Do I miss the days of filling a cart with items like these? Not one bit.

Do I miss the days of filling a cart with items like these? Not one bit.

The Editor’s Desk: Back to school buying blues

The annual back to school buying frenzy is something this writer does not miss at all.

As a parent whose child is no longer in school, I find that I have become detached from the rhythms of school life; one of those people who wonders why, on a Friday during the school year, there are so many children about, then realizes it is a Professional Development day, with no school in session.

There are things I miss about this state of affairs; and then I hear or see a “back to school” ad from a retailer selling school supplies, and realize I do not miss this part at all. The annual school supply list was not exactly a thing to be dreaded; but it was a small annoyance, as we made the trip to a purveyor of the items on said list and added them to a rapidly-filling cart.

When I entered Grade 1 at Harry Eburne Elementary School in Richmond in 1969 (alas, no longer with us; the school, I mean, not Richmond), I remember being taken by Mrs. Martin, my Grade 1 teacher, to a supply room, where I was able to pick out all the items I needed for the year—pencils, erasers, rulers, etc.—courtesy of the school. My parents paid not one cent.

I will pause for a moment, to allow parents of children currently in school to laugh bitterly, or start crying and reach for a tissue, according to their nature. That’s right: when I started school, the items I needed to get me through the school year were provided for free.

Oh, this halcyon state events of events did not last forever: within a few short years I would, every August, accompany my mother to some store or other in search of Laurentian pencil crayons and Duotang binders and geometry sets and the myriad other things that it was deemed necessary for me to have in my scholastic endeavours at that point in my life. But I don’t recall that the demands were particularly onerous, or unreasonable.

The same recollection applies to my own experience as our son proceeded through the grades at Ashcroft Elementary and Ashcroft Secondary; and I see that, thanks to a one-time grant from the Ministry of Education, many basic school supplies (pencils, crayons, erasers, paper, etc.) are being provided for free to School District No. 74 students this school year, with items that are not covered available at minimal cost via the district.

But in some places, school supply lists have gone crazy. One Grade 4 list from a school in the United States specifies that children must bring such items as two reams of white copy paper; a box of Scotties tissues; a box of reclosable quart bags (girls only; boys have to bring one box of reclosable sandwich bags); two pink bevel erasers (latex-free); and “1 Pendaflex blue seven pocket expanding file with elastic close”.

Which begs the question: why does the Pendaflex file have to be blue? Why does it have to have seven pockets (if a student brought a pink 10 pocket Pendaflex file—should such an item be available—would she be in trouble?). And really: when many public washrooms provide tissues as a matter of course, why should a student need to buy her own box, and bring it to class?

So hats off to the Ministry of Education and SD 74 for helping to alleviate the annual back to school burden on parents this year. And be thankful that our school supply lists are not as onerous as some of those south of the border.