The first lesson of the new school year is delivered even before classes convene, when Mom and Dad download little Johnny and Susie's 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, sent in by an alert reader, which includes "two large boxes of Kleenex tissue." I don't know about your third-grader, but when my boys were in third grade, they probably wouldn't have used one tissue the entire year. I mean, what are shirt-sleeves for?
Nor would they have used 1,000 pieces of notebook paper, even though the list calls for "two 500-count lined notebook paper." OK, they might have used 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 30 kids. If each child brings two boxes of Kleenex, that's 60 boxes. Does anyone seriously believe there's a classroom in this entire country that will go through 60 boxes of tissue this year -- almost two a week? If so, please, let's go ahead and quarantine them now.
Of course no class will use 60 boxes of tissue, and every teacher knows it. But here's the catch: no teacher actually expects to end up with 60 boxes. If all 30 students are asked to provide two boxes apiece, 10 might actually do it. That's 20 boxes, which a typical third-grade class might realistically exhaust, given a normal flu season and several screenings of "Bambi."
What this means, basically, is that those parents who slavishly adhere to the supply list -- mind-numbed automatons/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 those items 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, we've been so thoroughly conditioned to accept this kind of de facto socialism that we don't really give it much thought. After all, it's just a little socialism. It's not like the government is taking over banks and car manufacturers.
Oh, wait. ...
Still, I console myself with the thought that America has not yet fully evolved into the socialist Utopia that Marx envisioned. Because while it may take a village to raise a child, it only takes a school to blow his nose.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@rjenkinsgdp.