Back to school can break the bank


September 05, 2011|

Half the self-help books in America tell you that you need to take charge of your life; the other half tell you that you need to let go. I can understand that you would want to do one or the other when it comes to school supplies, I'm just not sure which.

I don't have kids, but this fact has been brought to my attention of late too often to ignore: School children are now required to come to class with more supplies than Adm. Perry took along on his expedition to the polar regions.

So if you are a parent, do you just let it go (whatever) or do you take charge (march up to the teacher and ask, "Are you nuts?").

Back to school is now the second most lucrative time of year for retailers next to Christmas, I'm told. A lot of that is clothes, of course. Kids might find this stunning, but when I was in school, circa 1972 give or take, no one cared about shoes. Matter of fact, the "style" (if there was such a thing at that time) was the cheapest pair of Converse they sold. If you wanted to go ape you got high-tops.

No lie, if you showed up in a hundred-dollar pair of shoes, there was a full staff of bullies that would be more than happy to beat the snot out of you just for being too pretentious. Today, obviously, a kid will spend more on a pair of shoes than we paid for an entire wardrobe.

And I'm trying hard to remember, but I don't think we had to bring the entire inventory of an Office Depot with us to class. As I recall, we needed a tablet that you brought from the school store for a quarter and, although I don't think they use them any more, one of those chunky pencils that was about as big around as piano leg. I don't know what the thinking was behind them, but they were so big a lot of us had to learn to write with two hands.

A couple parents have been thoughtful enough to send me the list of supplies that their schools are requiring.

So I'm reading down the list, 12 pencils, sure, five blue pens, fine, two red pens, understandable.

But then it starts getting weird. Two glue sticks? One white glue? I'll be honest, one of the reasons I never had any children is that they always seemed to be so sticky. You know how it is, you go over and sit at a counter where a kid's just been, and everything within a 3-foot sphere is tacky.

I always thought — well, I don't know what I thought — but if they're toting all this adhesive around, it's no wonder. Matter of fact, I'd think it would take a pan of hot water and two or three of Heloise's more imaginative hints to get them unstuck from their desks when it's time to go home.

Moving on, I see "8 subject dividers, 1 Pocket Dictionary, 1 ruler, 1 Geometry Set, 1 Scientific Calculator, 2 1-inch binders"

I know this dates me, but it used to be that if you got caught in math class with a calculator you would get expelled. Calculators were "cheating."  So to review: It used to be that you could not use calculators. Today you can use calculators, but everyone is concerned because our math scores are lower now than they were then?

Of course as a journalist I have no business talking about math. I remember in sixth grade I had a pat answer to any question our math teacher, Mr. Burkhart would ask: "The empty set." I don't know what that meant, exactly, but I remember vividly that it was the correct answer a surprising amount of the time.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at Tune in to the Rowland Rant at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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