My Take on Boxtops for Education

I was pouring my cereal this morning wondering what to blog about, and one of those little Boxtops for Education rectangles looked at me the whole time, mocking me.  I have issues with them.

Don’t get me wrong: I do approve of money for schools, and I do believe that corporations should contribute to communities.  Also, I do not believe that I’m the first person to say what I’m about to say, I’d just like to say it in my own words.

Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr
Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr

Overall, it strikes me as wrong that we’d need $0.10 coupons to fund K-8 education.  Put it this way:  would we accept that our cereal boxes told us to go to to earn a dime for national security?  Is education important or not?

$0.10?  Really?

Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr
Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr

I’m put off, first of all, by the piddling amount offered per boxtop: ten cents.  To earn each dime, you need to harvest each boxtop and keep track of them all.  To earn any useful of money, many people need to do this, and then you then need someone to coordinate the efforts and collect the results.  It’s a lot of involvement for a little profit.

Their website says  “Each month, find exciting new opportunities to earn thousands of Bonus Box Tops for your school.”  Thousands?  Let’s say 3,000.  At $0.10 each, that’s $300.  So that’s what, three textbooks?  Over the course of the year, you could enough for one class of 36!

The Benevolent Corporation?

Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World
Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World

Then there’s the question of how many thousands of dollars in General Mills products need to be purchased to earn another $300 for one cheap computer.  They are not hurting for money, and the presence of Boxtops on their products doesn’t hurt their sales.  These factors are naturally not mentioned on the BoxTops website.  It rubs me the wrong way that such a huge, successful corporation is giving out these tiny table-scraps with an air of such generosity.

I also have to admit that corporate involvement in schools, even to share some of their wealth, worries me.  Successful corporations succeed because they put their own interests and power first.  If you haven’t thought much about their influence before, skim some David C. Korten – it’s well-researched and readable.

What Would Help?

My central objection, though, is that BoxTops nickel and dime schools whose real issue is being underfunded by millions of dollars every year.  They don’t need a trickle of funds, “earned” when individuals spend more money elsewhere; they need real support that comes automatically year after year.

I’m not saying that General Mills should be responsible for providing this.  I am saying that maybe everyone’s time and money would be better spent lobbying for sufficient government funds or researching the impact of a decently-funded education.

Concessions and Conclusion

Before I end this, I need to step back and remember that yes, small actions do make a difference.  And a whole bunch of dimes do add up to a bunch of dollars.  It’s important never to forget that.  And General Mills is giving away money to schools, which is at least something.  High-five to General Mills for doing something.

But what does it say about our commitment to education, especially education in poorer school districts, that school budgets need to be supplemented by a series of $0.10 boxtops?