you can't let them bring their own pencils

"It's an issue of equity, Tom," explains the district office representative.

"I'm not seeing where you are coming from."

"You allow students to bring in pencils from home.  Students who have inferior pencils will feel inferior.  We need everyone on the same page," he adds.

"On the same page.  I'm curious, do you use that reasoning with all learning items or just pencils?  I mean, you said the same page and it had me thinking about reading.  My students aren't on the same page.  They're not even on the same book.  And get this, some of them actually bring in books from home."

"That's different.  You don't require them to bring in books from home."

"But I do require them to read and some of them use the library, others borrow from friends and still others bring in books from home.  To me, that's the real issue of equity.  Does every child have access to books?"

"Yes, but pencils are used in the same learning activity.  So, really, it is not the same thing."

"Can I ask a question?"

"You just did," he adds with a chuckle.  Oh, the hilarity of the district office! Why, I'm hoping they start an improv group soon.  Really, I am.
"Do you require all students to eat the cafeteria food?"

"No, many of them bring lunch from home."

"And it's not all the same food?  What if Charles gets jealous of Gertrude's lunch?"

He says nothing.  "What about slide rules?  Not every child brings the same slide rule.  Is that an issue of equity, too?"

"Kids will pick on other students who have cheap pencils.  It's a reality you can't see, Mr. Johnson."

"When I walk on campus, I see students tease one another about the clothes they wear.  That seems to be a bigger status symbol.  Yet, parents would be up in arms if we required every child to wear the same brand of clothes."

"Look, we'll look into it.  Right now we don't have a procedure for assessing this issue, so I'm going to have to  stick with the rule about banning pencils.  We just don't know all of the liability involved."

So, we're left with rules over reason, uniformity over equality and liability management over leadership.  Take note of this, politicians and pundits and parents: the real issue isn't the access to pencils.  The real issue is the lack of access to innovation.


  1. John, I agree with a lot of the sentiment here, but what about the logistics. If they bring their own pencils and someone brings a pencil that has spiders in it. The spiders get to other kids pencils and the pencils the school has provided. What if their pencils don't have erasers and you need erasers for a certain assignment? Just some other thoughts. Maybe the district office isn't against innovation or in it for comedy, maybe they are seeing the possible issues with broken/stolen/infected pencils?

  2. Anonymous2:52:00 PM

    Also, what if these pencils from home have to use the school-provided pencil sharpeners? What if the sharpeners are damaged? Or what if the sharpener damages the pencil from home- will the school have to pay compensation? Imagine the mayhem if the pencils from home are used to draw risque pictures which are then passed around (pencils the school provides are presumably incapable of such naughtiness).
    As long as many of our students have their own pencils at home, it only makes sense to have them bring in their own, as it reduces our costs. No forcing necessary. Would you rather use your own nice pencil, or one that has been passed though 50 grubby hands and has the tooth marks of others all over it? Maybe we can spend the savings on upgrading our sharpeners, and purchase some decent bug spray to protect everyone's assets. For sure the kids will take better care of their own pencils than the ones the school provides.

  3. Mellica8:41:00 PM

    Unlike the district rep above I would simply love it if my students even thought about bringing a pencil to class once a week. It never fails to amaze me how wrapped up the district offices get in the seemingly idiotic day to day things when there are larger problems to solve within the district. I cannot begin to count the money I have spent on supplying students with materials for class and yet the district thinks nothing of announcing that there will be no step increases this coming school year. I wonder who will supply the pencils now that my salary has taken a cut (oh believe it when I say pay will not increase but health insurance costs will).
    Maybe we should all start sending lists of things that are required for uniformity to our district reps and see just where it goes. While we are at it we may as well submit the request for uniformity in clothing just to see if it slips by them. I know I would love to not have to look at some teenager's boxers again because his pants are sagging to his knees.

  4. Perhaps the concept of using pencils because it's ok to make and correct mistakes is being lost here.

    I'll avoid all the sarcastic and vitriolic comments that come to mind and just state one this really the biggest issue they have to deal with?

  5. Hmmm...guess I should have scrolled all the way to the top and seen "fictional" in the header. Too bad I can't use my own pencil here to erase my previous comment. :D

  6. I've long said it was a big mistake going from slate-boards to the unmanageable Big Chief tablets. Spit-wads, paper-airplanes, passing notes and the attendant implications to security, safety, privacy, cheating, doodling & lollygagging are just the start of where we don't even want to go...

  7. Anonymous7:31:00 AM

    The obvious choice is a standard issue school issued pencil. This will allow equitable access to the same technology, allow for the positive control of pencil outputs (you can't draw that/write that with a school issued pencil - since schools are all about educating children on how to function nicely in society rather than engendering actual free thought) and it removes the social issues around different qualities of pencil thereby eliminating social bias.

    There will be issues, pencil replacement cycles, pencil repair and maintenance, pencil policy management and enforcement and recycling of unusable pencils and possibly a graphite disposal program. But, this will allow the use of pencils for school related tasks with complete equity.

    The funding for such an ambitious program can be generated from our communities by launching an initiative from the school district because they are preparing our children for the future. The slogan can be, "The real world uses pencils, why should our students use chalk?" Our district is preparing our students for the future. Support this cutting-edge educational initiative and so forth. Parents, why bother with the added expense of buying pencils for your children every month... Please contribute 5 cents to the pencil fund every month and the school will provide access to top quality writing instruments to all of our children.

    The Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment professionals will no doubt be busy working on pencil-centric curriculum for all of our classes and those courses which do not lend themselves immediately to pencil integration, such as physical education and choir will need to find ways of integrating pencil time into their daily activities.

    And we will prepare for the inevitable emergence of pencil 2.0. The #2 pencil will no doubt become the de-facto standard for all bubble tests and essays. Lets build our curriculum today with this inevitable future in mind...