September 29, 2011

Brainwashing Starts Early

We live in a fantastic school district. It boasts wonderful teachers, high test scores, and challenging curricula. But its also brainwashing my kid.

Each year there's this series of flaming fundraising hoops kids - and, in turn, parents - are forced to jump through. One week it's popcorn or wrapping paper sales, the next a family fundraising night at the local Pizza Hut. And, sure, these don't seem so bad but there are usually prizes awarded for the most money raised and assemblies in which these contests are hyped compounded with daily morning announcements encouraging every kid to sell as much as they can. It's like Boiler Room with pigtails, small chairs, and safety scissors. ABC...Always be closing!

I guess I'm bothered on two levels. First, the reliance on fundraising is sad in its necessity. Schools are underfunded and they rely on the cuteness of kids and the loyalty of their parents to augment their already meager budgets. Second, it's not appropriate. It's completely inappropriate to corner my kid in an assembly, show her shiny things and tell her she needs to hit up all her neighbors and relatives for a chance to win a piece of plastic crap that'll end up in the back of a closet, forgotten. I'm the one that's supposed to be warping my kid, not the school.

The solution? I'd like to be allowed to write a check at the beginning of the year and opt out of all future fundraising activities. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't fly. Pass the Kool-Aid.

Posted by Chris at September 29, 2011 7:09 AM

When my children first started school we had the dreaded funraisers - we did not participate in the selling but sent in a check instead, as did many parents. Then the elementary and middle schools my children attended had no sale fundraisers. The PTA had a goal for $ raised and if that was met there were no other fundraisers. It was very successful and they reached the goal every year. I loved it.

Posted by: beth anne at September 29, 2011 8:08 AM

I'm so with you. I had to "support" my nephews this year and then watch as they were awarded little badges and gifts for their work/our money. It's completely inappropriate to expose young people to this kind of transaction--and I agree that schools do it because it works. Kids are cute. You can't say no when your nephew hits you up for money. I know. I tried.

Posted by: seeking elevation at September 29, 2011 8:23 AM

You sound just like me. I would get so angry when the kids would come home from school and tell me they had an assembly hyping what they could win if they sold enough over-priced crap. I finally refused to let them participate after a few years of hitting up the same neighbors and relatives over and over. I see no problem with writing a check to your PTO (PTA) at the beginning of the year. They're not going to turn down your money and you'll know you've contributed without sacrificing your principles.

Posted by: Carolyn at September 29, 2011 8:29 AM

Our PTA does ask for a check at the beginning of the year, and I love it! E-mail me if you want to info about it for your PTA. We're always happy to share what we've learned with other local schools.

I wish I could post this entry at our school for the holdouts. I think they've forgotten after 7 years without sales fundraisers how much better we have it!

Posted by: Kate M at September 29, 2011 8:38 AM

I need to suggest this to our PTA. I would quite happily write a check at the beginning of the year if that means I never have to look at overpriced wrapping paper again.

Posted by: Emily at September 29, 2011 9:22 AM

I wouldn't be happy with that either, sounds like it's adding extra pressure to make it competitive, shouldn't kids learn that you fundraise to do good not to win prizes? And what if your friends and family don't have much money?

I don't know what the situation is here in the UK but as I'm pregnant I guess I'll find out in about 5 years!

Posted by: Katherine at September 29, 2011 9:50 AM

Our school PTA sends a letter with the fundraiser, saying that a flat-out donation is welcome, if you don't want your kid to participate in the fundraiser. It spells out the prizes for each level of giving.

Posted by: Julie at September 29, 2011 10:00 AM

Our school does give us the opportunity to donate and the beginning of the year and opt out of all the fundraising! They call it SuperPledge - $1 a day - or $180 a school year - buys you out of all fundraising - includes prizes the kids usually get for selling crap and a yearbook. Those fundraisers easily end up costing me that much money - and this way I get to write it off on my taxes!

Posted by: Jenn at September 29, 2011 10:12 AM

School fundraising is really an industry. I agree with all of the points you made and I have one to add - such assemblies take away from curricular time.

I like the idea writing a cheque and being done with it. It really is too bad that schools rely on fundraising. I teach in a school that would be deemed similar to yours (upper middle class, I hope you would think I'm an awesome teacher!) I know that schools that are less well off get more funding. Is that the case for you? The propoganda I hear would lead me to believe that is not the case.

Posted by: Heather at September 29, 2011 10:17 AM

Yeah, well, the daughter of one of my coworkers sells candles as a fundraiser for her DAYCARE. And not like a center or preschool or anything, it's an in-home daycare group with like 8 kids. It seems so wrong to ask the parents of two-year-olds to sell stuff for a place they're paying big bucks to send their kids to to begin with.

Posted by: Leah at September 29, 2011 10:33 AM

Kool-Aid is for closers, man. You don't get any till you sell something.

I don't have kids yet (although guess what -- I will be having a baby in February!) but this is something I dread. I hated having to do this stuff when I was a kid, and I imagine I will hate it even more as a parent. I love the "can I please just send in a check" alternative. That way no one has to buy a bunch of popcorn or wrapping paper that they don't need or want.

Posted by: Hillary at September 29, 2011 10:41 AM

That's exactly what I do. I usually send a check in with a note saying I'd rather have them receive the entire amount of my check. If I buy the crap, they only get a portion of my money. I also had to find a suitable incentive for my kid to go along with this plan. It was easier in high school - they were less impressionable.

Posted by: kfragosa at September 29, 2011 11:00 AM

I'm going to be the lone wolf against the pack. I think it's good to train kids on how to manage uncomfortable situations. Girl Scout cookie sales do wonders for that, and they build confidence. If parents take the time to make sure the kid is involved, that's great! Further, if the kid is generally on his own, well, it's a life skill that's going to be part of trying to find funds hopefully for college or at least a career. Hearing "no" is part of life. Is there a difference between a lemonade stand and a school fundraiser? Other than the kid "wanting" to do it, not particularly. There's a reward for selling stuff.

I DO think that more than one a year is absurd.

Posted by: Anonymous at September 29, 2011 11:12 AM

Our elementary school does the opt-out. $120 or something gets you out. We did that because some years we had three kids at the same school, all selling the same stuff to the same people. Give the money directly to the school. Then the fundraising co. doesn't get a cut. We don't support the cheap-prize stuff, either.

I went to a small private school for K-8 and we had fundraisers twice a year. I went door-to-door selling my wares and I did OK for my school. Prizes were better back then. We sold Dakin stuffed animals one year, and the prizes were...stuffed animals. Quality ones that I have passed down to two of my kids. Now? Not so much. Plus, schools do not encourage our kids to go door-to-door.

We are currently selling magazines and cookie dough (odd combo? yes).

Posted by: Brooke at September 29, 2011 11:54 AM

This whole subject makes me laugh....that psychotic kind of laugh that means I'm headed to the looney bin.

We send our son to a very expensive private school. Granted, that's our decision and we knew what we were getting into. But our local school districts are pathetic and this is an excellent school (It's catholic so they are brainwashed in a different way), but as I work in a local university, I see the products the local public schools are churning out vs. the kids from this yeah, it's a sacrifice we are willing to make.

When he first started there was the tuition plus a $500 fundraising fee that had to be met. You could opt out of the fundraising and write a check if you preferred. Apparently there were too many instances of people not fulfilling their fundraising fee so the school just combined it into the tuition. Now we have optional fundraisers that you can participate in to shave money off your tuition. For example, right now we are selling those Entertainment Books. For each one you sell, you get $15 credit towards your tuition. The school needs the money for sure, they don't get state funding or much from the diocese, so as parents we do end up spending more to provide our children with this education. Oh, and every sports team has fundraisers going on too. It's insane.

Posted by: Lisa at September 29, 2011 12:46 PM

My daughter came home from her 1st day of senior kindergarten with a coupon book in her backpack. There was a letter attached stating that these books were $23 each, for fundraising and that she should go around and sell as many as she could. I looked through the book. None of the coupons were worthwhile, and while there were a few fastfood coupons, most of it was cheap advertising for local businesses who would give "buy one get one 1/2 off" with the coupons. I sent it back with her to school on her next day, with 0 sales. That's right. I didn't even buy any! I'm a bad mom.

Posted by: Effie at September 29, 2011 12:58 PM

And wait until Mia joins Girls Scouts, or the swim team needs money, or whatever. It never stops.

Posted by: COD at September 29, 2011 1:37 PM

In my district, the PTA has done away with all the fundraisers and gone to one FunRun. The kids get pledges and everyone regardless of how much they raised, gets out for the hour and walks or runs one mile. The group raises 25,000 each year and we don't have to buy wrapping paper.

Posted by: greenie at September 29, 2011 1:47 PM

Also, if your children get into sports, there is always something. My youngest has taken up hockey and in addition to the 1200 just to play, each team at the rink has to come up with 500 dollars sponsorship for the rink, there is a superraffle that each child must sell two tickets for. In baseball, he plays travel and its always a pressing need for sponsorships to help defray the cost, which is still 700 dollars for the season. That is just the youngest one. The daughter is hard core into dancing and that is easily 5000 a year due to competitions and nationals. My oldest is the cheapest, but even this year, I had to buy him a helmet for football because the one they issued looked like something Knute Rockne woulda worn. Lets not even get into 200 dollar bats, 100 dollar shoes etc....Kids, gotta love em :)

Posted by: greenie at September 29, 2011 1:54 PM

unfortunately, it would probably make mia more warped to be one of the kids not "in on it"... but i totally agree. ever see that bumper sticker that says something like let's see the schools get the funding and the military have to hold the bake sales?

my dad never helped me sell my candy bars, etc. because he was the boss in the office and he felt bad asking (guilting) people that made less money than he did (and he didn't make that much) to buy things.

it's tragic that our children are in the situation they are in, and yet it sounds like luckily you are living in an area where it is making do? bright side?

Posted by: kati at September 29, 2011 4:12 PM

You are preaching to the choir on this one! I hated those things as kids, and I hate that the flyers appear in the mailroom at work to buy this, that, and the other from so-and-so's kid. I don't really think we're teaching kids much by making them do this. It seems like it would teach them more to put on a talent show and charge people to come, or have them make art and hold an auction, or something other than creating little marketers of junk that nobody wants.

If a school needs money for something, all they really need to do is ask for money. I don't have kids in school, but I'd gladly give a school $20 any day for a good cause. My church raised about $150,000 in one day for a mission in Haiti! All they had to do was ask.

Posted by: Sandy at September 29, 2011 4:21 PM

We will not be doing fundraisers unless my daughter is actually disappointed to not be doing them (I don't foresee this, but who knows?). I have zero problems with telling the school "No way, my kid isn't in sales." If, for some crazy reason, my kid actually wants to sell crap, we will not help her by distributing flyers at our workplaces or to our relatives. And if she wins something, she will not allowed to accept prizes.

She leads a very unmaterialistic life, and I'm not teaching that life is about selling and "winning" to please other people. She will learn that we give away 5% of our income, because we already have plenty, and she can help us decide where to give a portion, to her school if she likes.

I truly hate this trend and will push back with all my might against it.

Posted by: Laura Gato at September 29, 2011 8:28 PM

I just spent two days (!) collecting and counting our cheap plastic crap/horrible pizza kit fundraiser orders. Our school is a Title 1 school which means that 50% of the population is considered "low income". We get federal funds, but our PTA also runs a $55,000 budget to support science, outdoor classrooms, arts programs and our events.
While a majority of the kids don't seem to sell, the ones who do are bringing in orders over $100 on average. The largest chunk of our budget comes from this sale. Many of our parents couldn't just write a check.
That said, I hate the damn thing. I don't participate in it. I hate everything about it from the fact that we have to do it to the fact that the company that's "helping" schools gets 60% of the profit. But having just counted it all and knowing that we blew our expected income out of the water, I have to figure that, at least for our school community, something is working.

Posted by: Amanda L. at September 29, 2011 10:14 PM

Totally agree. I just said the same thing yesterday. I'll write them a check every month to get out of future fundraising.

Posted by: Lesley Barr at September 29, 2011 10:40 PM

I suggsted the "opt out" scenario at my kids' daycare last year. With 140 families, and a $12,000 fundraising goal to fund teacher enrichment, each family would have to pay about $85. Even if not all of them paid, we'd still be close to the goal. It was nixed because they didn't want to outright ask for money, but have something more participatory. Luckily we no longer do the wrapping paper and entertainment books. We did a read-a-thon last year that raised over $5000, and we do a gift basket auction. Each classroom has a themed basked and parents supply the items. Most parents don't end up spending more than $15 for their item(s) and all the proceeds go to the school. Not ideal, but the baskets usually go for way over market value. I still can't believe I fundraise for a daycare, but I believe the program to be more than just glorified babysitting so anything to help the teachers do their jobs better I will support.

Posted by: Laura at September 30, 2011 9:38 AM

Our kids' school finally transitioned to the "just let me write a check" model this year. But, with a twist.

The kids did a "walkathon" fundraiser. So, all of the kids went outside and walked around for a half hour to feel like they were contributing, while getting a smidge of exercise. And, I could just write a check without having to buy unwanted kitsch.

Everyone wins!

Posted by: K at September 30, 2011 2:44 PM

I did find it a bit disturbing (attending elementary school last year as a one-on-one nurse) to see so many assemblies with characters drummed up pushing toys and candy on kids to get them hepped up to push their parents to buy over-priced goodies and sell over-priced wares. It's really just bribing the kids to beg their parents for money for the school systems.

Posted by: Karen at October 1, 2011 1:11 PM

My school scrapped the wrapping paper sale this year in favor of a Read-a-Thon. There's still pressure to participate and fundraise, but at least they're reading instead of buying. It's something.

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