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By Ric Llewellyn
Every day for the past few weeks I've been driving past a local drug store where a pitch is being made to "donate school supplies here." I am all for local, non-government solutions but the idea that we need a community drive for basic school supplies struck me as a little bizarre.
First, an unscholarly but practical history of education in California.
In the fifties and sixties primary age kids went to school and were provided all the tools and consumables required for their lessons. In the primary grades our books and supplies stayed at school inside our desks. Mom and dad made sure we had what we needed for science fair or book reports.
In the sixties and seventies middle school kids went to school and were provided all the tools and consumables required for their academic lessons. If we took an elective class like home economics or metal shop, there was an extra fee for related materials for that class.
In high school we began to transition to our eventual adulthood. FFA and 4H required some personal financial investment. Drama and auto shop included extracurricular activities with additional costs involved. Yet the essential supplies necessary for class -- even a padlock for PE -- were provided at school.
I think I understand how the "burden" began to shift from the school to the student as we progressed. The programs became more varied and the materials needed for different classes were too diverse and unpredictable to be borne by the schools' budgets.
But how did that situation result in the need for charitable giving aimed at paper, pencils and notebooks?
My kids mostly went to private school in the eighties and nineties so I don't know when or how quickly the situation deteriorated to its current state. But as I look on the result it seems to come down to misplaced priorities by the state, parents and students.
It is not reasonable to put the burden of procuring essential school supplies on primary students. Or middle schoolers for that matter. And no one blames children for being poor. But since the people who really should be responsible have dropped the ball, why not encourage some industry instead of just relying on charity?
Our stationery stores carry school supplies, although they are usually a little more expensive. But local proprietors have flexibility in their operations and might be willing to trade some sweeping or unpacking service for a five-subject notebook and a couple of mechanical pencils.
The big-box stores often have school supplies at discount prices. A little recycling or some other age appropriate endeavor would yield cash for a trip to Walmart.
When the people who ought to be ensuring students are well equipped for class fail them, it is good for students to do what they can for themselves.
No doubt many families are facing difficult financial conditions. But moms and dads should be disciplined enough to defer their own longings so their children have the essentials they need for school.
I know $10 or $20 right now for school supplies might be a budget buster. But what are the other budget items that make it impossible to buy a pack of markers and some art paper?
Smart phone and a data plan instead of a pre-paid flip phone? A late model pre-owned Acura instead of a 10-year-old used Civic?
If the schools can't provide paper and pencil for class, it's your duty to take care of your kids' school supplies. Let the budget drive the discretionary spending, not the essentials of your child's education.
The State of California is the entity that dominates the delivery of K-12 education. And it is downright embarrassing to see private businesses promoting school supply donations in our community to meet the most fundamental necessities of that education.
We should all be hounding our representatives for pencils and paper in schools. No matter how many children are on the nutrition program or how wealthy the district is, basic equipment and consumables should be first on the list when it comes time to spend money.
Drop the fleet requirement for more expensive hybrid vehicles. Don't travel for meetings -- do it all by videoconference. If "important" people have a laptop, they don't need a smart phone too. At least not if the students don't have a notebook and a pen.
I know times are tough for many households. The group sponsoring the supply drive references some heartbreaking stats to show the need for the service they provide. But having all the supplies necessary for the job of learning shouldn't be borne by students or the parents of public school kids.
The state wants to run the show when it comes to delivering K-12 education. The people at the top should be ashamed that a 501(c)(3) is dedicated to making sure kids have basic supplies the education system should be providing.
The men and women leading the school system have let lots of children down. Kern County has its share of poor districts and families in poverty. Struggling to function in class only perpetuates this problem.
Charities are filling the gap for the most critical needs. But that is not enough.
-- Ric Llewellyn is a community columnist whose work appears in The Californian's Local section every third Saturday. Email him at llewellyn.californian@ gmail.com. These are Llewellyn's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.