It’s Summer, So Why Am I Thinking About School Supplies?

Yesterday I heard on NPR that the Los Angeles County school system will order thirty thousand iPads, and plans to phase out the use of textbooks.  Can you imagine elementary school without textbooks?  Think back to the first day of third grade:  You are sitting at your flip-top desk.  You lift the top and find your third-grade science book.  You open the cover, find “This book belongs to:”, and inspect the names written on the five black lines beneath it:  the star of the school play, the dodge ball king, the nose-picker.  You are about to join a textbook lineage.  You erase the last bit of the nose-picker’s name and any other smudged pencil marks.  You want to wipe the slate clean.  You flick the bits of eraser from the cover and print your name in clear, confident hand. You have staked your claim.  You are now a third-grader and a science student.

Now, who would want to miss out on that experience?  A member of the post-internet generation, I suppose — those proficient users of the internet-machine.

It’s funny how a brief story on the radio can invoke nostalgia.  I can almost smell textbook dust in the air.  What can I do, but look for a poem to take me back to my elementary school days?  Luckily I remembered this wonderful piece:

A Spiral Notebook

By Ted Kooser

The bright wire rolls like a porpoise
in and out of the calm blue sea
of the cover, or perhaps like a sleeper
twisting in and out of his dreams,
for it could hold a record of dreams
if you wanted to buy it for that
though it seems to be meant for
more serious work, with its
college-ruled lines and its cover
that states in emphatic white letters,
5 SUBJECT NOTEBOOK. It seems
a part of growing old is no longer
to have five subjects, each
demanding an equal share of attention,
set apart by brown cardboard dividers,
but instead to stand in a drugstore
and hang on to one subject
a little too long, like this notebook
you weigh in your hands, passing
your fingers over its surfaces
as if it were some kind of wonder.

I first thought of this poem because of the association between textbooks and spiral notebooks.  It was a school-supply thing.  Imagine my delight when I reread it and realized the speaker is reflecting on growing older.  After hearing that story on NPR, I too reflected on growing older.  I considered the countless ways our world has changed over the course of my lifetime.  I’m sure every generation feels the changes have been more severe than those encountered by previous generations.  Don’t we all feel that way?  Until I get a little more comfortable with growing older, I resolve to avoid the school supply aisle of the drugstore.  And, please — no spiral notebooks for my birthday.

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