Back to School Insanity

(Warning, this post is half rant and half rambling train of thought. Don’t mind me, its September.)

So I recently had lunch with some friends and colleagues. And the discussion was all about ‘Back to School.’ As a toddler parent I don’t yet have to worry about ‘back to school’. Nothing changes in our routine between August and September. (Except that my job is NUTS in September… so I go a little crazy.)

But when I started hearing some of the ridiculousness of back to school these days, Wow. Just wow. What are we (as a society) nuts?

Speaking of nuts, I will start with the nuts thing. I get that there are kids seriously allergic to nuts. And it is perfectly reasonable for a classroom to stay nut free if there is such a kid. But it seems that the nut free rule is now 100% across the board, regardless if there is a kid with a nut allergy in the class. ??? I don’t know everyone, I have mixed feelings about this.

I get it, I get that peanut allergies are serious stuff. And if my kid had a sever nut allergy I would be pushing for a nut free environment too.  But these kids are not going to be able to live in a bubble forever. Isn’t it better to teach the kid with the allergies how to protect themselves and be careful, rather then have all the other kids parents searching the supermarket for nut free granola bars that are actually healthy?

I realized from talking to a parent who’s kid is going into pre-school, that of course, the healthier versions of granola bars are made by smaller companies and the smaller companies can’t afford to have special ‘nut free’ facilities… so the ‘nut free’ granola bars also tend to be the ones super high in sugar and fat. Awesome. Also, check out this post a while back from Ask Moxie.. re: pre-packaged food being preferred in Daycares over healthy homemade options, because they can know what is in pre-packaged and not in the homemade (I am guessing you can’t guarantee your kitchen is ‘nut free’.) How crazy is that? Discouraging home made healthy food for prepackaged stuff? WTF?

That being said, PHD in Parenting posted an awesome post the other day about a great nut free healthy granola bar recipe. Check it out.

Also, I heard that they are experimenting with a treatment from peanut allergies which involves exposing kids to very very small quantities of peanuts. And I wonder, maybe if they were exposed from a young age to the tiny bit of peanut residue on a table from Sally who had peanut butter on her bagel from breakfast and then put her little un sanitized hands on the table, maybe there would be less kids with peanut allergies. But I don’t know what I am talking about.

Seriously, as if packing lunches isn’t hard enough.

And then there is the obsessive practice of labeling. Apparently you have to label everything. Sometimes twice. Clothing, pencils, glue sticks, hats, mittens, shoes, water bottles. (Do you need to label your kid too?) Why? Kids loose things. They are experts at it. And no label is going to stop that. Is labeling some attempt to stop the spread of germs by insisting that only Johnny use Johnny’s glue stick? Like that’s going to prevent an outbreak of H1N1. What are we so afraid of? And why are we so obsessive (as a society)? What am I missing?

Also. I hear you have to buy everything on a big list of stuff. And it must be the same as every other kids. So they don’t fight over it. Because that’s not a natural part of growing up and learning how to get along or anything. No wonder our kids can’t solve their own problems anymore- we try and avoid as many problems as possible for them until they leave for college. They all have to win and get a prize for everything. They all have to pass every class. They have to have their work graded in blue pen not red, because red is negative.  I don’t know about you, but I want my kid to learn that we don’t all get the same things. And we don’t all get what we want. And sometimes we have to share and sometimes someone won’t share. And sometimes someone does better then us at something. Cest la vive.

And then there is the obsessive sanitization of everything the kids touch. Amber over at wrote a great post about those hand sanitizers today. But really, I hear they sanitize everything. It seems to me that immune systems need practice to be strong. I am all for letting my kid roll in dirt and lick the floor- fight off those germs! I feel like right now we are producing bubble children.

I really hope what I am hearing was exaggerated for effect. Maybe they were reasonably tired of hearing me complain about toddler mid-night wake ups, food battles and temper tantrums and wanted to remind me it isn’t all fun and games as soon as they start school. I don’t know.

But if it is true, I ask, why? Why is school this label focused, supply list, same as everyone else, santized, nut free land of obsession. Like a ridiculous cocoon from real life? Am I missing something? Tell me. Set me straight.


17 responses to “Back to School Insanity

  1. slackerinc September 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    As a parent of a boy who triggered the strongest reaction to peanuts his allergist had ever seen, let me tell you why you’re wrong, Kathleen.

    Yes, children will have to learn eventually to be responsible for guarding against their allergy themselves. But they will also have to eventually learn to hold down a job, manage a household, do their own shopping, drive a car, etc. We don’t expect them to be able to manage any of those things when they are in elementary school, because we’re pretty sure they would screw it up if they tried. And one screw-up with peanuts and my son is dead.

    See my point? I mean, depending on how young a child you’re talking about, we could well be talking about an age when children aren’t even expected to be able to handle staying home (in a home where all those greater responsibilities are already provided for) for a half hour by themselves! We don’t want them to get ahold of matches or use the stove unsupervised, and we keep poisonous household chemicals out of reach. But they should manage their own deadly allergy, which involves food their classmates happily much on with no ill effect?

    • amoment2think September 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm


      Why am I not surprised that you would be the one to set me straight?

      You make a good point. Obviously the risk to one is far more important than the inconvenience of others. Don’t worry, it is not like my intention is to start a “Pro Nut” campaign!

      I think my reaction has more to do with the culture/broader implications/how it fits into the big picture. It seems to me there is a real culture of fear, being afraid of everything that might hurt our kids, trying to blanket and protect them from the world. Sometimes that protection is certainly warranted; why not avoid risk (especially life threatening risk) if you can? But we seem to be in protection overload now in our society and fearful of everything. Am I making any sense?

      • slackerinc September 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm

        I hear a lot of people saying that. “We didn’t worry about ________ when we were kids, and we’re all fine.” Welllll…but we’re the ones who survived! Before the many efforts to “blanket and protect” kids, a lot more of them got killed or seriously injured. I remember very clearly as a kid thinking “I can’t believe they have this high jungle gym/monkey bars over nothing but concrete to break my fall–this is crazy”. And it WAS crazy, and you never see that now: there’s always bark or chunks of rubber underneath. That’s a good thing in my book! Same for all the laws about car seats and boosters and bicycle helmets and so on and so forth.

      • Lisa Sunbury September 8, 2010 at 11:05 pm

        You are making perfect sense to me! This post struck a chord, because I am an early childhood professional who believes there must be a balance between protecting children from actual dangers, and allowing them to learn through their own exploration, experiences and mistakes.I’m in the camp that believes in letting children take calculated risks and responsibilities at the right time.

        When I was growing up, everybody ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I think the school cafeteria even served pb&j for lunch once a week. It’s a wonder so many of us survived our childhood!

        I don’t mean to trivialize serious food allergies at all, but I don’t believe all nuts should be banned from schools because a few children have allergies.

        Some children have life threatening reactions to bee stings, but we can’t exterminate all of the bees, or ban recess, because a few children are at risk.

        Preschool children can’t be expected to reliably police themselves, but grade school children can and should have knowledge of, and take responsibility for understanding, and protecting themselves if they suffer a severe allergy. To me, this is Education 101- basic self and body awareness, and care.

        We live in a crazy world, and sometimes it’s hard to find balance. In some ways, and some situations, it seems to me that children are over protected- like the examples you gave about labeling, and school supplies that must be identical -and don’t even get me started on hand sanitizer, and how unnecessary , and even harmful it can be!

        Yet, while we’re busy sanitizing the hell out of the world in the name of cleanliness and safety, (while actually accomplishing the exact opposite), we’re ignoring or not adequately addressing bigger issues that have the potential to do much more harm- my favorite issue is the amount and types of media and advertising young children are increasingly and routinely exposed to, at younger and younger ages.

        .But that’s just me- someone else might say my concern over this issue is just another example of over protection. LOL!

        The little girl I care for, and have cared for since she’s been 11 months old, just started kindergarten last week, and she was telling me about the rules in her new classroom. 1 )Be kind. 2) Do your personal best. 3) You can only slide down the slide, you can’t climb up it.

        I was impressed until she got to Rule # 3. Rule # 3 makes no sense at all to me. She just graduated from a mixed age pre-school where there was no such rule, and all of the kids always managed to figure things out, and there have never been any serious injuries in the 25 years the school has been in operation.

        Why do we have to have rules about the slide for kindergarten children? Can’t we trust them enough to figure it out for themselves? I think so…

      • slackerinc September 9, 2010 at 5:10 am

        The slide rule makes perfect sense to me. Some kids will inevitably want to go down the slide (what it was designed for), crashing into the ones climbing up. Climbing up a slide is like driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

        Of course, if we’re talking about a teeny tot slide, this is not a huge problem. But on a full size slide, it could be.

      • shasta September 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

        Maybe Rule #3 is more of a metaphorical guideline designed to stifle creativity, a kindergarten way of saying “don’t think outside the box”?

        I kid, of course.


  2. Cheryl September 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Agree, agree, agree!

    I am not the one to set you straight, apparently!

  3. Megan September 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I completely agree with you! With everything in this post. Love it!

    When I was teaching middle school, I was discouraged form using red pen. I get it, but at the same time, some of these kids needed to know that the lazy ass way they were doing their work was NOT cool. It wasn’t blue or purple or pink bad, it was RED=BAD. LOL

    And I’m with you on the sanitizing thing. I don’t like how they have to keep sanitizer on their desks We use sanitizer for mornings like today when Charlotte has pet a dog at the park and is going to be handling snacks and a binky on the stroll home. But we use regular (not antibacterial) soap at home, and I don’t freak about her eating stuff that fell on the ground, and I don’t wash her hands obsessively. Frankly, I should probably wash them MORE, especially now that flu season is around the corner.

    But, as someone who cleans her house with baking soda and vinegar, I am not at all thrilled about the chemicals they want to rub all over the kids’s desks by asking them to bring Clorox wipes to school. That was actually on my nieces’ school list!

    Crazy world, man. Crazy world.

  4. kelly @kellynaturally September 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I think it really depends on the school. My childrens’ school is not nut-free, but the teachers do request that you not send peanut butter. Almond butter is healthier anyway… and sunbutter is a unique nut-free alternative that has an interesting taste.
    As for the lists of things… I think its a public school thing. If a district doesn’t have enough money (and most don’t) for everything, they pass the costs on to the teachers – who, on their salaries really shouldn’t have to pay for things like pencils & erasers & glue – so they pass it along to the parents.
    Hand sanitizers… well, I don’t send my kids to school with them. They have sinks in their room & in the lunch area, and washing hands is one of the first things you learn in montessori. I do keep a EO spray bottle in my purse though for when we’re out & can’t access a sink.
    As far as the labeling things… I think that just helps teachers stay organized. When teachers are faced with increasing class sizes, and children who do (and will naturally) lose things – usually one of something, or leave something behind, its helpful to be able to pick it up, and at a glance know who it belongs to.
    Personally though, we don’t really label anything I send with our children because their teachers know us & our kids… and… I don’t like to ruin clothes with markers (my kids wear hand me downs & we pass along to others too!) – but that’s just me.
    Okay I’m done refuting everything in your post. 🙂

    I will say that having children with sensitivities (though not outright severe allergies) to certain foods, I AGREE with you that a sterile environment isn’t better than an environment where children can learn how to ask the right questions, and protect themselves. Yet, what age are we talking about? A three year old or even a five year old with a potentially life threatening peanut allergy shouldn’t be expected to keep himself away from other children who have peanut butter sandwiches. They just don’t have that awareness, nor should they have to have that responsibility (or anxiety) so young. So I support a no-peanut atmosphere in less-controlled environments, like school.
    As for homemade – our kids have homemade snacks brought in by parents on a rotating schedule at school. Parents are encouraged to bake/make their own food and to use fresh, real foods – no procressed cheeses, no sugary snacks. And if baked, to include a complete list of ingredients.

    • amoment2think September 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      You know, I get the money thing when it comes to school supplies. That is not so much my issue, I have no issue with the idea of needing to buy supplies. What bothers me is how specific the list it. A scrap book, but one with specific dimensions. Heaven forbid two kids have different sized scrap books. A box of crayons, but in grade 1 you need the 8 crayon box and in grade 3 you need the 16 crayon box. 5 glue sticks, all to be brought on the first day of school. Seems crazy to me. That is more what I am reacting too.

      Also, re: nuts. Yes, age. Good point. I don’t know….. I think kids are more capable then we give them credit for, but certainly 3 year olds and 7 year olds are vastly different creatures….

  5. Brooke September 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I think the nut thing is a bit over the top. The latest theories suggest that no exposure might actually exacerbate the problem. But if it were my kid… I’d probably home school them!

    As for buying supplies and labeling, the issue isn’t problem solving and such. It’s that the teachers can’t afford to supply the classrooms. The budgets SUCK and get worse every year, so the parents are now responsible for outfitting their kids for school. It’s no different as they get into college, ya know. It’s not like the professors hand out three ring binders!

    My biggest school gripe is getting rid of all physical activity.

  6. Melissa September 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I totally agree with this. My daughter started first grade today and I have the supply list, and the anti-peanut shopping to do. I refuse to get into that labelling nonsense. I am very happy for my daughter and I to have a break from one another, though. I believe It’s going to do wonders for our relationship!!

  7. Jen September 8, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    The over-everything has me wanting to home school. But then I’m shutting Kale up in a way that won’t expose him to the “weird” stuff. I want him to be able to think critically and to be able to say to a teacher “but why does my stuff need to be labelled?” or what have you. I want him to be a polite skeptic, not a lemming on the cliff. So, he’ll go to public school, but it will be my job to talk about things that happen at school, talk to his teacher and express my concerns (or commendations), and make sure Kale understands that people come from all walks of life.

  8. Pingback: ControverSunday Topic: Protection versus Acceptable Risk « amoment2think

  9. clara September 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    As a person who goes crazy when kids climb up the slide, I salute the no climbing up the slide rule. Unless there are no other kids around, in which case, do what you want to the slide.

    I remember having a huge list of school supplies when I was in school so that one doesn’t strike me as odd. I’m more scared that by the time my kid starts school I’ll have to shell out for a computer. Pencil crayons are one thing.

    Nut allergies confuse me. I believe they are real. I don’t know why they are so prevalent. I can’t imagine what it would be like to send my kid to school with an epi pen just in case some other kid has peanut oil on his fingers. My kids eat a tonne of peanut butter but I try to wipe them down when we’re in public, just in case. To protect others – the same reason we vaccinate and don’t climb up the slide.

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