Glengarry Glen Harding

Seems like the days of “reading, writing and arithmetic” have taken a back seat to the new “ABCs” of the education process: “A. B. C…Always Be Closing…We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is - you're fired. Get the picture? You laughing now? You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money to get their names to sell them. If you can't close the leads you're given - you can't close nothin’. You ARE nothin’. Hit the bricks pal, and beat it 'cause you are going OUT.” This isn’t a quote from the movie paraphrased in the title, it’s the pep talk your sixth grader is getting at school.

I remember when I was in school. Yes, I did a fundraiser or two…a car wash here, a bake sale there, and I remember our band always sold fruit to help pay for their annual trip. But that’s nothing compared to the constant barrage of marketing coming home with my son today. “Market Day” brochures came home before we even filled out his orientation paperwork. We haven’t seen a report card yet, but we’ve been hit up to order magazine subscriptions. Now he’s selling frozen pizza, chocolate bars, popcorn, heck, I thought I saw an eighth grader selling timeshares in Florida to the crossing guard. I don’t know if my son can conjugate a verb, but I’m pretty sure he’s been instructed as to the legal definition of caveat emptor.

I’m not opposed to the kids trying to earn a little extra money for their extracurricular activities, but the way it looks, Lakewood has assembled a child labor force that could probably give China a run for its money. Ask the teachers to pay a little more toward their health insurance premiums and all hell breaks loose, but apparently our school system has no problem telling kids that they can’t have a pizza party unless they sell a hundred dollars worth of crap for fifty dollars in profits so that the schools can get their cut of ten cents on the dollar.

Here’s a novel idea, how about just tell the parents how short of money the schools really are? We know it’s bad, but why not just be honest with us, instead of teaching my kid a new trade? I would much rather just pay for the education my son needs instead of all the gift cards I don’t. You would think the schools would prefer to cut out the middle man. After all, do they really need the hassle of tracking down the orders, following up on reimbursement, and risking the blowback of getting a bad product? Besides, as the quote goes from another of my favorite movies: “What am I going to do with 40 subscriptions to Vibe?”

I know not every parent can afford to cut another check to the school system, but if our property taxes, sales taxes and lottery profits aren’t enough to provide an education, is the answer really to add indentured servitude to our kids' already overwhelming list of homework requirements? It’s not about the money; it’s about trying to bring back a little slice of dignity to our children’s formative years. There are now laws on the books about bullying, but, while it’s considered cruel if one kid makes another grovel for his money to buy lunch, apparently it’s considered civic duty to make them panhandle for money to fund lunches.

Why is it that kids can no longer have a paper route and government thugs are shutting down lemonade stands that don’t have the proper permits, but when the weather’s nice, my porch is flooded with teenagers lugging around a Tupperware bin full of promises of a better future? It seems their first lesson in capitalism is that the need for school supplies demands that they do the work.

I don’t know how you solve the funding crisis. I don’t know who’s to blame for the budget deficits. And I know people don’t want another school levy or tax hike. But, I do know we’ll never obtain fiscal security by strapping our hopes to an eleven-year-old's ability to close a sale. You want recess? Forget it! Recess is for closers.

Read More on Perspective
Volume 7, Issue 20, Posted 9:51 AM, 10.05.2011