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Sunday, September 18, 2005
PoliColumn: School Fundraising
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:20 am

Via today’s Mobile Register.

Our students should be learning, not selling junk
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Special to the Register

So, have your children come home yet with glossy catalogs full of over-priced junk that they’re supposed to sell to your relatives and neighbors?

Perhaps it was pictures of wrapping paper and greetings cards that they are supposed to hawk, or maybe cookie dough or some other item that you could purchase more cheaply down the street at Wal-Mart.

Further, were your children prom ised lavish prizes (at least in their eyes) and made to feel guilty if they didn’t help out their school?

My third-grader was simultaneously hypnotized by the potential prizes, wracked with guilt over possibly letting his classmates down over group prizes, and motivated by the potential to help replace the “old wrinkly carpet” in the music room.

I will be honest. All of this makes me angry. I don’t send my children to school to be manipulated or turned into part of a sales force.

Life is sufficiently busy and parenting sufficiently complicated that I don’t appreciate the school system creating new problems for me to have to deal with.

Such fund-raising techniques are hardly new or limited to Alabama. Indeed, I remember selling canned peanut brittle in first grade when I lived in Texas.

My grandmother bought a few cans, as I recall. No doubt the school earned a few cents per sale, as is in the case now when our superintendents and principals allow our children to become door-to-door salesman to help make money for junk peddlers.

Why, then, do we find schools engaged in these activities? The answer is quite simple: the lack of adequate funding in our schools — a syndrome especially pronounced in numerous parts of our state where the citizens are loathe to agree to even minuscule property tax increases.

In practically even corner of our state, if we ask the citizens to raise property taxes even a handful of dollars, the answer is almost always quite clear: “No!” we cry. “We’ll give the schools more money once they show us how efficient they can be!”

Meanwhile, Little Timmy is going door-to-door like the Fuller Brush Man.

And it isn’t like it is just one fund-raiser a year. It is typically multiple attempts at using our children to squeeze a few more pennies out of Aunt Helen.

Am I suggesting that schools should never engage in fund raising outside of taxes? Not at all. However, I am suggesting that turning 8-year-olds into door-to-door salesmen is problematic in and of itself, and that the tactic is compounded by two factors.

First, these are blatantly manipulative processes. The schools prey on the naiveté of young children as to how easy it will be to sell these items.

Further, they appeal to greed by promising them rewards that range from dollar store-level junk to fabulous prizes that they will never be able to earn.

Is this really what we want our schools to be doing? What lessons are being inculcated here?

Along the same theme, the bottom line is that the ability of the children to sell this stuff is predicated on the idea that the adults to whom the children (or their parents) will hawk these products will feel guilty and therefore buy something.

How many grandmas or aunts will turn down the kindergartners in the family who are selling wrapping paper? Who wants to disappoint the neighbor’s child when he comes around trying to sell you a tub of cookie dough?

Given that most of the products in question can be purchased at local retailers for far less money, one has to assume that the catalog-makers and the administrators who seek out these methods of fund raising at least partially know that guilt will help drive sales.

Second, these types of fund-raisers do not net the schools substantial returns; the catalog companies are looking to make a profit. It isn’t as if, when you pay $8 for wrapping paper, the school is getting $8.

There are more efficient ways for schools to raise funds than turning our elementary aged children into sales reps.

The prevalence of these types of activities simply underscores the poor funding of our public schools. Why we are willing to allow our children to be manipulated into selling cookie dough, but aren’t willing to vote a few dollars more a month in property taxes to support the school, is wholly beyond my comprehension.

There isn’t a public or private school system in the land that can’t use more money. Indeed, one would guess that there isn’t a person reading these words right now who couldn’t use a little more cash.

The question becomes, would you be willing to exploit small children and play on their emotions to get that extra cash?

If one is a school administrator, the answer to that question appears to be “yes.” And if you are unwilling to raise property taxes a scintilla to help fund our schools, then you are complicit as well.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | |Send TrackBack

Politics In Alabama linked with Just say No to Child Salesmen
Irrational Woman linked with On Students Selling Junk
» Back in the pocket » Arguing with signposts… » Blog Archive linked with [...] help but point you to this excellent opinion piece by Dr. Taylor about school fundraisers: Our students should be learning, not selling junk The impulse to turn every child into a Fuller Brush Salesma [...]


  1. While I completely agree with your distaste for putting kids to work selling door to door, I know of no reputable study that shows any positive correlation between increased school spending and measurable increases in education. That is, for this country. I’m sure such a correlation exists for portions of the third world where virtually nothing is being spent on education. If such a study does exist, I’d be very interested in hearing about it. The ones I’ve seen show either no correlation or a negative one!

    Comment by Jerry Johnson — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 10:42 am

  2. I used to think along those lines, and I do cocnur that money is not “the” answer-however, after having mved here there is no doubt in my mind that there is such a thing as a underfunded school system and most of them in Alabama qualify.

    You can’t run decent schools without money. The exact amount, I will grant, is negotiable.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 10:57 am

  3. The schools and the service organizations such as the boy and girl scouts are all bad about making huge profits from kids. What’s worse is and very distasteful are parents that always bringing their kids crap to work and sell it. For office political purposes one is frequently trapped into buying it.

    I told Daughter after getting sucked into selling her girl scout cookies one year, that I would not longer sell for her because that would be akin to me doing her homework. If she wanted to sell the cookies or wrapping paper door to door, I would go with her, but I would not sell it. She continued to sell because she liked the interactions and negotiations, but at least it was her job not mine.

    P.S. wasn’t refreshing to see an articulate and smart president on MTP? After watching Bill Clinton, George Bush looks so mentally small.

    Comment by The Misanthrope — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 11:06 am

  4. This annoys me every year. Especially since the notes come home that discourage the children from doing door to door sales. That’s not as safe as asking Mom & Dad to take the sheets to work to sell the stuff. Never mind that every other parent in the district also has these things for their kids. Sometimes I pity the single/childless people at work - they are constantly asked to pony up by parents.

    Personally, I refuse to participate. My daughter is lucky if we buy some of this stuff, but that’s about it.

    Comment by Mark L — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 11:08 am

  5. On Students Selling Junk

    Dr. Steven Taylor over at Poliblog has posted a copy of one of his op-ed columns on school fundraising and I couldn’t agree with him more.

    Trackback by Irrational Woman — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 11:09 am

  6. Hate to burst your bubble, but even where taxes are sky-high, like CT and NY (lived in that area for 2 miserable years), these things still go on. There is something else going on that leads to Fuller Brush Fifth Graders. BTW spent my first 24 years in Mobile, AL and am familiar with school districts there. Most of the money from these ccampaigns goes to programs which I feel have negligible acadmeic value at best (band activities, athletics, etc.) Not sure what all ththis has to do with underfunded schools. Am in total agreement with. At least with the Fuller Brush Fifth Graders you have some idea where some of the money is going. Taxes are fed into an unaccountable bureaucracy that’s run by union hacks.

    Comment by Drew — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

  7. Just say No to Child Salesmen

    Dr. Steven Taylor of PoliBlogger has a great article in the Mobile Register this morning in regards to Children Saleing “Crap” for a few pennies for schools. The basis of his article, which I encourage everyone to read is that the education…

    Trackback by Politics In Alabama — Sunday, September 18, 2005 @ 4:40 pm

  8. #

    While I completely agree with your distaste for putting kids to work selling door to door, I know of no reputable study that shows any positive correlation between increased school spending and measurable increases in education.

    So they’re selling all this junk and it still isn’t helping! :-)

    I am reminded of a great Dilbert cartoon about this subject in which Dilbert makes the parent seem like an unfit parent for enabling his child to depend on others to do her work for her. My kid is in K-5 and he got his first sales sheet this year.

    and the commenter above is right that it’s not just confined to poor districts. Indeed, the schools in the “better” parts of town actually probably make more off these shameless fundraising programs than the poorer ones.

    Comment by Bryan S. — Monday, September 19, 2005 @ 6:19 am

  9. […] help but point you to this excellent opinion piece by Dr. Taylor about school fundraisers: Our students should be learning, not selling junk The impulse to turn every child into a Fuller Brush Salesma […]

    Pingback by » Back in the pocket » Arguing with signposts… » Blog Archive — Monday, September 19, 2005 @ 9:35 am

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