The travesty of elementary-school valentines.

# The travesty of elementary-school valentines.

Department of complaints.
Feb. 11 2002 12:56 PM

# Who Gets 10,000 Valentines Too Many?

## The travesty of elementary-school valentines.

Arriving as an immigrant to the USA, I found many holiday customs inexplicable: Halloween sweaters; piñatas ("So you buy this charming expensive decoration, and you do what with it?"); gingerbread houses. But nothing puzzled me so much as Valentine's Day. I stared open-mouthed as someone explained to me that my very young children were going to have to take part in this strange and incomprehensible ritual. We have Valentine's Day in England, but it is important only to those contemplating, looking for, entering into, or trying to sustain long-term romantic relationships. Thus, it does not involve children in elementary school.

Consider the implications for the under-12s:

Valentine's Day Math No. 1: A child in a class of 20-plus will send valentines to classmates, the teacher, the teacher's aide, and possibly to the school principal and admin staff. There is a well-intentioned rule that all children must send them either to everyone in the class or to none, and just about everyone does take part. So you're talking at least 25 valentines (oh, now I see the point of private school—small class size). In an elementary school of 400, this means in the region of 10,000 valentines are exchanged. That's in one school. There are 64,000 public elementary schools in the United States, and average enrollment is 478. So the final figure is mind-boggling: more than 750 million valentines exchanged by pre-pubescent schoolchildren.

Valentine's Day Math No. 2: Money is not the biggest issue here. You can buy a box of valentines for under \$2; it is hard to spend more than \$4 a box; and astoundingly they come in useful packs of 32 (rather than 20, which would mean buying two boxes). Some children make their own, with a small cost of materials. A \$2 average per child seems reasonable, allowing for those who add candy to the card, giving \$800 for the 400-child school. Of course that is \$60 million nationwide: And we could all think of better things to do with the money.

Valentine's Day Math No. 3: Two weeks before Valentine's Day, parents all over America are saying to children, "Divide the number you have to do by the number of days left, to work out how many you need to write each evening if you start now. Not too many! Good idea, huh?"

Valentine's Day Math No. 4: Feb. 11: "How many do you have left to do? How many is that each evening? When are you going to find the time to do them?"

Sometimes the teacher will insist that each child write a friendly comment or compliment on each valentine. You can see the thinking behind this: a nice chance to build communal self-esteem, and surely the children will treasure these valentines forever. In real life, "You are nice/neat/cool" covers about 90 percent of the comments. The other 10 percent? Last year my son wrote, "You are the nicest girl in my class" to a particularly favored friend. I looked to see what she had written to him: "You have a clean desk." Not even true. (Another girl wrote, "You have a cool mom" as her compliment for him, so that may be a more promising relationship.) And there will be conversations like this one in my house:

Boy: "I can't think of anything to say about Stephen."

Mother: "Tell me something about him."