Tuesday, August 21, 2012

School Supplies

Mamacita's rant over on her blog, Scheiss Weekly, covers the essentials.  I'm choosing to take a more nostalgic approach to this very serious problem... the problem of community supplies in the classroom.

We're not talking about the box of tissues or bottle of hand sanitizer or chalk for the blackboard (markers for the white board?) that are logical for a classroom to share. We're talking about pencils and notebooks and folders.  The thought of buying it and having to give it away and receive something lesser in return makes my stomach ache.  But, I am getting ahead of the story I want to tell.

Come back with me to 1959, as I enter third grade.  Mrs. Josephs was our teacher, and she was elegant, polished, sophisticated to my younger-than-everyone-else's eyes.  I was delighted to receive the list of "recommended supplies" and to thrust it into G'ma's hands the moment I got off the school bus.

A return trip to the store was required.  I was in stationary heaven.

Smiles was at the triangle in downtown Oceanside; half a block from the library, across from the local department store, Chwatsky's, and close enough to Pasetti's that we could walk and get ice cream after we were finished with our shopping.  I always believed that there was an eponymous Mr. Smile, because the store did not exude a happy vibe.  The sales staff was always on the prowl (probably for shoplifters but I was naive enough to worry that they just didn't like me touching the stuff) and the cashiers were grim.

The wooden plank flooring, running from the front door to the back left me vaguely vertiginous whenever I pushed the handle and heard the jingling bells above my head as I entered.  Following the planks I passed purses and sewing supplies and Colorforms and pens and pencils and notebooks and every kind of loose leaf paper imaginable.

I was a stickler for the right kind of paper, and Mrs. Josephs was the first teacher to suggest that a 3-ring binder with binder paper was appropriate for class. I could hardly wait to get there and start to compare.

I knew just where it was; on the lowest shelf, near the edge.  I can close my eyes right now and remember my skirt falling over my knees - it wasn't until 1968 that girls could wear pants to school - as I took out two packages.... one from the last pile and one from the one beside it.  I had to be sure that the lines were just a little bit narrower and the blue ink just a little bit softer and the paper just a little bit more absorbent than that which was sold to the less discerning customer.

In third grade you were allowed to write with pens, and the ink in Parker's cartridge pens soaked into my preferred paper just so.  Ball points were just being introduced; the Bic Stick glided over my paper in a much more satisfactory fashion than the stiffer, darker lined stuff my siblings preferred.

I chose my notebook with similar care.  It was light blue denim on the outside cover, with a blue-grey paper lining inside.  The one I chose opened (not too) easily to the pressure my tiny hands could deliver, and I could close it without fear of pinching my fingers in the rings. Some of the binders on the shelf had linings which were crinkly or not properly glued in all the corners and edges.  Some of the rings were impossible for me to use; I went through quite a few of them before I found the right one.

There were marbled composition books and pencils and crayons or colored pencils and no one cared if they were Crayola or generic, whether you had 24 or 36 or the big box of 64.  You were responsible for having the supplies you needed at your desk, sharpened and filled and usable.  Asking the teacher for a pencil or a piece of paper was akin to requesting a trip to the principal's office, please.

We were responsible for our own stuff... the stuff we brought from home.... the stuff we selected for ourselves.  There was no such thing as community property in the classroom.... not for anything that lived in my desk on a permanent basis, that is.

Not to get all Ayn Rand-y here, but I think that the notion of giving up my supplies for the common good would have made me school-phobic.  There was something really special about starting fresh with my own new stuff, ready to receive the wonders that the next grade would present.  Without the right tools, the carpenter cannot function.  Hammers and screwdrivers must fit the hand of the worker,  just as pens and paper must fit the hand of the student.

Some things are not interchangeable.  Caring for the tools of your trade moves you along the way to becoming a master craftsman.  Picking up brand-specific-glue-sticks and #2 pencils for a basket in the corner of the classroom feels like abdicating responsibility for preparation.

Plus, it sucks out all the fun of shopping for school supplies.  I'm just sayin'......

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