I’m not buying it, and I’m not selling it

you could win a prize
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

An enormous sheaf of sales catalogues and flyers came home with Moomin the second week of school. Before he had any homework, he had fundraising materials. These catalogues are pressure on the child and on the parents.

I notice the school does not give prizes for academic achievement.

They give prizes for selling some overpriced candles or wrapping paper or cookie dough.

This infuriates me on many, many levels.

I enjoyed selling crap from those comic-book ad schemes, on the level of looking at the prizes and dreaming of a tent or a transistor radio, and an afternoon spent knocking on all the doors on my block to sell christmas cards. I also enjoyed momentary schemes to sell lemonade, rocks, and craft projects. However, that was a youthful lark. Not a SUBSTITUTE FOR TAXES.

The companies that participate in this sort of scheme are not helping schools. They are exploiting the labor of children and women and throwing us some crumbs. They get free marketing. They use the idea of charity and pity: small cute children selling stuff door to door, and you’ll buy the wrapping paper because the kids are cute.

It is not cute. It is not right.

They might as well have forced labor in the school itself, and turn the kids to doing at work-at-home schemes, or prison-level craft projects, or factory assembly work. All in the name of funding the school of course.

I repeat there are no prizes for academics. There’s no art contest, no sports contests. That might destroy a child’s self esteem. That might be unfair to children who aren’t good at anything. Nevermind that not having academic acheivement, not having competition, might destroy the smart kid’s opportunity for self esteem.

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?

Taxes, people. We pay them for a reason and one of those reasons is to guarantee equal opportunity in education to every child in this country.

Our system is very, very broken when we have to resort to these schemes in order to pay a P.E. teacher part time or buy some art supplies.

I boycott all such fundraising schemes now and forever. I won’t work for them and I won’t let my kid do them while I still have that option. I bought a pencil sharpener and a stapler for my kids’ classroom, but any money I’m donating will go to the whole district.

Screw these “reach for the stars” glossy flyers, screw the candles, the wrapping paper, the crap and the cookie dough. I’m not buying it.

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36 Responses to I’m not buying it, and I’m not selling it

  1. wired says:

    I hated them, too, as a kid, because it seemsed like such a flawed economic model. So many middlmen, so much labor for scant reward.It was a good day in my life when I realized that instead of toting candy bars with the rest of the senior class, I could get a JOB, and earn the money myself. It took working Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but I had enough money to pay for our trip to Disneyland (stated goal), but also enough to buy all that senior crap (class ring, necklace, sweatshirt, etc) without asking my parents.Not an option for Moomin, at this point, but I know what you're saying.I also felt the same way about the readathon and other pledge-fundraisers. Ick.

  2. Jo says:

    I've decided my policy is to figure out how much it would cost to buy whatever i might buy in the catalog, and then contribute it very pointedly to the PTA with a letter. Then go get Sophie a "prize" on my own.

  3. Robin Crawford says:

    I was shocked to get a fundraising appeal from a friend on behalf of her daughters PRESCHOOL! Lord. I ignored it. My daughter is in preschool (although at a coop) and her school seems so far to do all fundraising directly with the parents (social get togethers, auctions, parents night out). I cannot believe they would start this catalogue crap in preschool. You voiced my thoughts and concerns much better than I ever could. Thanks.

  4. minnie says:

    god! it's really nauseating! how do people condone this sort of thing?are all schools like that now? dare i hope it is isolated to the south bay?

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  6. jess says:

    Amen. I hated being guilted/bribed by my school into selling crap in order to win crap prizes. (however they did once give my sister the most beautiful stuffed wolf for free to make all the other kids jealous and want one too) My mother used to order a few things of wrapping paper to support them (paticuraly since they had hannukah themed wrapping paper and the local stores did not, boooooo southern va sucks)I just remember sitting at all those asemblies where they show off all the prizes and thinking what a waste of time it all was. I was glad in upper school we could come up with our own ideas to raise money for our class funds.

  7. Thida says:

    Amen. My parents hated them and as a kid I recognized how much it was really the parents selling and not the kids. Eventually they refused to do them instead of half heartedly going along with them and everyone was much happier.

  8. Ms. Jen says:

    I don't remember selling anything other than girl scout cookies in elementary school. But I did buy the best roll of wrapping paper off a friend a few years back. It was for her son's school, her son would not sell a thing, so my friend did. Frankly, can't we get companies and corporations out of school and maybe pay a bit more in taxes for the benefit of future generations? hmmm… what a thought…

  9. Mrs. Davis says:

    My son just brought home his catalog of crap to sell, too. I hate this stuff, and I have worked as a professional fundraiser (where we actually ask people to write a check becuase they believe in the cause, NOT selling wrapping paper, etc).It would be far more cost effective for the schools to just ask/encourage parents and others to write a check, but sadly I think most parents would respond even more negatively to that than they would to the selling. (Teh response might be: How DARE they ask me for MORE! I already pay taxes!!) Taxes provide only the bare minimum these days. Parents (and others in the community, businesses, etc) need to contribute more if they want public schools to offer the best.Your point about the selling fundrasers being class based is right on. I never realized that.

  10. DrumsNWhistles says:

    Your blog design is beautiful, by the way. I just love it.As to your post…AMEN SISTA!!!!I have the same pile of materials to sell and similar stories.And by the way, we could have traded back-to-school nights and still have felt like we were in the same place, even though mine was in middle school. It seems to be getting worse and worse.DnW

  11. Margaret says:

    I am in complete agreement. There are lots of things I'll do for my child's school, but this is not one of them! No wrapping paper, no coupon books, etc. You make a great point about how this stuff should not substitute for school funding, which, after all, helps all of us whether we have children or not, by creating an educated citizenry. No-one should have to sell holiday wreaths to make sure the school will have, for example, a P.E. teacher.

  12. rory says:

    100% agree. I have 4 kids in school, and I absolutely refuse to support any fundraisers. If they want money, raise my taxes or better yet, stop wasting it.

  13. anna says:

    I hated being in girl scouts for expressly these reasons- that it's selling stuff and using the innocent little cherub's face as the seller. So wrong. People want to support the school, but why not just be open about it? I like the way my brother & sister's schools do a silent auction- it raises a lot more money, and is a little more honestly barefaced about the entire enterprise. Ugh. In general, I wish our schools were better, and our citizens put more money into education.

  14. Donna says:

    Wow, maybe my tiny homeschool should think about a fundraising effort. Hey I know, my dd can sell her "art" to raise money to cover essentials – like a big fat raise for the teacher and administrator ($5 would substantially better than zero btw). She even has an inventory that won't fit in any portfolio or even stack neatly.I have purchased countless items over the years to support someone's school. I think it's just plain fair for these folks need to support my school now.Our neighbors already think we're freaks, so where's the harm? Oh yeah, right, the harm is in those big fat rude rejections that no 10 yo is equipped to handle. I'd like to see the research that shows that being rejected countless times in childhood prepares one to handle rejections positively as adults. Where's the literature on that?My dd's Girl Scout leader told me that being rejected builds self-esteem – my ass it does – and I refuse to sell into the whole GS fundraiser crap.

  15. Occidental Girl says:

    I agree with you about this, completely. The companies involved aren't in it for the charity, but for the profits.It's a sad state of affairs for schools these days. I don't understand how more people aren't outraged.

  16. Daisy says:

    Thank you, Mrs. Davis! Taxes only provide the minimum, and federal laws keep requiring more without funding it. Fundraisers like this are a bad idea — and the only alternative is (gulp) to ask for more tax funding. It's a lose-lose proposition.

  17. Belinda says:

    I was shocked to see these catalog packets laid out on the "check-out table" where we sign our kids out, at Bella's PRESCHOOL a couple of weeks ago. School had been in session for two weeks. I ascertained what it was, collected my child, and started out the door. I was RUN DOWN by one of the teachers, who chased me out, waving the thick packet. "Here, you have to take one of these!" I was so stunned I actually took it from her (isn't that a funny quirk of human nature–hand someone something, they just TAKE it), and went away bewildered. The kicker? This is a PRIVATE preschool, not a public one. I pay TUITION.So, you're telling me: when she starts public kindergarten, that it's going to get WORSE? Oh, boy. I can see that I'll be needing to prepare a speech ahead of time, to deal with this situation.

  18. badgermama says:

    I can't believe so many other people feel strongly about it! Next up, I will call the school and the district and complain about the weekly flag ceremony… Oh, I'm gonna be one of those trouble making parents. Kept my mouth basically shut for a whole year but you know that couldn't last.I will definitely call the state legislators and complain about the fundraising companies. I really do think it's wrong. I think the auctions are wrong too because they benefit the rich schools the most. Even if they were for the whole district that would level it out a little bit.

  19. Carrien says:

    I so agree, 100%. If I weren't already homeschooling my kids I would refuse to participate with you. BUt hey, I've just refused to participate altogether, but I know many don't have that luxury.I was the lower income kid trying to hawk chocolate bars to pay for grad tickets so my parents could come, or so I could go to band camp with everyone else, or whatever other stupid thing it was. And I can testify that it's degrading, and getting occasional work during school was actually much better use of my time than trying to convince my neighbor to buy yet another $3 chocolate bar.

  20. Mom101 says:

    I have mixed feelings about the wrapping paper sales (despite my own guilt-induced purchases from the efforts of cute neighbor kids that are buried, unopened, in my hall closet). But you raise excellent issues. In fact I partly dropped out of girl scouts because I was shunned for not selling enough cookies. Also because I refused to wear a skirt. But that's another story. What concerns me most however are the lack of incentives for academic achievement. Gold stars, A's, pats on the head go a long way. I fear we're ill-preparing our children for the real world when we shelter them from the bell curve of life. Great post, badgermama!

  21. Green Data says:

    Since you are a female geek, may I ask you to write a guest-post on my blog about female geeks, and why women are not into Engineering/Compuers/Technology that much.

  22. Mom101 says:

    I couldn't help but forward your post onto my mother for her opinion, since she's a fairly prominent educational consultant. She wrote me a novel in response. I'd love to send it to you if you're interested but have no email for ya! I'm at mom101[at]mac if you're interested…

  23. Michele says:

    Great post! My boys were five months old – FIVE MONTHS OLD – when I got my first flyer from their daycare for a big fundraiser. My boys even had sales goals. At five months.I gave it back that Friday with the (HUGE) weekly day care payment and said that I thought it was enough of a contribution. I asked them what they were planning on buying with the funds they raised and got blank stares. I said since my boys had sales goals, surely they had a plan on how they would be spending the money. Again, blank stares. I am not so popular with the director there. sigh

  24. capacious says:

    I too just send in a check without buying anything. The money that comes in for fundraisers in our school pays for books, science kits, field trips, new curtains for the auditorium, and teacher allocations, among other things. That big stupid fundraiser makes the school a lot of money, annoying as it is. I suggested this year that the Parent-Teacher Organization TELL parents that they can just send in a check instead of buying more damn wrapping paper and bad chocolate (I thought that was an oxymoron, but it isn't, apparently). Those teachers spend so much of their own money on the classroom and on the kids, the fundraisers really help.

  25. Liz says:

    Capacious, I know the schools are desperate for money! And I hate it even more than fundraisers that the teachers buy things out of their own way-too-low salaries.I would certainly go even further and deeper with my objections to the structure of public school funding. For example… obviously the funding being based at all on property taxes will create built-in inequalities. Compared to that I guess the wrapping paper income is a drop in the bucket.

  26. Kate says:

    Ha! This is so funny. Especially Robin Crawford's comment. My husband and I, too, were particularly fuming about my son's pre-school that has them trying to fundraise a couple times of year. Pre-school! I mean let's be real here and say, he's not doing the selling here – we are! I totally hear ya on this one — not looking forward to the years ahead of "school fund raising". Although it seems to be growing out of control.

  27. Lisa Hirsch says:

    I hate that we keep electing public officials who talk about how bad taxes and government are – well, if they're so bad, WHY DO YOU RUN FOR OFFICE? And I hate the fact that Californians would rather have low taxes than an educated populace.I want my taxes raised, dammit.

  28. Jenny says:

    aaargh! I have ranted and ranted about these stupid fundraisers for years. I despise them.(That said, I'm looking into establishing a blog for the school and pursuing advertising for some passive revenue that doesn't involve my kids hawking overpriced crap.)

  29. Mark Montgomery / Te says:

    I loved this post. My kids' school hold an annual auction to raise $50k. This goes to pay for teachers' aides, part of the gym teacher's salary, and to support a Spanish language program for elementary students. Now the PTCO wants to hold a separate fundraiser to buy a climbing wall. Needless to say, this school is in a wealthy area. But it galls me all the same. Do our little darlings really need a climbing wall?And all the time, the teachers in the school are using cruddy textbooks to teach science and social studies. These books are truly awful. Where are the priorities?

  30. La Maestra says:

    My mom was the same way growing up–she wouldn't let us participate in those fundraisers. Well, we did readathons, but they were for MS, not for the school. When I have kids, I plan to do the same. School needs money/supplies–fine, let me pull out a check.As a teacher who runs a rather money-intensive student organization, I feel like I'm always doing fundraising. However, I never go through a sales company, because the more layers you add, the less your overall profit. The only candy sales we do are ones where we go to a warehouse store and buy the candy to package ourselves–the kids carry it around and sell it to their peers for the same price they'd get it from a vending machine. No, it's not the healthiest thing, but it's only twice a year, and kids make a 60% profit.I think that, in the past four years, we've washed the car of every person in town. We make a *ton* of money that way. We've also done BBQs and tamale sales–those can be popular. Fundraising doesn't require prizes and slick advertising.About a month ago, a friend of mine hit me up to buy crap for her 1st grader's school fundraiser. I pulled out my checkbook and told her I was just going to write a check straight to the school for the amount I would have spent on the fundraiser (where, at most, 40% would go to the school.) Her response? "But then that won't count toward the prizes, and he really wants to win something."Riiiiight.I put away my checkbook.

  31. Kelli in the Mirror says:

    I run a home daycare with seven kids ages 2 and 3, and I keep getting marketing packages in the mail from companies asking me to do fundraisers for my school! I can't even imagine asking the parents of my babies to go peddle stuff so that I can get a new swingset or whatever.It starts there and only gets worse, sounds like. ick.

  32. Kimberly/Mom in the says:

    Now, you have gone ahead and added extra layers to my dislike of catalog fundraisers… Great points!

  33. wordpress T says:

    hm the content was good and great post.

  34. In home care says:

    You guys are really in for a treat and it would be something that would be followed over in time once it clicks too. So make sure you do things at the best of what you would be able to. This would go down in history.