Enough. With. The. Fundraisers.
Today, as I picked up my second grader from school, she excitedly told me: “Mom, we had an assembly today to talk about selling things, and if I sell two things, we get to go to Disney World! But it’s a long trip so Daddy would have to take some time off work.”
Apparently part of that spiel was true–the entire elementary school did have a mandatory assembly to discuss the new fall fundraiser and distribute sales packets. And I guess the adults running the assembly really talked up the fact that students could earn prizes for selling the scented candles and Ohio-made jams–one of which is the chance to be entered into a drawing for a Disney vacation.
But when did elementary school turn into Glengarry Glen Ross?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughter’s school. I volunteer there regularly and am more than happy to shell out for things that the PTA wants to purchase. In fact, not two weeks ago, I donated to the school’s annual walk-a-thon, as did most other families, helping the PTA meet their multi-thousand-dollar goal for the event. But that, too, was a fundraiser in which very young students were encouraged to sell–in this case by getting “sponsorships” to walk around the track. Of course, I am lazy and had no interest in badgering neighbors and family into sponsoring my daughter’s distracted quarter-mile amble, so I just wrote a check. All good.
But now this. It’s for a good cause, no doubt about that. Playground improvements (though the kids always seem freaking ecstatic to be on the playground in its current state) and materials for a “maker space” in the library. I wholeheartedly support these things, and once again will be writing a check. But unless she really, really wants to, my daughter will not be a saleswoman. For one thing, we’re lucky enough to attend a neighborhood school, so ALL the other kids in the area will be knocking on ALL the doors. Our first (and only) year selling Girl Scout cookies door-to-door was traumatic enough, with cookie-weary retirees sadly informing my little Daisy that they’d already bought a few boxes from earlier, more cutthroat confection-peddlers. I suppose I could have her “sell” the Ohio-made jam and scented candles (which look disconcertingly like jam) to her grandparents, but they live in Texas and England, and that would require shipping costs worth more than the items themselves.
But really, it’s neither the logistical impracticality nor my inherent laziness that’s making me balk at this new “sales opportunity.” It’s the fact that selling and constant striving are in my face and my kids’ faces every single day, thanks to MLM folks on Facebook and the horrible, horrible toy unboxing videos on YouTube that my children can’t seem to get enough of. It’s long been a part of Girl Scouts by way of the annual cookie sale, but now it’s gotten even more extreme, with troops being encouraged to participate in seasonal product sales (of magazines, candy, etc.). As a troop leader, I get regular emails from the local council imploring us to participate and encouraging me to take a look at our (nonexistent) sales stats. That we choose not to participate in these sales makes them no less annoying.
I get that Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout troops, church youth groups and schools need to make money to pay for worthy things. Schools especially. And I get that not every parent has the ability to just cut a check to save their kid from schlepping around the neighborhood with their sales packet and most charming smile. In fact, I’m sure some parents really value this early introduction to salesmanship–the people skills and math capabilities that it tests and engenders. But the majority of these fundraisers/sales opportunities play off of kids’ basest desires–for STUFF. Prizes. Girl Scouts gives out “awards” (aka, tchotchkes) to the top cookie sellers in each troop. The top “fundraisers” in our school’s walk-a-thon got special prizes (passes to trampoline parks, ice cream, gift cards). This newest venture offers students the chance to win everything from mini disco lights all the way up to a PlayStation 4! These are pretty cool prizes. What kid could say no, especially when the “winners” get called out during announcements and everyone else (or maybe just my kid) feels mopey and sad?
That’s the problem. Adults and adult-led organizations want money for things, and we’re using kids’ intrinsic desire for other things to earn that money. Far less ethically troublesome is the simple lemonade stand. Kid is bored, wants to make some money to buy something they want, so they help (or don’t) their mom make some lemonade and cookies and sell them for profit. No subterfuge. No “this is for the betterment of our school/troop, but you don’t need to worry about that because PRIZES!”
So, until my kids are old enough to understand what they’re actually raising money for (and frankly, old enough to not need help wiping every now and then), I’m saying no to the sales. Because I want my kids to learn the actual ABCs in school, not “Always Be Closing.”