Thursday, November 06, 2008

School Book Fair -- not fair

I just got back from my son's book fair. Normally, the parents would come tonight, during Family Night, but Zack has swimming, so I got permission to come today.

I have wonderful memories of a book fair at my own elementary school -- it's where I scored "The Hobbit", a book I've read and re-read a million times.

But it was an incredibly sad event this time, and I can't get it out of my mind, so I'm going to write about it, and ask you what you think?

In my day, many years ago, we were given a sheet of paper and we wrote down the books we wanted, and that was given to our teacher and subsequently sent home to our parents. Then our parent arrived on Family Night and bought the book. No one bought books AT the fair, only at Family Night, or, if you couldn't make Family Night, you ordered it for later pick-up.

This has all changed, though. Parents got a note home a day ago telling us about the fair, and to send in money if we wanted our child to buy a book during the time frame the kids got to go and look at all the books. They were also told about Family Night.

Here's my problem -- well, there are several.

One, no where on this note were we told the average price of a book. We didn't get a list of books (which, after visiting the fair, I can see why not -- there were a ton of them). So kids arrived with $4, or $6, and of course, found a book they couldn't afford, and had to be told they had to go look for something else. These are Kindergarteners. The majority of them couldn't find the tiny little price on the book, half of them don't understand the value of different denominations of money, none of the books were separated by price, and there was only half an hour to figure out what you could afford -- which, if you've spent ten minutes falling in love with the book and five minutes in line, doesn't give you much of a chance to find anything.

The other problem was that about half of the kids didn't have any money at all. This meant they saw all their friends getting excited and buying a book, and they could only look around, or in the case of one sad little boy, stand in the middle of the room in tears.

Now, I realize that the kids had been told, many times, probably, that it was ok if they didn't buy a book that day, that the book people would set it aside so their parent could get it that night. I realize that even though they're Kindergarteners, they do need to learn about waiting for things. And I realize that Kindergarteners need to understand that life isn't always fair.

But is that something the teacher is supposed to teach? If the family doesn't have the money, that's something the family should be helping the child understand, in their own way, isn't it? And how is it that funding for schools has gotten so BAD that I'm buying glue and crayons for the class (something that is actually fun for me, but still) -- there should be enough money in a school's budget to help parents in need. There SHOULD. These are BOOKS.

When we all got ready to leave, the one little boy was still standing in the middle of the room. He refused to move. He was sad beyond belief, and no matter what the teacher or myself told him, he was just too sad. I've met his parents, and I know they're going to be coming back tonight. But how utterly, completely sad for him to not understand that, and only feel left out.

I really think no one should have been allowed to buy anything, and the book title and price should have been sent home for the parents to purchase later. To me, Kindergarten isn't the place for this kind of "I have more than you have" stuff. At this age, kids have matured at various levels, and some of them just aren't THERE yet, to understand that they weren't left out in a pretty big way.

I am passionate, emotional, and (often) think too deeply into things.

But I just can't get that little boy out of my mind.


  1. Anonymous2:02 PM

    Our school is having a book fair this week too.

    The students will be allowed to browse, but not buy. They'll write down their favorite books and bring those lists home to their parents. If the parents want to come to the school and buy some books, they can. Or not. It's up to them.

  2. Well, I just wrote a letter to the principal of the school, after talking to my husband about it. Hopefully I won't be branded as a trouble-maker, but I feel pretty strongly about this (as you can tell!)

  3. Good for you for writing the letter. I would have done exactly the same thing, and then some! My daughter is in kindergarten this year too, and I totally understand what you are saying. She has come home in tears many times over a simple misunderstanding. Sometimes she just mis-hears things, or thinks something different is happening.

    I had to spend over $100 on school supplies this year, and now her school wants me to have her do a charity drive "with her friends and family". Well, our friends and family are all completely broke, and some of us are depending on food banks for survival. We could use some charity too. How do you explain that to a five year old? She already has her heart set on the prize she'll win if she can raise $500. I don't even know where to begin to start asking people for money.

    The whole situation is crazy. Schools, funding, the economy. I'm praying that Obama can get us out of this mess, cause I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.

    Hugs to you for being a good mom and standing up for the kids.

  4. Oh don't get me started on those fund-raising things. At least with the ones they have at Zack's school, they're pretty under the radar and not promoted like crazy in the class.

  5. I am sure you know how I truly feel about this. Lately it appears to me and this is not a judgment, that much too much emphasis is placed on this kind of activities instead of teaching the dynamics of choice versus acquisition.

    To be generous I will say that it wouldn't surprise me at all if a child would be utterly confused about the experience. On one hand we are teaching them constantly the goodness of sharing, yet on the other we are denying by the actions the value of sharing, i.e: the little fellow in tears. Is anyone in that school even thinking about this? Leaving aside all other considerations this is perhaps one of the most offensive examples I can find of complete disregard for the psychological effect that this may have.

    You need to bring this issue up to them as well; no wonder children are constantly confused these days. Do as I tell but not as I do has never been the best teaching method at any age. Shame on them and kudos to you for taking action.

  6. Good for you and writing a letter, my little man started Kindergarten this year so now I am really interested in how this will work for him as well.

  7. One of my grandson's schools handle their Book Fairs quite differently. Once a month the school sends home a book list of that months selections for the students and the parents. At home they can select the books that they choose and needless say can afford. Orders are placed and about a week later the books arrive for the students to take home. The pricing is also quite affordable, starting as low as $1.49 and up. The PTA also helps families that can not afford to purchase books. This Book Fair is a monthly PTA function.

  8. Well done for writing the letter. I've just 'done' my first book fair with my kindergartner and it was a little bewildering (but we never had these in the UK when I went to school anyway). I was pleased to see many great book choices but also more than concerned about the tacky offerings available too. Luckily my wee guy wasn't too much on a mission for c.r.a.p and was content with me telling him that what we bought was for christmas.
    We have however, had instances of badly thought out fundraising (and geez, so much fundraising too!!) which have left him feeling an outsider cos i didn't participate in special snack time etc. I'm moderately OK with the amount of money we're expected to come up with to fund his public schooling but any tactic which makes him feel like an outsider is no way to go IMO!

  9. Hi Jill!

    We also get the Scholastic flyers sent home periodically, so we can privately choose books from it and have the books put in the kids' backpacks when they arrive. That works out just great.

    I love the idea of an actual book fair, like going to a book store, but I think it should be handled in much the same way as the flyers -- titles that the kids want are sent home privately, and then parents can come to the school or order.

    This would have been such a great idea, because the closest Barnes and Noble is 45 miles away, and our local independent store doesn't have much in the way of a kid's section.

    Still waiting to hear back from the principal... I'll be sure to post when/if I do.

  10. Hi ebbandflo, thanks so much for posting!

    My husband looked up the funding for the school system last night, and it sickens me that nearly every single one of the baseball players out there make more in one year than schools get in the same time frame.

    I've donated a lot of time and money to my son's class. I am fortunate that I have the time, and my jewelry business allows me to do a lot of extra things. I feel horrible for the teachers, though, because they end up spending THEIR money to buy simple things like crayons, cleaning supplies (CLEANING SUPPLIES), and fun art projects for the kids.

  11. Anonymous10:36 PM

    Patrick just had a book fair... and let me mention a side note - I also wouldn't feel comfortable giving my kid money to buy just any book, I want to know what he's getting first... at that age, we don't always make good choices... like Patrick isn't allowed certain characters and such... anyhow, at his, they had a wish list where they could write them down and the price. He brought them home, we discussed them, narrowed them down to just 2 and then I sent the money to school and his teacher allowed him to go back to the book fair to purchase the books on the list. But I must say that when I was in school, it was the way you described, we were given cash and bought it right then and there.

  12. Things have changed a lot since we were kids, haven't they? There wasn't any Hannah Montana and I can't even remember what the taboo cartoon thing was.

    I still have not heard from the principal, and have searched down (I think) the staff member who worked with Scholastic. I don't know if I'm tilting at windmills or risking getting that "difficult mom" tag, but it seems that something ought to be done. And I at least should have gotten some "thank you for your concern" blow-off email from the principal, at least.

    At least Zack's teacher is incredible.


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