Yearbooks are a time capsule, a kind of gift to the future version of you. From time to time, I open my old yearbooks and, as I flip through pictures of skinnier versions of my friends and myself, I can practically hear the sounds and see the sights of a slightly idealistic version of my experience from high school days.
From my perspective as yearbook editor at San Francisco’s George Washington High School, the yearbook should be a reflection of equity in every way. Every student should have access to the yearbook, and every student should be in the yearbook—beyond his or her school photo. However, with the cost of yearbooks so high, not every student is able to purchase a yearbook. Furthermore, no matter how hard the teacher and the yearbook class tries to police it, with big schools such as ours, some students just don’t make it into the publication.
Something I did not realize until I became a high school teacher is that yearbooks also can be a gigantic burden on the economics of the school. Many of the large companies that print yearbooks put extreme demands on schools to purchase a minimum number of books, often many more than the school can sell. On top of this, there are fees that are tacked on for everything from shipping to missing deadlines throughout the year. This can put the school in extreme debt. The yearbook companies often “make a deal” with the schools by saying they will relieve some of the owed balance if the school commits to another year with their company. What this does is create a vicious cycle in which the school is beholden to a company whose business plan is to keep vulnerable public schools under their thumb—and in debt.
Watching the way we have to hustle for every bit of funding, while our budgets often force us to lay teachers off at the end of each year, this business plan on behalf of the big yearbook companies seems like a sin and is akin to economic bullying.
(Next page: A better way)