Just Say No–To Bake Sales!

Just Say No–To Bake Sales!
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No I’m not on a diet nor do I have anything against baked goods–although I’ve never liked cake brownies.  My harsh words about bake sales have nothing to do with the goods being sold, but the missed opportunities to teach students tangible skills through the event.  Now before you send the president of the PTA after me, give me a chance to explain myself.

If your school is anything like the one I teach at, your mission and vision statement says something like “our students are globally minded international learners who are prepared for environmentally responsible international globalization.” Okay I’ll admit that sounds a little sarcastic, and it’s not because I don’t think we have a responsibility to provide our students with opportunities to impact their local and global community.  We do.  Yet so often we fail as educators to allow learning to guide our impact.  A bake sale is a perfect example of misguided giving with little impact on learning.  Sure the intentions are good; sell baked goods to raise money for some kind of charitable need in the local community, while simultaneously fulfilling service learning requirements for National Honor Society, IB, or some other program.  It’s quick and easy, but often the results are superficial and temporary.

Whenever there is bake sale at school I’m always solicited to buy something (again no cake brownies please).  However, instead of giving into their demands I like to ask a few questions first.  For example, this week when an enthusiastic 11th grader asked,

“buy a brownie?”

I replied “sure, but first what were your input costs for these brownies?”  Unfortunately she didn’t know.  So then I asked,

“what percentage of your revenue will go to the charity?”  Again, I didn’t receive much of an answer.

“How about those cookies?” I continued.

‘”Oh a parent made those for free, so all of the money will go to the charity.”

I should say that at the very least I’m happy to see students thinking about the needs of our community, and that alone is a great trait to see grow in our students, but the educator in me wants to see more.  I want to see a “bake sale” where from start to finish students understand and calculate the overall expenses and overhead that makes the event worth it.  I’m thankful for parents that want to donate “free cookies” but I’d rather have parents partner with our students in their learning and help teach their secret recipe, provide some other training, or use the money to seed some other opportunity to build revenue.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit a school and meet a group of 12 graders who like the students at my school were looking for ways to help their community.  However, instead of selling brownies, they were researching the potential of funding and operating a factory that would provide jobs for the surrounding community.  Afterwards I briefly discussed with one of their teachers the obstacles they had experienced in the process.  What I enjoyed the most about his thoughts on the class was that nobody seemed to fully know what it would take to pull it off, but he understood that it was the gap in knowledge where real learning was taking place.

What makes bake sales even less effective at international schools in that my students, like many international students, face a great deficit in their development because they live in communities where there are few teenage employment opportunities.  The other day I was explaining to some students that when I was their age (16) I worked 15 hours a week, had a car loan, and still managed to get 8 hours of sleep a night.  Actually by the time I started my first teaching job after university I had already been working for 7 years.  Since our students don’t often experience the benefits of working before university we should provide more opportunities for them to be entrepreneurs and to work while they learn.

We can do this through our outreach programs, but we need to move away from a model of giving that encourages low input.  Instead  if we want to high results, which is hopefully what we want, we need to challenge our students and community to focus on outreach that connects to the curriculum, requires critical thinking, and builds on our student’s creativity.  In other words, just say no to bake sales, instead say yes to student run bakeries.

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m in agreement with what you’ve written here. Once students (and teachers) have mastered their baking skills, we need to guide them in synthesizing different areas of learning and passion. This needs to happen in a way that focuses more fully on embodying the school ESLRs, mission, vision, etc, and demonstrates higher order thinking skills and passion for community involvement. In highly-resourced and talented international communities, the bar needs to be set higher than just fund raising and visiting the needy. Can we say that our students have authentically faced a problem in their community and have tried to find creative solutions, in a way that has challenged and changed them in the process? Colleges don’t really care if students were able to participate in bi-weekly bake sales that raised money for orphans. We need to give students opportunities to demonstrate passion for learning and the ability to apply it in the context of a real community.

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