Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pennies Are Legal Tender

Over on the Education Wonks (one of the best education blogs on the internet, by the way) there is a post about the students who tried to pay for their $2.00 school lunches with pennies, and got detention for it. The principal and superintendent apparently considered it disrespectful to pay with pennies, and stated that it held up the lunch line and showed no consideration to the aides who took the money at the register. Etc.

People seem to be of all different opinions on the matter: some are upholding the administration because pennies are apparently evil, some are saying the punishment for these students should have been even more severe, some are even stating that pennies are not legal tender. Other people are supporting the students, and saying that pennies are as much legal tender as dollars, and that the school was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ordinarily, I tend to support the school when a rule is blatantly broken, but honestly? Where is there a rule or law that says people can't use pennies to pay for something? There are people who hate pennies, sure, but me? I like pennies. They're cute, and they help people learn to count, which is apparently a skill the lunch ladies at this particular school haven't learned to do yet. At least, not very quickly.

I support these students for many reasons, only a few of which are the legalities of the matter, what constitutes legal tender, and how much their attitude might have had to do with this brouhaha, but there are two main reasons I'm on the kids' side this time.

One is the legal tender issue. Pennies are money. The reasons for using pennies are irrelevant, and any 'attitude' is also irrelevant. The customer tried to make a purchase, using legal tender. It's not like the kids were trying to steal the food. These kids paid with real money, and a bunch of adults who couldn't count quickly got their panties in a wad over it.

The point of the students' "Penny Protest," the brevity of lunch "hour," is also irrelevant. Pennies are money. Things can be purchased with money. Therefore, things can be purchased with pennies. If it is true that this slowed the lunch line to the point that the kids in the back of the line had to inhale their lunch or go without, then the kids are probably right: there wasn't enough time to eat a relaxed and healthy lunch. I can vouch for that; lunch back in the middle school was about fifteen minutes, and then the kids, finished or not, were herded onto the playground so the janitors could start cleaning, lest they earn an extra hour's pay.

The main reason I side with the students on this issue goes deeper than mere legalities, however.

When my children were small, we were so poor that if they got milk or lunch at school, it was usually paid for with a baggie full of pennies. Those pennies weren't easy to accumulate, either; I searched under couch cushions and in the bottoms of old purses and in the pockets of all the coats, and everywhere I could think of, to get enough to pay for milk or the occasional school lunch. Yes, we qualified for free lunch, even though I was teaching full-time at the school (that's a sad commentary in and of itself, isn't it!) but as long as we could make do somehow, we made do without the charity. I know that the lunch ladies were mightily ticked off at the baggies of pennies, but they also knew that I worked there and would have made my opinion of their opinion known to one and all. After all, pennies were legal tender. I knew it, and they knew it.

If my beautiful children had ever been singled out and ridiculed or PUNISHED for paying for something with actual, legal money, just because a lunch lady didn't want to have to count coins, they would have been devastated, and I would have been so angry I might still be in prison even now for the damage I would have done.

Sure, maybe these kids the other day were smart-alecks wanting to make a scene, but what difference does it make? Money is money. I loathe "attitude" as much as you do, maybe even more, but this is about MONEY.

And what if the next customer in line behind the smart alecks was just a little poor kid whose mommy didn't have anything but pennies to send to school for milk or lunch? Would that child be punished, too?

It reminds me of the Stupidest Principal in the Universe - the one who used to take his teeth out and put them in his back pocket, and then sit on them and bite himself on the ass and scream - who made a rule that there would be no ripped jeans in his building, and the first kid he jumped on was a poor kid wearing his only pair of much-worn jeans that were so old that both knees were sticking through the whitened denim. He suspended that boy, who cried for an hour in the office while waiting for his bewildered mother to beg a ride from a neighbor so she could get him in the middle of the day. Neither of them knew they had rights, but we teachers did, and we descended on that principal like piranha on a cow's hind leg and to this day I hope we made him feel like the loser he honestly was.

When the administration makes up a rule on the spur of the moment and tries to enforce it even though it's a stupid rule and everybody knows it's stupid except the administrator who thought it up, and then all hell breaks loose and the sentient universe comes down hard on the administrator, and the administration is honestly amazed, who's the idiot?

Why YES, I do use words like "stupid" and "idiot" when I'm speaking of certain adults. You know, like people who didn't know pennies were real money?

Then again, as I sincerely doubt that anybody has EVER offered these adults a penny for their thoughts, maybe they really didn't know what pennies were. Ya think?

Oops. These people don't THINK, either.

But I do. And I think this administration really dropped the ball, and it was a heavy, heavy bowling ball, right on their tender little toes. And I hope it hurts.

Get 'em, parents!

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 7:32 PM | |


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