid or my husband sell that stuff. It’s wrong and honestly, if we could afford an extra $8000 a year, I’d have my daughter in private school so fast it would make your head spin. I like our neighborhood school but I dislike the system intensely…

  52. It’s funny. I’m a product of one of those snobbish elite NYC private schools and, right now, I’m determined to send my daughter to public school here in the city. Why? Because I think selling gift wrap builds character. Just kidding. Not really. It’s a complicated decision and most of it has do with living specifically in NYC. I’m a firm believer in the life lessons gained by true diversity. Will I back up my principles with my actions? Who knows? Like you said, this parenting stuff is hard.And by the way? Your mom totally needs her own blog. I love her!

  53. I went to private grade school and we still had to do fundraisers. Tell me that isn’t a bunch of crap. My parents weren’t well off and they coughed up the tuition dollars, but it still wasn’t enough. Then, because it was a Catholic school and we attended the church every Sunday, my mother gave even more money when the collection baskets were sent around. They never seemed to stop putting their hands out. I thought that’s what the tuition was for! I hated slogging through my neighborhood with raffle tickets every year, hoping for a walkman or a gift certificate to the music store. But every year, some rich kid in my class would come in and ask for more raffle tickets because he sold all of his since his daddy was a hospital administrator who hit up all the doctors and nurses. My parents refused to take these things to work for us. They told us we could come to their work but WE had to do the selling. I never did know what the money specifically went to. I do know our Monsignor drove a Cadillac and had a golf membership to the country club.I laugh now with the recollection that my parents contributed $5 one year to the raffle fund, and my name was drawn out of the coffer for the grand prize, a piano. I got many years of piano lessons I never would have had if not for that raffle, so I guess I should count my blessings.

  54. Parochial schools sell crap, too. I’m fortunate enough to just write a check and tell the powers that be to bug off.Cheers.

  55. jeebus,i love how much you and HBM are forcing me to confront my beliefs right now. and there was me thinking i was disturbingly amoral and empty. maybe not…i’ve posted on this myself–the school fundraiser part, not the political part. i too now look down the barrell of school fundraising stuff, and my kid is in DAYCARE. and believe me, i am eating a whole lot of little cesear’s cheesy bread and cookie dough by the 10lb carton. i buy it all, and the i eat it, because i can’t stand to pimp it.coming from a country with a welfare state, this whole thing is really alien to me. and I have to agree with your mother. in principle, this is all so horribly wrong, and of course class weights into it. on the other hand, when it’s your child, and your school, and the decision over whether if you sell a few tons of refined carbs, you can get that climber for the playground (or worse, buy books–for some schools). then you find your principles compromised. and of course, she is right in that whether the kids sell more stuff has little to do with success of school–it’s one economic factor among a whole slew. i am going through this now. the local public elementary is pretty poor. and yes, this is about class. so we’re considering a local magnet instead. we are putting our tax dollars outside the community. 2 years ago, i would have sworn i would not do this…and then you get to your own sitation…aaaand. i hate it…right now mummy and daddy are the ones forcing people into corners and asking if they want to buy [insert name of crap here] to help “the children.” when it comes time for my kid to go door-to-door–i am thinking NOT. a donation (and again, there comes the class issue–because we will be able to afford to pay not to have to participate with no guilt) and a “please leave us alone now…” unless he is gagging to go door-to-door. then his daddy can accompany him;-)

  56. Bravo. Next year I will be sending Savannah to Kindergarten and I need to decide this year if I’m enrolling her in private school so I can put her on the wait list. I wondered if I was the only one that felt like this is a disservice to the public school system. A brain drain of sorts.And as for the candy selling – THANKS for taking me waaaay back. To the nice neighbor who invited my friend and I inside for some “games”. Yeah, no. You were better off eating the chocolate yourself. 😉

  57. I was a band geek and a blue bird and definitely sold crap. But for me, it was for a band trip, or whatnot. NOW? My son is in a public school. The educational foundation for the district sends me monthly notices of how I’m doing in my “dollar a day.” We’re expected (read guilted) to give $365 per child to the foundation. I don’t have it. Once of the downfalls of NOT being rich in a very rich area. The foundation’s slogan? “Because a GREAT education isn’t FREE” – which I just read as continuing, “…You freeloader you.”

  58. My kids are at private school and we still sell giftwrap… there is never enough money, especially in private schools where every dime comes from the parents (and the $3.50 the Vatican sends…) and more fundraising that you can shake a stick (or checkbook) at…

  59. Is it wrong that after reading your entire post I’ve come away with the feeling that I MUST HAVE CANDY NOW. What is the matter with me?

  60. Hear hear.I thoroughly appreciated your mother’s perspective. I live in Utah where charter schools are proliferating at an astonishing rate and many upper-middle class parents are yanking their kids out of functional schools (I say functional, but don’t have time to discuss Utah’s terrible per-pupil-funding record)to send them to state subsidized “private” schools that cater to the extremely conservative. (Core Knowledge based on ED Hirsch’s ideas is very popular.) These schools have very low minority representation (even considering Utah’s racial profile) and tend to be made up of the most privileged kids in the state. Even the schools’ locations tends to be in upper-middle class neighborhoods. The thing that frustrates me is that these parents leave without a backward glance, without even considering what their absence will do to the neighborhood school. Public education can be the great equalizer, but only if it is administered equally. Parents at the lower end of the socio-econmic scale cannot commit to the driving and volunteer hours required by these charter schools, so they are shut out. And often they are not savvy enough or free enough with their time to sit on the boards, save a spot for their kids, and hand-pick the curriculum and school model. And the help, both financial and otherwise, that could be given by the more “financially fortunate” parents to the neighborhood schools is gone. It makes me crazy and sad. We have an obligation to ALL children in this society, not just the ones who live under our roof.

  61. I’m a big proponent of public education. I was a teacher for 5.5 years before having my kids. I myself have pimped out kids to sell crap so that our organizations could have things that no one was willing to give us money for. <>Principal: <>Amy, would you be interested in taking on the yearbook next year?<>Amy:<> Sure, that sounds like fun. <>(The next year.)<><>Amy:<> Um, Principal Guy, I can’t find the yearbook camera?<>Principal:<> There isn’t one.<>Amy: <>Well, um, how are we supposed to take pictures?<>Principal:<> The previous yearbook sponsor figured something out. Maybe you should talk to her…The school systems are seriously lacking. They are incredibly underfunded, understaffed, and the burden of dealing with 35 kids in a class, six classes in a day, with four hours of grading every night is taking its toll on America’s teachers.I certainly don’t know the answer. Well, I do know the answer. Smaller schools, smaller classrooms, more technology. What I don’t know is how to get from where we are now to that place in the future.I think there are brilliant teachers out there who’ve lost their ability to inspire in the politics of education.There shouldn’t be politics in education.

  62. It is hard but you say it better than anyone as always.I totally would have eaten the chocolate too.

  63. I’m still so confused about where the money goes. When I was in kindergarten, we were asked to bring some fat pencils and a Big Chief notepad. Now? My son needed Clorox Wipes, 3 boxes of tissue, pencils, crayons, BAND-AIDS! We also collect labels for cash and recycle plastic bags for more cash… and let’s not forget the taxes we pay. I’m a public school proponent, but I wanna know who does their books?! Agreed. Parenting is crazy hard.

  64. My god. I feel so honored that I helped spark off this discussion. I feel like I have this talk ALL the time with my friends, but it is hard to bring that to public discussion, which I think makes it hard for change to happen. And here you all are public as pie, discussing in mad depth! I feel like emailing the link to my school superintendent just to let her know that interesting conversations like this are possible… I thought of starting a new blog to be the unofficial communication thingie for discussion of our school and district… Or… I could just do that on my regular blog the way I’ve been doing, which might have more potential for embarrassment on all sides. Hmmm.Anyway just wanted to say I feel inspired, and thanks.

  65. Don’t think that private schools are immune from fundraising. Oh no! I had to sell my fair share throughout my years in Catholic schooling. From what I understand at my children’s school, all the money is raised by the PTA (read: students), for the PTA and it’s various annual activities, headed of course by parents. It is hard to believe that the parents push so hard for something that most loathe. I myself, refuse to let my children sell door-to-door, or really at all for that matter. They are allowed to hit up the unsuspecting relative who visits during fundraising season and of course I buy an item from each child. And that is it. I would much prefer to hand over a direct check to the school than to peddle crap.I made the mistake one year of sending out an e-mail to family members asking them to support their grandchild/niece/nephew’s school, relaying the fact that I did not believe in allowing my child to hit the streets with their wares. You wouldn’t believe the fury that I received back: “She has to see what competition there is out there and how things aren’t just given to you just because you have happened to win the ovarian lottery of having family who can buy things.Help her work on her sales pitch, or pre-sell the neighbors with a hand written note with picture , warning them that you will be coming around to offer them the opportunity to support her and her school.” Yeah, right!

  66. I got the gift wrap catalog from my daughter’s school just last week- right in the garbage! Who needs it?I ate all my band chocolate bars too!

  67. UGH. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Maya goes to a small public Montessori charter school here in Prop-13 California, and I just completed a three year term on the school board. So I was in on the meetings where they talked about how we did not have enough money in our budget to pay the bills. To keep the lights on. To meet payroll. The only way out is through fundraising, in this fucked up system. (I suppose we could have stopped offering our teachers benefits, like the rest of our school district, but we decided health care was actually important.) It drives me BONKERS. Our school has decided to cut back on the piss-ant gift wrap and candy sales, because the profit to the school is only 50% (and actually, that’s a great profit for a fundraiser). Instead, we have a giving campaign, where you can just donate $$ directly to the school, and 100% goes to the school, and you get a write off. You know how much they ask for? $1,000 per family, per year. Now, obviously $1,000 is a LOT less than tuition. It’s less than one month of tuition in many schools. But it’s a PUBLIC school, and it’s rediculous that we are being asked to do this. Of course, very few families actually give that much. Maybe 10 or 15, out of 150 families. So few families participate, that we still do have to have SOME of the selling type fundraisers. Crap, I’d MUCH rather just give money to the school, rather than have a closet full of wrapping paper I don’t need. Our other cool fundraiser is a read-a-thon. We team up with a local bookstore, and buy gift certificates with 20% of the money the kids raise. They get the certificates, and the school gets 80% of the money raised. Nice.Oh, and being a small, Montessori school has an advantage. No prizes for selling more crap. The kid with the parents in a big office building who sell $800 worth of crap get no more recognition than the kids who sell nothing. We choose to reward them for important things, not for selling crap.The whole thing makes me sick. Makes me sick that in CA, we put bonds out to pay for our schools, because the state isn’t willing to do so. So if you live in a poor area, or an area where you can’t get 2/3 of the vote, your school district suffers. GAHHHH!Your mom rocks, by the way. Buy her a drink from me next time you see her. (Like how you get to pay for it, and I want credit? I could be a politician. 😉 )

  68. Public or Private, it really doesn’t matter, there will be fundraisers. That is the way it is these days. Period. (I don’t like it… but just stating the obvious).I also am (ok was) a proponent of public education. But something needs to be done. They system has been far too politicized, corrupted and is officially broken.When you get a chance, take a look at your local school budget and divide it by the number of kids in your town. I did it, and found that the cost was around $15,000 per student. And for that, they weren’t getting the same education that a small private school (which costs consideraly less that that).It is a tough choice, supporting public education is one thing, but you can’t base the decision on convictions or aversion to fundraiser sales (because there no avoiding them). You need to think about what is the best for the kids. (Why yes, I am an expert at stating the obvious… how did you know?)

  69. You know, this hits the spot. My 15 month old daughter came home from DAYCARE the other day with a fundraiser. You’ve got to be joking, I’m sure you’re thinking, but jest ye not. I already pay them weekly and now they want me to raise funds for them, as I’m sure a 15 month old has yet to master that skill. I think not.

  70. I have many thoughts about this, but this, in your comment, Mom-101, struck me:“when the nation’s educators said it [NCLB] would be a failure from the get-go, why did no one want to listen?” – oh, easy – because the nation’s educators are members of a union (teachers’ unions) and therefore inherently untrustworthy and bad, so, “don’t listen to those people”…Came over from Sweatpantsmom’s link to your very well-written post, where I commented further on the public vs private school issue for myself. I too HATED the fundraising s***t. Our (public) charter school went in for the high-end wrapping paper crap, to show how much classier we were, I suppose, than the town’s other public schools. Way expensive, environmentally unfriendly, pointless, etc etc etc. The only fundraising I never minded chipping in the effort for, for DD, was Girl Scout Cookies. Those babies sell themselves! 🙂My kids’ school in India ( does fundraising the easy way – passing around the bucket at other events! Works pretty well, although along with public schools, we’re always rather strapped for cash. At least we know our donation is going directly to support some kid that wants to go and can’t otherwise do so (scholarships), or buy needed equipment etc for the school.OK. Enough said! 🙂

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