The Joys of School Supplies

When I was a kid, there was always something fun about September, when it was time to go back to school.

(Hear that, kids? We went back to school after Labor Day. None of this beginning-of-August-wasted-summer stuff for us! Neener neener!)

Going back to school wasn't the exciting part. I hated that. Hated it with a white hot passion which, had I paid better attention, I could have told you how hot that was in Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin.

Now that I'm not in school, I don't care, and I don't need to know. However, I can look it up, which I just did (2200 Fahrenheit, if you're curious). And just like when I learned it in the sixth grade, I promptly forgot it again.

Here's a list of other things I no longer remember, but probably should, from sixth grade.

  • What a present participle is.
  • How to diagram a sentence.
  • The chemical element symbol for gold.
  • How to combine and reduce improper fractions.
  • How to calculate the area of a circle.

I was never very good at math in grade school. Or middle school. Or high school. Or college. That's why I became a writer. We don't have to do math, except for our money. And there's not very much, so it's not very hard.

When it came to the sixth grade, the only thing I really paid attention to was reading, which is the biggest reason I became a writer. I certainly wasn't going to become a mathematician, scientist, historian, or PE teacher. Or accountant, chemist, physicist, or professional athlete. Pretty much the only things left open to me were writer and marketer, and I nailed both of those.

When I was a kid, the new year started in September and ended in June. January 1 happened in the middle of the year. I made new year's resolutions in the fall — "this year, I'm going to keep my desk organized!" — which I promptly broke by the end of the first day. But I never worried about January resolutions.

In fact, after spending 20 years in education (I went to grad school and worked at a university. Shut up!), I always thought of September as the start of the new year. In fact, it was 10 years after I left that my brain finally accepted that the new year started in January.

But as much as I didn't like school, I loved getting new school supplies. That was the best part. Not the new clothes, not seeing my friends after the summer, not meeting my new teachers. It was the school supplies.

Just like some people go nuts over office supplies, I always felt like success could be reached with a protractor and a school box full of pencils and pink erasers.

Here's a partial list of what my old elementary school in Muncie, North View, wants their 6th graders to bring.

  • Twelve #2 pencils
  • One pink eraser
  • One pencil sharpener
  • One pair of scissors

We were also required to bring a compass, with that needle-sharp point. Although no one ever put their eye out, they were more entertaining than they were educational.

I remember one of my classmates, Marc, had an artificial leg. He used to jab his compass into his leg and leave it there. It was especially fun when we had a substitute teacher.

Of course, once zero tolerance weapons policies went into effect, compasses were removed from schools, although sharp, stabby pencils are still allowed. So are the sharpeners needed to make them sharper and stabbier. And if you don't have a pencil sharpener, each classroom has one bolted to the wall for your convenience.

North View also wants their 6th graders to bring:

  • One bottle of white glue
  • Two blue pens and two red pens
  • One pocket dictionary
  • One scientific calculator

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to use calculators. Hell, I wasn't even allowed to type my 12th grade term paper on a computer because, "you won't have access to computers in college, you'll use a typewriter."

That was in 1985, and Ball State had several computer labs throughout campus, which I used constantly over the next four years. I also owned a Royal manual typewriter, and never used it once.

It's been 23 years since I left school, and other than teaching an occasional class at my local university, I haven't been back. But that doesn't mean I've stopped learning. As the Greek philosopher, Sophocles, once said, "Old age and the passage of time teach all things."

But it still hasn't done a damn thing to teach me improper fractions.

Photo credit: JimmieHomeschoolMom (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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