Friday, February 25, 2011

Skip the Cookies

Once again, Jon Carroll touched on something that has long irked me.

So I was walking by a school the other day and there, set up right in front of the administration building, was a woman selling Girl Scout cookies. Her daughter was in class, she explained, and she was just helping out, and did I want a couple of boxes of Thin Mints?

The Girl Scout literature in re: cookies suggests that, in addition to raising money for the organization, cookie sales build teamwork, responsibility and basic financial skills. There's also, in theory, a sense of pride developed when a girl sells enough cookies to win a small prize of some sort.

No word yet on what emotions the girl feels if her mother wins a small prize.

Personally I think what it teaches the girls is how to use cuteness and charm to get what you want (would you buy those cookies at those prices if the local V.F.W. was selling them?) which may be useful to the girls who retain those qualities as they get older, but isn't necessarily a good overall lesson.

Here I must say that the notion of parents helping sell cookies isn't what bugs me. Parents know that if they don't raise money this way, it will come out of their pockets some other way. The Girls Scouts can talk all they want about what selling cookies teaches the girls. What ends up coming through is an old parenting maxim: parents do what they must for their kids, and sometimes the grand ideals take a back seat.

Jon provides an example of what has actually irritated me about this.

The girls launched into their speech, and I said we really didn't like to keep cookies in the house and could I give money instead? Just then, I heard a voice. "The cookies. He needs to buy the cookies."

I peered around and, yes indeed, there was Mom, hissing instructions at her little darling. (I needed to buy the cookies, I later learned, because the points and prizes do not accrue to people who just get cookie-size checks - why this should be I have no idea.)

That tells me that this isn't about supporting the local troop, it's about competition, and selling cookies to support the other people involved in the operation. The Girl Scouts of America can talk about how much of the money stays in the "area", but it doesn't compare with 100% of a direct donation to the local troop.

That Mom lost sight of the real goal, which is to raise money for those kids. Take Jon's donation and put it straight into the troop coffers. Encourage the local troop to work direct donations into the campaign (the health angle is a good one) and have awards for it. Politicians like to blather about local control. Here's a case where it's a good idea.

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