I’ll never forget 2010.
It was, after all, the Year of the Duck.
No, I’m not talking about the year according to the Chinese zodiac (which would have been the tiger, FYI — and yeah, I totally looked that up). But instead, I’m referring to the year my kids were obsessed with tiny, rubber, squishy, Made-in-China duckies.
Sounds crazy, right? But wait, there’s more.
Back to 2010.
My kids, then in third and sixth grades, were invited to a school-wide assembly. There, the magical, glorious, virtuous duck was unveiled. The goal: Raise as much money selling (wrapping paper/cookie dough/jewelry with social messages/fill-in-the-blank), and you’ll earn a duck.
Sell your first item, get a duck.
Sell five more items, get two ducks.
Sell 1,500,472 more items, score a whopping three ducks.
Or something like that.
Anyhow, you can see what happens here, right?
Collect enough ducks, and you’ll — wait for it — be the Top Duck Earner.
And what happens to the school’s Top Duck? Duck if I know. I don’t even think my kids knew. All they knew is: They. Must. Earn. Ducks.
They obsessed over them. Everything was about how to earn ducks and what to do with ducks. Decorate them. Trade them. Poke pencils into them. Wear them around your neck like some ritualistic cannibal necklace of gray teeth and shrunken heads.
It was all very public, too. The great unveiling happened in a school-wide assembly. The crowning of the Top Duck happened in yet another school-wide assembly. Daily, flocks of frenzied kids made their way to the office to pick up their hard-earned ducks.
And if I recall, that first duck? Free of charge, of course. Consider it a sample, if you will — a sample that will surely offer a taste into the prosperous world of duck ownership, keeping the kids hungry for more.
(Does it strike anyone else as odd that this is exactly what a drug dealer does to entice a potential future addict? How about that.)
Anyhow, please don’t get me wrong: I am sympathetic to the plight of local schools, I really am. As a parent of two teens and a toddler, I consume news stories daily about the state of local education, about deteriorating classrooms and buildings, about teachers who spend their hard-earned personal wages on school supplies.
But I am pleading here: For the love of all things sacred, please stop the madness underscoring school fundraising drives placed on the backs of indentured students.
The statistics tell a pretty sad story about our local educational picture. We’re dead last in the country in many key rankings, and close to the bottom of the list in others.
And as a parent who has lived through countless school fundraisers, I wouldn’t be surprised if a chapter from that sad story (or at least a page or two) involves misplaced priorities and subtle distractions inspired by trying to score just one more stupid duck.
The burden of raising funds for whatever purpose in a school should not lie on the shoulders of children. They need to be doing other things — learning musical instruments, memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution, playing educational games in computer labs and trading elements from their sack lunches among them.
Not selling merchandise. Not going door-to-door, an archaic and quite possibly dangerous practice. Not forcing reluctant parents to bring catalogs to office break rooms as a visible guilt trip placed strategically between the Mr. Coffee and the jar of peanut-butter filled pretzels left over from Christmas.
See, the ducks became a sort of school-wide social currency, a symbol of a caste system where status was conferred upon those with copious ducks.
Hence the obsession.
And because I refused to sell cheap shit to my coworkers or allow my kids to roam the neighborhoods in search of unsuspecting neighbors just trying to close the door before the final round of Wheel of Fortune came to its satisfying conclusion, my kids were always relegated to the lower caste echelons.
Obviously, I’m less concerned about that than I am the sheer amount of time devoted to the madness. And the worrying about where the next sale was coming from. And the fixating on Sally Stemple, the wealthy heiress to the connected car dealer who always sold the most at every fundraising drive and became Queen Bee. Or Duck. Or Frog.
And don’t even get me started about the magazine subscriptions kids are forced to send by mail to 10 unsuspecting relatives who — silly relatives — mistook the stamped mail as correspondence from their favorite nephew/cousin/grandson only to be greeted by a guilt trip to subscribe to Basket Weavers Weekly for the low-low-LOW price of $55.95 per year.
School fundraising seems a never-ending revolving door of “opportunity.” If it’s not wrapping paper, it’s cookie dough. If it’s not magazines, it’s handmade jewelry created by abused African women turning their lives around through productive work.
(Yeah, I may or may not have bought a “handcrafted” hammered gold bracelet from this fundraiser — only to find this sticker on the bottom. No lie.)
So, dear schools: Pretty please. Send home a letter, ask for a donation, and I’m happy to write a check. Or better yet, devise creative ways to raise funds through other means — skate nights, rummage sales, escargot feeds, ANYTHING.
Just stop tempting our kids with crappy ducks.
Or whatever the cheap tchotchke du jour happens to be.
Because 2011? That was the Year of the Frog.