Wednesday, August 12, 2015


CURMUDGUCATION: Back To School List:

Back To School List

I'm a little late on this, since most retailers rolled out Back to School displays months ago and are currently starting to clear those out so that they have room for Christmas Sale displays. But I always mean to write about this because like so many things from which people can make a buck, Back to School shopping has gotten out of hand.

So as a father and a professional educator of several decades, I have an important message to parents about your back to school shopping.


People are trying to get you to panic. Do not do it.

In some cases, the pitch is strictly commercial. Which is fine. That's what businesses do. Work your way into Office Depot's Back to School offerings. Everything you could conceivably or inconceivably need is here, with the exception of the Winnebago needed to cart all of this stuff to school, because for a place like Office Depot, Back to School is Christmas and Mother's Day wrapped up in one revenue generating package.

But here's the non-business Great Kids website, offering parents a list of Back to School necessities that may also necessitate a second mortgage (if, as a parent, you are able to afford a house in the first place).

Back to School supply lists seem to have the longevity of cockroaches, surviving unchanged over centuries. For instance, like many other sources, Great Schools includes this on their list of "basics."

Scissors (blunt ended for younger kids, pointed for older ones)

Um, no. Do not send your older children to school with pointy-ended scissors. And while Great Kids recommend highlighters, they do acknowledge that these "are probably unnecessary for kids in kindergarten through second grade." Yes, because five-year-olds have a tendency to highlight walls and desks and their own faces.

What about a site like Real Simple, the website/magazine devoted to helping wealthy folks make their consumption less conspicuous?  Their "essentials" list includes an art smock for elementary and pre-school students. Okay, fine. My own children had art smocks at home (from the popular dad's Old Shirts brand). But essential for school? I'm imagining twenty-five children arriving on the first day and asking the teacher, "Where do I put my smock."

And glue. Specifically glue sticks. Every single list has glue sticks on it. Do we have a national epidemic of Unglued Things in Schools?

Oh-- and these. I see them on lists, in stores, in the mall. Everywhere, in fact, but in actual classrooms:

The worst notebooks ever! You can't make mistakes, and when you rip one page out, another one falls out, too. And if you've taken important notes elsewhere, you can't add them to this, unless-- oh, wait!! NOW I understand the glue sticks!

Backpacks, folders, organizers, twelve different kinds of writing utensils, seventeen different kinds of bound and unbound paper, lunch boxes, a dictionary and a thesaurus!! Cozi gets a bonus point for putting a flash drive on their list, but most lists are composed of the same classic items that Great-Great-Grandma's mom was guilted into buying for Back to School.

So, parents, here's my Back to School to-do list for you.

Step One: Wait

Prior to the first day of school, do not buy anything except things you want your child to have. If your child is organizationally challenged and needs the world's most aggressive trapper-keeper, go ahead and get it. If you and your child agree that a Phineas and Ferb lunchbox is essential to get off CURMUDGUCATION: Back To School List:

More Bad News for SAT/ACT

The George Washington University will no longer require most undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores, effective Aug. 1.

With one sentence, the folks at GW made life just a little bit harder for standardized test manufacturers.

sat test.jpg
It's not just that another college has dropped the popular testing product requirement. Doing so touched off the usual round of press. The folks at FairTest reminded us that over 850 colleges and universities no longer require students to jump through the old hoops. Valerie Strauss helpfullybroke out some striking lists of top-ranked (well, top-ranked by the not-entirely-believable US News ranking system) schools that don't require students to plunk down good money for a bad evaluation of their post-secondary prospects. Bowdoin! Bryn Mawr! Wake Forest! Hey, even my own alma mater—way to go, Allegheny!

It's not just that this calls up all the old objections, all the things we already knew about the tests. Cue the regular research showing cultural and racial bias in the tests. Trot out the 2014 research showing that high school grades are better predictors of college success than SAT's. Discuss the validity of tests so game-able that an entire industry has sprung up around gaming them.

But the bigger problem is the continued drawing of blood. Like the god-king who is nicked by a spear, the SAT and ACT are most hurt by the wound that reveals they are not what they say they are.
For generations here in the East, the SAT was just something you do. In the seventies, my classmates and I didn't even ask where the SAT came from—as far as we knew it was some sort of government-college co-operative, mandated and required, like a driver's test or vaccinations. Even "College Board" sounds like some sort of official regulatory agency.

The testing companies have fought to maintain that illusion. David Coleman and the College Board can still magically turn a drop in market share into a referendum on America's education system. They've worked to market a racially biased instrument as a tool for social justice. And Coleman has stumped hard for the virtues of his new, improved version of the SAT, continuing his work to

More Bad News for SAT/ACT