Ask a Silly Question…

Last week new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos thought she was being cute on day one of her new job when she tweeted the following message:

devosThe Curmudgeon will tell you where the pencils are, Ms. DeVos: they’re alongside the paper and the rulers, the copy paper and the erasers, the construction paper and the glue, the hand sanitizer and the scissors and the paper towels and more.

And where’s that, Ms. DeVos?

Ask many public school teachers, and especially urban public school teachers, and they’ll tell you: they’re at Walmart and Staples, at Target and Office Max, at Kmart and Dollar General and Dollar Tree and Dollar Discount and Dollar-Rama and any other place where under-appreciated and under-fire (in too many cases, both figuratively and literally) teachers dip into their own underpaid pockets for supplies that neither their school districts nor the parents of their students can afford.

That’s where the pencils are, Ms. DeVos.

pencilsThe Curmudgeon speaks from experience. The Curmudgeonly Sister is a public school teacher in Philadelphia, and every August brother and sister have a continuous dialogue by phone and by email and, since The Curmudgeon joined the 21st century, by text as well as she follows all the Staples and Walmart and dollar store sales and calls her brother to pick up ten sets of ten-for-a-dollar folders, as many $1 boxes of pencils as the store will permit, two-for-one specials on cases of copy paper, and more. He’s been on vacation with his sister at the Jersey shore in August and joined her on some of her daily trips to Staples to take advantage of sales on whatever the slowly dying retailer is practically giving away in an attempt to lure teachers into its stores. There, brother and sister pick up two baskets: she fills his and then fills her own and they stand in line and pay for them separately so they don’t violate the terms of the sale that limit the quantities individual customers may purchase.

And he’s also joined her at library used book sales to pick up as many books as she can carry because experience has taught her that the best way to get an elementary school boy to be interested in reading is not to hand out the same school-owned book to every child in a class but just to give a boy a book and tell him it now belongs to him, so over the years she’s purchased thousands of books so she can turn disadvantaged students, many of them from families where English isn’t the first language spoken at home, into children who love to read and can use those reading skills to learn.

That’s where the pencils are, Ms. DeVos.

Ask a silly question and get a serious answer, Ms. DeVos.

You’ve been a hobbyist in the education world, a dabbler, but now you’re in the real world, where children’s futures are on the line.

And now your job to help make those futures bright. Don’t screw it up.

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