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School year’s first test comes with supply list

While searching for patio furniture this week I saw a scary sight. School supplies.

Illegal fireworks are still popping and screeching in the night with summer weather barely baking away spring and they’re already lining the seasonal aisles with an arsenal of school tools deemed necessary for an education these days.

It’s enough to make me want to light a Roman candle and launch it at the school supply aisle.

While my generation had progressed beyond slate and a piece of chalk, I still regale my children with memories they don’t want to hear.

“When I was a kid,” I say, “I could fit all my school supplies neatly in my desk, with room to spare. One box of crayons, pencils, an eraser, a package of paper, a couple spiral notebooks, a few folders, and one bottle of glue plus the scissors and ruler I’d been using for years. Done.”

They roll their eyes.

“At about fifth grade,” I tell them, “we dropped the crayons in favor of markers and my mom let me get a Trapper Keeper and some scratch-and-sniff stickers, just for fun.”

“What’s a Trapper Keeper?” they ask.

“I didn’t use a calculator in school until I took statistics in college,” I continue while their eyes bulge. I don’t audibly add that I didn’t take any more math than the minimum required to get into college.

By comparison, today’s primary public school student needs more supplies than will fit in an average backpack.

That box of 24 or 64 crayons and a handful of pencils has multiplied into an army of implements. Crayons, wood pencils, mechanical pencils, colored pencils, markers, blue pens, black pens, red pens, green pens and several highlighters create so much chaos you need a pencil pouch AND a pencil box to keep them all in line.

It’s a new kind of classroom management.

That package of paper and few spiral notebooks has morphed into wide-rule paper, graph paper, notebooks, composition books, printer paper, index cards and Post-It notes.

It isn’t enough to write and color and cut and glue. Students need to write in different colors on different kinds of paper, then store their assignments in plastic sleeves in a binder. That is, unless they’re storing the assignments in a red folder with pockets AND brads.

If you’re like me and miss opening school supply week because you’re actually enjoying summer, you have to sift through the piles of folders with brads but no pockets and the piles of folders with pockets but no brads to find that pocketed, brad-punched folder that happens to be orange, because all the red ones are gone.

Then you pray the teacher is colorblind or opts to combine all the school supplies so children whose parents don’t have an extra $100-plus per child won’t get singled out.

Even when I store-hop for discounts the sticker shock gets me every year. The modern school supply list runs 15 to 20 plus items long, even in middle school. It’s enough to blow our middle-class, living-on-a-teacher’s-salary budget.

They don’t mention the high cost of school supplies in all those articles about affordable education. They should. The school supply list is like another form of education inflation.

To make things more challenging, or perhaps test which parents will follow directions to the letter, almost every grade-level list has a few specific name-brand requests or demands, depending on the intonation you hear in your head.

Fiskar scissors, Crayola crayons, Sharpie marker, Ziploc bags, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, Pearl erasers, Mead composition books and a specific Texas Instruments model of calculator.

It makes me want to put the lists in the campfire and light them with whatever brand match I happen to have on hand.

To flesh out those “basics” children should also show up with facial tissue, diaper wipes, baggies, a personal pencil sharpener, water colors, notebook dividers and enough glue sticks that, if stacked end-to-end, would be taller than the child.

If parents aren’t taking out a student loan at this point, they’re encouraged to also supply printer ink.

I haven’t done the math but an iPad on every desk is starting to look like a more affordable option. Someday my kids may regale their children with tales of backpacks bursting at the seams with school supplies. I hope my grandchildren roll their eyes.