The XX Factor

This Viral PTA Fundraiser Sums Up What Every Parent Everywhere Is Thinking

If you’re a parent and you’re on Facebook, no doubt by now you’ve seen this PTA letter posted by Dee Wise Heinz, a mother of three in Texas, earlier this week. 

Dee Wise Heinz/Facebook

Sometimes when things go viral, it’s because they are hilarious or outrageous or sensational. Or, as in this case, they are hilarious but also tremendously relatable. Every parent of a school-age child who sees this is going to nod knowingly, chuckle heartily, and discuss it with their friends at the bus stop.

Because if there is anything that drives parents crazier than Common Core, it’s the dreaded school fundraiser. And we’ve all said, at one time or another: “Just tell me what you need. I’ll write a check.” And for at least this one school, that’s now a possibility. And to that all I can say is AMEN.

For years, our children’s public school went the wrapping-paper-and-magazines route. Students had to attend a kickoff assembly (during school time) and were supposed to collect and turn in addresses of friends and family so that the marketing company could send catalogs. Teachers sent younger kids home wearing stickers reminding parents to turn in forms. Students who met all their deadlines were rewarded with cheap plastic figurines (Monkeys! Penguins! Frogs!) that hooked onto a lanyard and became instant status symbols in the elementary school ecosystem.

What an enormous distraction, I thought. What an unfair burden for the teachers. But I dutifully bought the $10-a-roll wrapping paper and subscribed to more magazines than I had time to read. I spent enough money so that my kid got a decent prize and could go to the fancy after-school shindig for big earners.

That is, until the year my middle son, Jameson, was in kindergarten. I was out of town for work and made the executive decision to skip one of the early deadlines to ease the morning rush for my husband. No biggie, right? Or so I thought. When my husband texted me one day to say that Jameson stayed home from school, I had a momentary pang of guilt that I wasn’t there for my sick kid, but it passed and I went on with my day.

It was only when I got home the next day and asked Jameson how he was feeling that I figured out the real problem. He got very quiet and explained that he didn’t want to go to school because he was the only kid who didn’t have a penguin. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH. Yeah, it was “only” kindergarten, but I was outraged that this dog-and-pony show was disrupting my kid’s education. I fired off an email to the principal, which mostly just made me feel better but didn’t bring the campaign to a screeching halt.

Happily, a few years later, we have ditched the overpriced wrapping paper once and for all. Last fall our PTO hosted a fun run at the nature park adjacent to our school. You donated whatever amount you felt comfortable with, the kids and parents got to exercise together, and—best of all—there was very little overhead, so the school actually keeps most of the money that comes in.

Parents want what’s best for their kids. And we don’t want to look whiny or cheap, which is a risk when it comes to speaking out against the school fundraiser. In fact, when I messaged Dee Wise Heinz to ask for permission to use her photo, she wrote back and told me about the fundraisers she and her family have happily participated in. We don’t mind contributing to our kids’ schools! We just want it to be done efficiently and not ridiculously.

Here’s hoping that this good-natured and hilarious letter sets some kind of global PTA record, so that something similar starts showing up in backpacks across the country.