Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Suburban Man: Paperwork

By Rick Kaempfer

This year we have three kids in three different schools.

You know what that means don’t you? That’s right. Three times the amount of paperwork.

How much paperwork do we get? We could build a life-sized paper replica of Chicago and still have enough paper left over to build a paper forest to house the thousands of shivering homeless squirrels.

How much paperwork do we get? The Library of Congress called us for storage advice.

How much paperwork do we get? We measure the weight of our recycle bins in increments of Luciano Pavarottis.

We’re literally swimming in paperwork. At my house, we have an in-ground swimming pool in the backyard and the kids and I go for a paperwork swim after dinner every night.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to read it all, and even though school has only been in session for a little more than a month, I feel like I’m helplessly and hopelessly behind.

That’s why I’m proposing a brand new approach.

I propose that America’s public schools institute a color paper coding system, much like our terrorist alerts: RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, and WHITE. The color of the paper should match the importance of the paperwork.

For instance…

If something absolutely must be read, it has to be printed on red paper. What would fit in this new RED category? Anything that requires the parent’s immediate attention (permission slips, disciplinary issues, announcements of unexpected school holidays, etc.). In fact, as an additional touch, write the most important part of the most important paperwork in ALL CAPS. Bold type and exclamation points would help too, but I don’t want to get greedy.

If something is simply suggested reading, like an update on what your child is doing at school, or information about special school events like “pajama day,” those memos must be printed on orange paper. Other ORANGE level paperwork includes lesser medical emergencies like "Your child has been exposed to strep throat, pink eye, and head lice." Each parent could read the orange paperwork based upon how good they are at parenting. The good parents can read it all, and the rest of us can sleep at night knowing that we only missed something “somewhat important.”

Any and all school clubs and activities like orchestra/chorus, boy scouts/girl scouts, chess club/intramural sports, PTA and the like should be printed on yellow paper. That way, if you or your children are involved in only one or two of these activities (or in a dream world, none of them), you can quickly skim and dispense.

All school fundraisers need to go on green paper. We have a special circular file for those already, and the green color will just help us find them more easily.

WHITE paper
No need to use the colored paper in your classrooms. Eventually all of the classroom papers come to our Luciano-sized bins, and since you’ve already taken the time to grade them, we can just look at the grade (preferably written in bold red pen), pat ‘em on the head if they’ve done well, pat ‘em elsewhere if not, and dispense.

I know this isn’t a perfect system.

Teachers will probably argue that this system is more work for them, and I suppose that’s true. On the other hand, think of all the time you waste sending home second reminders to parents who missed the first one. The red paper should take care of that.

Administrators will probably argue that red, orange, yellow and green paper is more expensive than white paper. That may be true, but I know a Chinese distributor who promises his color paper is brighter and bolder than American paper, and cheaper too. (Just don’t lick it.)

I know I’m speaking on behalf of the majority of parents when I plead for your help.

Think how much easier your life would be if parents could spend a little less time reading paperwork, and a little more time actually guiding their children to become better citizens. Your students would be better behaved, more responsible, more attentive, and possibly even punctual.

Just send us a few "How to make your child a better citizen" tips on an orange piece of paper, and we’ll get right to work.