I loved the article “Give the Kid a Pencil” by Chad Donahue (2016). For years I have wrestled with the conundrum of missing and broken pencils.
Two years ago I was so frustrated at the end of the year that I began a policy of punishing students after three strikes. I reasoned with them that there are always accidents and mistakes, and therefore there will be three passes on pencil breakage/loss. After that, though, they begin losing recess. I don’t think anyone missed out on any recess, but I do remember a very interesting phenomena occurring; a sort of underworld of pencil dealings was birthed. Kids were not bothering me with sharpening their pencils or interrupting lessons with “I can’t find my pencil” anymore. They would vanish under their desks. Friends would traffic Ticonderoga No. 2 (Pollard, 2008) contraband across the room so that their buddies could join them at recess. It literally went this way.
At the beginning of last year I tried telling the students that their pencils were their swords–In this case the pencil was mightier than the sword. We have a pirate theme in my classroom, so the pencils were actually cutlasses. I had planned to have the kids make crafty, creative sheathes for their sabors, but time evaporated, and we got into learning/teaching. Honestly, I didn’t really like the focus on weapons.
When I student-taught in a first grade classroom at Foglesville Elementary, the teacherspent every lunch break sharpening pencils. She provided the pencils for pupils whose pencil broke, free of charge. They would simply go over and exchange the writing utensil. I liked this idea, but never implemented it in third grade.
At the very beginning of the year I have school supplies on the brain once again. The author of “Give the Kid a Pencil” (Donahue, 2016) presented the problem to grad students. Predictably, they came up with clever capture and release plans where students felt the pain of pencil loss, but regained the use of writing through a variety of redemptive activities.
Unpredictably and refreshingly, Chad Donahue (2016) told his grad students he would “…give the kid a pencil… every time…” not just the first time, or after regaining trust, or once the kid jumps through hoops; immediately and always.
This article reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I was eating an ice cream cone with my family. My scoop of ice cream dropped onto the ground. I’m not sure if one of my parents asked the restaurant for more ice cream or the workers witnessed the catastrophe of a kid who adored ice cream, but I do remember that no money was exchanged for the new scoop that was added to my cone.
Grad students asked Donahue (2016) about kids who might take advantage of the pencil producing professor’s liberalism. He explains that if a kid does want to test the teacher, and he/she breaks or loses his/her pencil on purpose, there will come a point, a magic number–fifty, a hundred–at some point the pupil will get it: there will always be a pencil available. And, guess what… I never developed a habit of dropping my ice cream scoop on the ground as a result of being given a new one for free!
Teachers, don’t make the pencil an issue. Find the underlying cause. Maybe the kid wants attention. Perhaps he needs a break… so he breaks his pencil. I can picture myself having a pencil cup full of sharp, ready to go pencils, and becoming frustrated when a kid tells me he needs a new pencil for the hundredth time. “Didn’t I tell you 99 times before that they are right there?!” Do you think the kid will remember where the sharp pencils are next time if I yell at him? There is clearly a different need going on here.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory that seeks to explain what causespeople to behave certain ways (McLeod, 2018). As each level is met, a human being can concentrate on the next. A person isn’t going to worry about safety when he is starving. When pencils are not freely available in the classroom, student psyche could bottom out in the basement of Maslow’s pyramid. How is a kid supposed to feel good (esteem) about himself if he is being controlled by a pencil-nazi who is hoarding the most basic scholastic tool of all time?
The tendency to want to control the carbonite cartel in the classroom may very well come from a deep “root socioeconomic orientation of commerce based upon scarcity” (Joseph, 2017, p. 116). Peter Joseph explains a market system that capitalizes on the deficiency or weaknesses of others that pervades our American way of life in “The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression.” The grad students from Donahue’s course who were well-meaning, we will assume, couldn’t help but think in terms of this scarcity system. Students must learn that items like pencils do not grow on trees! Oh wait…
Earlier I equated pencil loss with ice cream spillage, but are kids as fond of pencils as they are of ice cream? Not quite. Replace ice cream with vegetables. A young child doesn’t want to eat his green beans, so he throws them on the floor. Does the parent have the kid get down on his hands and knees to lick the green beans off of the floor? Does the adult send the kid outside to begin tilling a plot of land that will be planted with green beans to be harvested months from now? These scenarios are ridiculous. A responsible grown up simply places more legumes on the child’s plate, explaining and modeling healthy eating. We do this because we want our offspring to grow up to be strong, smart, and live a fulfilled, fun, and productive life.
Plenty of pencils will pave a path toward eventual self-actualization, inspiring students to be the most that they can be. That is classy. Keeping kids from their potential, no matter what the reason, couldn’t be less classy.
Donohue, C. (2016, August 4). Give the Kid a Pencil. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/give-the-kid-a-pencil
Joseph, P. (2017). The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression. Dallas: Bendella Books.
McLeod, S. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Pollard, G. (2008, August 10). Great American Pencil Brands. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from http://www.brandlandusa.com/2008/08/10/great-american-pencil-brands/