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Pens, pencils and a little Marxist theory

The first lesson of the new school year is delivered even before classes convene, when Mom and Dad download the kids' supply lists. Call it Socialism 101. If the course had a textbook, it would be Hillary Clinton's "It Takes a Village."

Consider the list for one local third-grade class, which includes "two large boxes of Kleenex tissue." I don't know about your third-grader, but mine probably won't use one Kleenex tissue the entire year. Why would he, when his sleeve is so handy?

Nor will he use 1,000 pieces of notebook paper, even though the list calls for "two 500-count lined notebook paper." OK, he might use 700 or 800, mostly to make paper airplanes. But not 1,000.

To put these lists in perspective and understand why I refer to them as examples of socialism, let's extrapolate for a moment. Say you have a class of 25 kids. If each child brings two boxes of Kleenex, that's 50 boxes. Does anyone seriously believe there's a classroom in this county that will go through 50 boxes of tissue this year - more than one a week? If so, please - let's go ahead and quarantine them now.

Of course no class will use 50 boxes of tissue, and every teacher knows it. But here's the catch: No teacher expects to actually end up with 50 boxes. If all 25 students are asked to provide two boxes apiece, 10 or 15 will actually do it. That's 20 or 30 boxes, which a typical class of third-graders might realistically use, given a normally active flu and cold season and five or six screenings of "Old Yeller."

What this means, basically, is that those of us parents who slavishly adhere to the supply list - mind-numbed automatons-slash-public-school products that we are - provide Kleenex (and notebook paper, and hand sanitizer and so forth) for kids whose families either don't have the means to supply it themselves or else are too sorry to do so.

All of which seems curiously reminiscent of Karl Marx's famous dictum, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Of course, Marx was predicting the demise of capitalism, the elimination of economic classes through re-education and the rise of a new communal society. I'm merely predicting the nasal output of third-graders.

The worst part is, I've been so thoroughly conditioned to this kind of de facto socialism that I don't really mind. After all, it's just a little socialism. It's not like the government is using tax money to fund abortions or confiscating private land for public use. Oh, wait . . .

Still, I console myself with the thought that America has not yet fully evolved into the socialist Utopia Marx envisioned. Because while it may take a village to raise a child, it only takes a school to blow his nose.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.