Funding trips for classes of school children is a complicated business in Sweden. This is due to two commonly held conventional ideas. One is that it would be unfair to ask each family to simply pay for their kid, since not all families may be able to afford the trip. The other is that the kids should somehow prove themselves worthy of the trip through work. Typically, this will lead to a great number of schemes and events to collect funds for each trip. And these fund-raising activities have a few things in common: they pay poorly, most of the labour is put in by a few parents (not the kids), and most of the collected funds actually originate with the kids’ families, as parents either donate goods or buy donated goods from the kids.

I think this whole business is ridiculous. I challenge the two basic assumptions and I think the fund-raising activities are insanely inefficient.

To begin with, I am in all likelihood the least affluent dad in both my kids’ classes, and it still would be no problem for me to front the bill of their participation in school trips. We live in a cheap part of one of Sweden’s richest communities: these people have the means. Secondly, their kids travel all the time with their folks and sibs without having to work for it, so why should a school trip be any different?

My solution to the problem, which I have aired at a number of school-parent meetings to responses ranging from high praise to shocked disapproval, is this. Dear affluent parent of a school-mate of one of my children: instead of working for five hours on the traditional poorly paid and inefficient resource reallocation schemes, arranging a bake sale or overseeing the kids’ busking at a subway station, just stay one extra hour at work and make twice the money. Nothing you do with the kids on communal fund-raisers will ever approach the wage you see at work every day.

In some cases, school rules forbid the direct payment of a trip fee. This is easy to circumvent. You just buy one cheap item for each kid, say, a pack of candles, and tell the parents that to send their kids on the school trip they have to buy a pack – and it costs $300.

Of course it’s fun for the kids to engage in communal activities with parents, working towards a common goal. But why bring money into it? Just take the kids hiking or fishing.

Comments

  1. #1 Paddy
    May 3, 2011

    Totally agree here. I never want to see another bloody tulip again.

  2. #2 Deborah
    May 3, 2011

    Awk! We have these too and I hate them. Plus, in poorer neighborhoods (like mine) it often puts kids at risk because many parents are not very “involved” and just let the kids go door-to-door hawking their overpriced wrapping paper and bad chocolate—which no one in the poor neighborhood can afford anyway. What really bothers me about it is, with these schemes, the kids and their classrooms only collect a portion of the cash their efforts generate; they only get the “profits” on the merchandise. I’d rather give a donation to the school band to attend a regional competition, or to the sixth grade to visit a dinosaur exhibit. That way they get every penny I have to spare, and I don’t need the wrapping paper.

  3. #3 NoAstronomer
    May 3, 2011

    We have these fund raising drives too. I just send the money in, which has two advantages:

    1. 100% of what I pay goes to fund the trip, which means I actually pay less

    and…

    2. I don’t wind up with a bunch of useless candles, unread magazines or unplanted tulip bulbs lying round the house.

  4. #4 Art
    May 3, 2011

    As a sometimes tradesman I often advise people seeking to save money by making repairs DIY to simply put the time in at their regular work and pay for a skilled tradesman to do the job. As an electrician I have seen a lot DIY electrical work that is unsafe, won’t meet code, and often doesn’t work. I put it in that order for a reason.

    As a tradesman I make it safe, exceed code, and as an inevitable and entirely natural, but not unintended consequence of this, it works.

    Ive been called in when a $500 an hour lawyer spent half the night trying to troubleshoot and repair a light in a stairway. He had disassembled several multi-gang device boxes and still hadn’t fixed it. His wife called us in while he was at work. Took us a couple hours to figure out how it went back together, figure about $200, and once back together we figured out and corrected the original problem in a couple of minutes. Come to find out he had a defective lamp socket in the fixture and a bad switch. The bill, including a new socket came to less than $300 but if he had called us first it would have been less than $80. He makes that in a few minutes of billable time.

    Yes, I know, men want to be good with their hands and maintain their homes. Everyone wants to be handy and save money. But the same guy who tells me I would be foolish to plead my own case in court, lawyering is a specialized skill, is willing to spend his time trying to do a job he hasn’t the training, tools or experience to handle efficiently.

    Nobody can do it all well. It is a testament to the depth and breadth of a societies knowledge base that we need and use specialists. It isn’t a sign of weakness to use specialists.

    It is smart to have parents spend an hour or two extra doing what they are trained and good at and donate the proceeds to the school for trips.

  5. #5 R E G
    May 3, 2011

    One of my hero-teachers used to send a note home the first week of school asking for a donation from each family of:
    1 box of kleenex
    1 box of bendable straws
    1 roll of paper towel

    After that, you never needed to send tissues with a kid who had the sniffles, or a straw to use at lunch. Genius!

    The next principal outlawed the practice. ???

    I also started early refusing the merchandise and just sending donations. My family owns a store; we already want the community to buy from us.

    The alternative never under discussion is simply less costly trips. There are great museums and historic sights most kids never visit much closer to home than the average class trip.

  6. #6 Vince whirlwind
    May 3, 2011

    I saw a program on TV recently about an initiative in inland Australia: a child’s eligibility for the end-of-year school trip to the beach (these children would never otherwise see it) is predicated on their attendance record (these children come from communities that have low levels of engagement with the education system).
    Obviously the parents aren’t asked to fund the school trip: that’s what the tax system is for.

  7. #7 Arrow
    May 4, 2011

    Well, I am somewhat on the other side. My best friend has a lot of kids and she is (for the time being) a stay at home mom. Her only daughter is finishing elementary school. The class trip of the daughter’s class is planned to take place in a foreign country. Of course it mainly speaks to the stupidity of the school and the more well-off parents that out of a class of 26 three (3) kids won’t be able to join the class trip. I find that absolutely deplorable and the fundraising thing you decry would be one half-decent solution to that.

  8. #8 Martin R
    May 4, 2011

    Difficult to motivate 23 families to do pointless charade work to help the remaining three families, though.

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    May 4, 2011

    ” predicated on their attendance record ”

    -Finally an idea to motivate the children! But if you try it in Sweden, I can hear the parents of the non-eligibile children cry “unfair!” Because it is never THEIR children’s fault when something goes wrong (I have a teacher in the family, as you might guess).

    (OT) “Looted Viking treasure trial gets under way!”
    http://www.thelocal.se/33572/20110504/
    Yes! Get ready for the “sacrifice to Oden” re-enactment!

  10. #10 Birger Johansson
    May 5, 2011

    …by which I mean having the guilty party doing “community service” under Oden’s great oak in Uppsala.
    Destroying literally irreplaceable archaeological sites: Getting judged by the (non)merciful values of the time period the site was created (would make for interesting sentences around Hammurabi’s Babylon).
    — — — — —
    (OT) “Why the switch from foraging to farming?”
    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-foraging-farming.html
    Damn! Since the truth may well be non-intuitive for us, it is damn hard to reconstruct exactly what was important enough for the people of the time to alter their way of living.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.