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What's Really Behind School Supplies Lists Gone Wild

Photograph by Twenty20

This was going to be a funny post about school supplies. Snarky, even. I mean, have you seen a recent school supply list? They are fairly ridiculous. And specific. And a bit glue- and pencil-heavy. So as with any post I write, I did a bit of research beforehand. It pays to verify when you have a byline at stake, even if you're just snarking. The Internet will bite you in the ass if you're not prepped.

Imagine my surprise when I posted what I thought was a harmless question on social media, "What is the wackiest school supply you've been requested to buy?" Sure, there was some good-natured snark, but there was also some ugly debate, too.

Apparently, school supplies are more controversial than I realized.

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The responses, which numbered more than 175, were a mix of indignant moms (the category I would have initially placed myself in), teachers calmly and methodically explaining the need for 24 glue sticks and a healthy few of "Can't we all just get along" gals.

There was a definite vibe of anti-teacher/anti-politicians/anti-public school sentiment, too. My funny snark turned into sad defeat reading through the thread.

More responders than I was comfortable with grumbled over having to provide for those who could not provide for themselves.

Sure, there was an element of overly specific high-end pencils or paints requested by a few highly particular educators. And the idea of eight tennis balls or one sock is pretty funny and seemingly random. Laughing about that stuff is healthy, right?

Well, yes. But as the teachers chimed in to explain what the single sock (dry erase board eraser) or tennis balls were for (floor protectors for desk and chair legs), I felt myself realizing just how vulnerable our public schools have become in recent years.

The truth is, if a family can't afford breakfast or lunch for their child(ren), a reality that applies to many families who attend public schools, it's a pretty safe bet that fancy new school supplies or a backpack are also out of the question. Educators still need to educate, and things like pencils, glue, crayons and markers come in pretty handy for that kind of thing.

It's hard to be snarky when more than a few teachers make their case for why 24 glue sticks are actually needed.

More responders than I was comfortable with grumbled over having to provide for those who could not provide for themselves. The real ick factor was upped when some chimed in that they did not wish their child's carefully selected premium supplies to be put into the "common locker" that all the students would pull from as their crayon/pencil/paper needs arise. The tone was a confirmed: "I paid for quality supplies and I don't want my kids subjected to crap crayons."

Oy. Perhaps I am too much of a closet socialist, but that level of concern over the quality of your child's crayon or pencil or notebook just depresses me. The truth is hard to ignore. Our public schools are not properly funded. When basics like toilet paper, Kleenex—even a requested first aid kit—are not covered, well, Houston (and Chicago and Detroit and St. Louis and New York), we have a problem.

RELATED: Is Public Education Broken?

It's hard to be snarky when more than a few teachers make their case for why 24 glue sticks are actually needed. And when a teacher is reduced to request bleach or Lysol or Pine Sol to clean the classroom environment , that tells me that the janitors and custodians I took for granted, and who handed me hard candy from their pocket in my own elementary school years, simply don't exist anymore. Slashed, right along with a teacher's budget for classroom supplies.

So, yes, while a request for "organic soil" will always, always, always give me pause, I am going to zip my lip as I head to the store for those two separate sizes of Ziploc bags my son's teacher requested. I get it. I do. And I'm sorry.

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