Going back to school the expensive/American way

I never really minded going back to school when I was a kid. I lived a fair way from the rest of my schoolmates, so it was always good to catch up with friends. And besides, I always had a relatively immature fascination with getting a new pencil case, and filling it with HB pencils, a four colour crayon pen, and a rubbereraser that I’d probably picked up as a souvenir from Rhyl or Porthmadog.

Fast forward 20 years, and The Young Ones are currently in bed ahead of their first day back at school after more than eight weeks of blissful freedom. To say that they’re less keen on the first day back (and for The Youngest, the first day at a new school) would be an understatement. I’ve seen happier inmates chomping down a last cheeseburger on Death Row.

The dismay they’re feeling right now is nothing compared to what I felt trooping around Staples on Saturday, seeking all the items on a school supplies list that covered two sides of a fairly large piece of paper. From a set square that The Youngest will categorically never use in her life right through to a remarkable sixty ballpoint pens, I’ve seen shorter Oscar acceptance speeches than this list.

Some of the requirements made no sense. Is there really any need for two pencil sharpeners, for example? The Young Ones are pretty damn talented, don’t get me wrong, but even they draw the line at sharpening two pencils at once.

The thing that I quickly realised is that all the pens, mechanical pencils and paper aren’t even for the individual use of The Youngest and The Eldest. The school they both attend is extremely well-regarded and successful, but like most state-funded schools in the US it would appear, the phrase “state-funded” doesn’t actually mean that much. And it certainly doesn’t mean “we’ll buy pens and paper so that your kids can get a basic education.” Luckily, if the government gets parents to buy all this stuff instead so that the class can have a well stocked stationery store for the year ahead, it can afford to spend that little bit extra on new air fresheners for tanks in Iraq. Makes me proud to be a taxpayer, I can tell you.

With the whole of New York seemingly heading back to school on Tuesday, one of those tanks would actually have been useful in navigating the aisles of Staples. Imagine the carnage of the JanuaryThanksgiving sales, but with the unmistakeable candy-induced violent blood-curdling screaming that can only brought on by being unwillingly dragged around a store. Luckily the effect of the Skittles I’d eaten wore off eventually, and I calmed down long enough to engage in a lengthy discussion with The Youngest about the dubious merits of buying left handed scissors when you’re distinctly right-handed.

All I want to know is why we didn’t have to buy a protracter or a pair of compasses? I’m guessing that trigonometry is dead. Who needs angles when you’ve got the Jonas Brothers, eh?

10 thoughts on “Going back to school the expensive/American way

  1. Brooklyn

    There was an old Staples pre Back-To-School commercial with parents virtually dancing through the aisles, and their children drudging along in despair, with expressions like those I imagine graced the faces on stragglers of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. It was hilarious.

  2. Almost American

    Compasses? No, no, no, they don’t want the children to have weapons! Though of course a well-sharpened pencil is a good weapon too, and with 2 pencil sharpeners each they will surely have a good supply of sharp pencils!

    My suspicion is that they give you such a long list because many parents buy nothing, so you are in fact supplying your children’s classmates. I’d feel sure of that if left-handed scissors were specified on the supplies list 😉

  3. Expat Mum

    I think protractors come in about 7th grade – but don’t seem to be used anyway. (And are pronounced with a definite emphasis on the last syllable OR.)
    And have you had the dreaded Trapper-Keeper on your list? I was looking for a model of a pre-historic reptile but it turns out it’s a zippy 3-ring binder.
    At least we don’t have to find a “good fountain pen”, even tho’ mine go to a decent private school. My pen used to leak in my blazer pocket all the time.

  4. Alasdair

    Jan – they have gone the way of Napier’s Bones and the Abacus …

    Some of us still remember them fondly …

  5. Biddie

    I have two girls in highschool this year (grade 9 and 12) and the expenses are more than most people can afford. I spent $400 on uniforms (daughter number one still needs new pants) and then, on the very first day you are expected to cough up another $120. That is before the girls come home with the list of ‘must haves’ from each teacher.

  6. Mike

    Ha ha. Good luck with your wee ones. As an aside, I tried to buy a pencil sharpener not too long ago. All pencil sharpeners now have characters attached to them. I had to settle for a Nemo pencil sharpener. It feels slightly inglorious every time I take it out to use it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *