Friday, April 3, 2009

School Fundraisers or If I Wanted My Kid to Work in a Sweatshop, I'd Move to a Third World Country!

When our oldest daughter started preschool three years ago, we expected the occasional fundraiser. It was, after all, a Catholic-based school affiliated with our parish and, well, those Catholics are good at asking for money. I dutifully contributed a few dollars here and there, or donated items for the spring basket fundraiser as necessary - nothing too much to break the bank but enough to help out over and above the monthly tuition we paid.

I was ill-prepared, however, for the onslaught of fundraising opportunities at her publicly funded elementary school that started within a week or two of the beginning of the school year and has not ended yet.

Let me first state that I am all for supporting our school. I don't believe the funds that the public education system receives by way of our tax dollars are properly managed, and I don't believe enough of the money makes its way to the front lines. I understand the need for individual schools to raise money and their struggle to find innovative ways of doing so.

That being said, I also don't approve of school children as young as five-years-old being who have no clue about politics, school budgetary needs, etc., being encouraged during the school day to peddle all sorts of junk to friends and family members with the promise that they'll receive some great prize for their efforts. Further, I REALLY don't like that the school is now having students work on these fundraising projects during the normal course of the school day and that time is being taken from their learning to do so.

For example, several months ago, the school did a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. I believe some of the money raised would go to the school as well. They spent at least two gym classes, over a period of two weeks, practicing jumping rope and being encouraged by the phys-ed teacher who told them about all the great things they could win. M was extremely upset with me when I burst her bubble by telling her that she was not going to be winning any of those things because we weren't participating. So I have a school teacher egging kids on and applying peer pressure in an effort to get them to participate and me ending up as the bad guy because I had to find a way to explain to M that it wasn't gonna happen.

Most recently, M came home with a drawing she had colored, and a magnet on which the drawing had been reproduced. The literature, from a company called Art to Remember, let us know that the magnet was not ours to keep but was merely a sample of the types of things on which we could have our children's art reproduced. We would need to either pay $5 for the magnet, or send it back in. Right. Send it back in after my daughter has already seen it and is excited by it.

After pressing M about this latest scam, I found out that they'd worked on this in art class, and that they were told what to draw by way of a template that they basically colored in. So they'd basically spent an hour's worth of learning time working on an item designed to make money for the school. Am I the only person who sees something inherently wrong with this?

I realize these types of things have been going on for many years in one form or another. We all know about the months spent preparing for the high school plays in which the final performances were by paid admission. But there's a difference, isn't there? Those are high school kids who are spending a lot of time learning about drama and who may be seriously pursuing the performing arts after high school.

While my five-year-old daughter likes to draw and paint more than anything, I haven't seen much creativity come home this year from her art class, and I don't see how a pre-fabricated piece of art that only needed to be copied and colored, is teaching her anything. I don't like that my kindergarten daughter is being used for school fundraising. And further, how is it that the school system sees fit to make kindergarten an all-day affair so that kids can learn more earlier and be more competitive, have snow make-up days on Saturdays to meet the state-mandated requirements for the number of instructional days in a year, and test kids to death with EOG's starting in third grade, but sees nothing wrong with taking a little time out of the instructional day to have them produce products for a fundraiser? What, exactly, am I sending my kid to school for again?

And that's to say nothing of the unfair obligation laid on friends and family who are supposed to buy over-priced, poor quality items that are peddled at the beginning of every school year. I've been on the receiving end of the fundraising effort. How do you turn down the neighbor's kid standing at your door with a catalog and an order form and a mother at the bottom of the stairs supervising? I've bought more $7 rolls of wrapping paper than I ever care to think about, and have wasted good money on poor-quality Chinese-made ceramic items that have never made it through one cycle in the dishwasher. I, for one, will not subject my friends and family to this annual display of begging.

As for the magnet, I will be keeping it, and sending a note in lieu of a check for $5, letting the school know that I consider the magnet to be payment for my daughter's time. I will most certainly submit a personal monetary donation to the PTA at a later time, and will be more than happy to volunteer my time toward school fundraising events like the upcoming Spring Fling.

I will explain to my daughter, when she's a bit older and can understand the concept, about the virtue of giving some of her extracurricular time toward helping the school or a cause of her choice, and I will help her to understand that we do not do so in order to win a super-deluxe green plastic frisbee that she would have gotten if she'd sold a few rolls of wrapping paper.