Reader Responds -- Jill Herbertson

Dear Mr. Weepul:

Will Rogers is not alone in his criticism of the QSP/Readers Digest

fund-raiser assemblies you conduct at our elementary school. A year ago,

I addressed the school board with concerns about the range of

commercialism in public schools, and how frequently at odds it can be

with educational goals.

As an example, I told them how my tearful and indignant kindergartner

insisted it was his homework to supply QSP/Readers Digest with the names

and addresses of his out-of-state grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts.

When I said that no one actually has to participate in fund-raisers, he

looked at me as if I had told him to run out in the street without

checking for traffic. And anyway, he demanded to know, how was he going

to get his free bag of Skittles if he didn't?

I honestly thought he must not have been really listening, that no one

would actually tell a kindergartner it was homework to add Grandma's name

to a junk mail solicitation. But this year I thought I'd better get the

facts, and I sat in on my son's assembly.

To my surprise, you do tell the kids that writing down those names and

addresses and turning them in is their homework. You make it quite a

point, more than once. That is unacceptable. Homework is something we

want our kids to take seriously. They know that failing to do homework

means a lousy report card. My son signed a contract stating that he will

do his homework. Only teachers have the right and responsibility to

assign homework. So call it what it is, a sales tactic or whatever. Just

don't mislead them about their responsibility and diminish what we mean

by homework.

The sales pitch you coach the kids to say is "help support our

school." Indeed, that is partly true -- if Grandma buys a $17.95

subscription to Yoga Journal, some fraction of $17.95 is given to the

school. According to the QSP Web page, it could be "up to 40% of the

profit." At no point in your presentation do you tell kids that at least

60% of the profits go to QSP/Readers Digest, and that Mr. Weepul himself

is earning some money on that sale.

And another thing: If Grandma can't spend $17.95 to "help our school,"

are we to infer she is not being helpful? It would be easy for a kid

listening to your presentation to jump to that conclusion. And speaking

of "up to 40% of the profit", what does that mean? The fund-raising

packet mentions 40% of the money spent. So which do we get? Total spent

or total profit? What amount of that $17.95 is ours? And who pays for the

many prizes you give out -- the frog pens, CD players and digital

organizers? Does that come from the school's share, or QSP's? I'd just

like to know the facts.

About those prizes: It is really unclear what behavior in the kids you

are rewarding. It's a contest to see who can sell the most stuff, and yet

it is hardly a level playing field. You are not really rewarding the kid

with the best sales ability, because QSP discourages the kids from

selling door to door but does encourage parents to bring the catalog to

work. Kids can only hit up relatives and people they know, so the big

prize goes to the family with the best connections and deepest pockets. I

would argue that that isn't something we need to pull kids out of class

to reward.

On the plus side, the school has raised up to $10,000 on this

fund-raiser for Outdoor Science School. That would be the reason why so

many parents who object to your fund-raiser, who throw that bunch of

Readers Digest catalogs into the trash and console their dejected

children, don't put up much of a fuss. More than a handful of moms and

dads have told me, "We hate it, but what can ya' do?"

Well, a few things. Just as Will Rogers suggested, we could buy scrip

for groceries and stores we normally shop at. The school gets a

percentage, and if a majority of parents did it, we wouldn't need to have

any other fund-raisers. We could try a direct donation program, which

would allow 100% of what one spends "to help the school" to actually go

to the school, and would be tax-deductible. It's worth a try.

And we could do something else, too. Have your assembly after school.

Don't make any kid be there if he doesn't want to.

Look. You juggle. You wear funny hats. Many kids laugh and love the

prizes you give away. If, as you say, you are very popular with a number

of people, they'd still come to see you even if they weren't being forced

to by the administration. I figure the people who enjoy winning the

prizes will come. Oh, sure, you wouldn't have kids like mine there, but

we aren't going to buy anything anyway.

As long as you have a volunteer sales force, not a conscripted one, as

long as parents can really opt out, as long as you are straight with all

the facts about fund-raising, what could I possibly complain about?

JILL HERBERTSON

Burbank

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