Accepting Responsibility and Sharing Our Pencils

There’s this thing that I started seeing being done in classrooms many moons ago, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it in your school district, but several years ago I started seeing it in mine. The school supplies just get dumped into containers where all of the kids have access to them. So, your kid is not just using the crayons and pencils you bought, but pencils and crayons from the big box that all of the kids grab from.

In this situation, the kid who couldn’t afford crayons is not spotlighted at the first of the year. Nor are they disadvantaged.

Now, what does this mean for people like us who have plenty of money for school supplies? It means that we are probably spending some money on some other kids school supplies.

And you know what? I choose to 100% not give two flying shits. I choose to recognize that – because of my wealth – that is my obligation. To carry some of the burden so that the community can thrive.

I think about this a lot as we’re talking about many political issues. With the efforts to improve our healthcare system no one boldly proclaims: If you are wealthy and healthy you will pay more so that that the poor and sick can be covered. It gets muttered sometimes but it’s never just loudly thrown out there as a truth in our current system. You can’t say “YES!” to the poor and sick being covered and also say “YES!” insurance priced the same as before when the poor and sick were NOT covered. You have to choose one or the other in our current system. But no one talks about this because it’s not a palatable concept.

No one wants to dump their crayons in a bucket so everyone can have access to them.

(I’m totally leaving the people out of this conversation who do NOT believe healthcare is a right that everyone deserves. That’s another conversation for another day.)

I also think about this a lot when I’m contemplating how to dismantle systemic racism. The best place to start always seems to make sure no matter whether your black or white, rich or poor, you are all receiving the same education. And let’s face it, if your school districts are drawn around neighborhoods, and especially if your property taxes go to your specific schools instead of the system as a whole, then there will be disparity between the public schools in your system. If we want to dismantle systemic racism starting with access to quality early childhood education is a great start – AND YET – people in the “good” schools or the “wealthier” neighborhoods want NO PART in dissolving what has worked well for them. And even worse, many say it’s their right because they have “worked hard” for their money so their kids should have better access to better schools.

(I’d like to see why the Engineer thinks they “work harder” than the manager at McDonald’s, to be honest. But again, another post for another day.)

My kids both go to schools now that qualify for school-wide free lunches and I could not be more thrilled because that means there’s no more paperwork that we fill out that shows if we “qualify” or not. Those numbers were the hidden way people in our system judged schools. Oh – look – 70% of the student body qualifies for free lunches. That’s obviously not a good school. No, no one can judge our schools in that way because we don’t fill out that paperwork.

But there’s still selective enrollment going on as people choose neighborhoods in “good” school districts (which around here are mostly white). So we create this system of huge disparity where not all of the kids in our area have the same access to quality education and yet no one wants to decrease their access for the sake of the whole community.

GOD FORBID if anyone suggested we dump all of our education taxes in one pool and divide it equally throughout the system.

In our system we started bussing kids from poorer districts and some schools recently had a surge of kids from poorer (and blacker) districts and everyone talked about the “problems those kids caused” but you know what? If we are trying to create a fair system, those of us who never suffered from the unfairness are going to have to suffer a while until things hopefully even out.

We’re going to have to share our crayons.

A loaf of bread costs the same for everyone, not matter what your income. As does a gallon of gas and a bottle of tylenol and a box of tampons. These are all necessities, yet they reflect just a tiny percentage of my household income. My counterpart working in a stockroom and living in the housing projects, however, has to give a much higher percentage of her income to those things. This is why a “FAIR TAX” system would never be fair. We use a tiered tax system and I get taxed more because I’m in a higher bracket which makes sense because NOTHING ELSE changes cost based on income so I’m actually paying a much lower percentage of my income towards necessities. SO PLEASE, TAX ME MORE.

But not one talks about that. Everyone just likes lower taxes. They complain it’s because “the government wastes so much” or because “Washington is Corrupt” and while all of that is definitely true, none of that fixes our communities. I heard a gentleman at a city council meeting one time get up and say “RAISE MY PROPERTY TAXES!” and I wanted to kiss him. We have shockingly low property taxes around here and he was pointing out that maybe we need to LET GO OF THAT and I was so happy that this self-described wealthy white guy was standing up and saying: TAX ME MORE that I almost heard angels sing.

He was totes cool with sharing his crayons.

The funny thing is that I expect pushback on a lot of these from people who might lean conservative – especially with economics. They believe in a system that I don’t think works. I don’t believe in “trickle down economics” and I do believe the government should pay certain things for everyone.

But there’s also a lot of left-leaning people who are holding tight to their crayons. They don’t want kids bussed into their school systems because they WHOLE REASON they moved into this neighborhood was because they liked the system the way it was. They complain about higher healthcare premiums and say “We just need a single payer system” but won’t acknowledge that until that happens, we have to balance it out somehow and let’s accept the “burden” of higher premiums for more community coverage. They complain about systemic racism but won’t actually try to think of ways to improve our school systems so that Nikki’s school which does not even have a PTA could be on the same playing ground as the one we moved OUT of with 100% PTA participation.

Those of us with privilege need to share our crayons loudly and proudly. We need to push for higher tax rates recognizing that maybe we can’t go to Disney every year but then maybe the library on the poor side of town can get the expansion they deserve. We should feel obligated if we are middle class white people to try to contribute more to a system so that we can equalize the playing ground on which our community all enjoys. We live in a very unbalanced system that favors the rich and the white. If we want to balance things out, us rich white people have to be willing to make some sacrifices.

If the community thrives? We all thrive. So maybe your kid has to use broken crayons even though they didn’t break them, but if the kid who lives in the housing projects can have an easier time learning because he has crayons, then the entire community thrives, and not just your child.

10 Comments

  • Fraulein N

    And that’s why we need more people like you (and that guy who stood up in that meeting) running for office.

  • Beth

    This- so much this- Put my crayons in a bucket, please. Raise my taxes. I am okay with that. There is am organization in Huntsville called Free to Teach. They provide basic school supplies and things like posters to area teachers. The school supplies are for teachers to provide to kids that don’t have them.I have a unique look at schools. I lived in NY. The cut-off for K was Dec1. My daughter was born11/12. I knew that I would have to make a decision on whether to have her wait a year. We moved to Hsv, and decision gone, I thought. Then I saw a child that was ready to enter school at 4. I could do that by putting her in Private school. I am sure some thought I did it so she could be in a better “whiter school” They can kiss my@$$ . If I had a problem with that I wouldn’t have moved to NW Huntsville. Yes the schools in my area were probably 80% black in 1983- But her private school- 40%, Her second one 60%. When making the high school decision, I weighed the options. Small private schools with limited courses offerings, or public school with lots of choices. We made the choice to send her to JO Johnson . She thrived in what was considered the worst school in Huntsville. I know that I am looked judged when I tell people that we moved from NW huntsville to Ardmore/Toney. I get the unhuh- see- you moved out of that area because it was bad. We moved because we needed a house where I didn’t have to go up or down 7 steps just to pee. We moved because we wanted to have a brand spanking new home. We moved because the subdivision was small and had a pool and trail- (so much for that- developer went bankrupt and those are gone) One of my neighbors was torn when it came time for her child to go to school. We have a rural school with a high level of poverty. She considered private, she considered walking him down the street to put him on the Limestone county bus. Finally her husband said. He is going to MXR. Good students will do well in any school. Wise husband. The kid has thrived. He has a rainbow of friends. He is in a large system that has all typed of opportunities. Yes its time to share our crayons

  • Hillary

    I just bought school supplies for the first time, because my son is getting ready to start Kindergarten. They do the “dump everything in one box” system and ask for extra donations. Which I happily bought, because we can afford a six pack of tissues and to spend $5 extra on markers and glue sticks. And then as I was telling the story of how excited my son was to be buying school supplies and picking out the extras to one of my conservative relatives, he busted out with “don’t you pay taxes for that? Why are you buying supplies for other people’s kids?” and I was, as always, surprised and disappointed. Of course, this same person is also against the ACA, even though I, someone he supposedly loves and cares about, will be completely and 100% screwed if they take away the pre-existing conditions rule. It was a frustrating conversation.

    That’s a long way of saying yes, I agree with you!

  • Amber

    Hear, hear! These issues are a huge deal in oh-so-progressive Seattle, where the public schools are *extremely* segregated. It’s not unusual for schools in the wealthier, whiter parts of town to raise over $250K in a single auction – money which goes to things like reading tutors and music classes. Meanwhile, schools in the south end that can’t raise that kind of money? Well, they just don’t get music teachers, or new library books, or art classes. But suggest that the district PTAs pool their money? You can imagine the howling and hand-wringing that ensues.