“To be content with little is
difficult; to be content with much: impossible.”
– Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Eyes bulging in sync with straining muscles, I struggled to drag my Sunday newspaper with its two-bushel pile of “Back-to-School” inserts from curb to couch.
All this, I asked myself, for the most modern, best-financed and equipped school system in history? Whatever happened to the two new pencils, one fat, stand-alone eraser and optional ruler nestled inside a snappy, hand-held pencil box of my own back-to-school days? And what about the clothes even today’s modestly dressed child must have? The sheer volume of said wardrobe, say nothing of the cost, wildly outpaces my two or three new or hand-me-down outfits and single pair of shoes.
I couldn’t help myself: I read every insert, breaking down each item into categories and comparing them to my lists of a few generations ago. (Yes, I admit, it’s been that long.) My muscles have recovered from the heavy lifting, but my eyes are still bulging at what I learned.
To “Gear up for Back 2 School,” one store advised the following:
COMPACT FLASH CARD. Just one? In my day “card” would have been plural and homemade, and we’d use them to list number facts, spelling words, and lots of other things we had to memorize.
Next came something called a MINI OPTICAL MOUSE, which I could get free with a $50 purchase. I have no idea what that is, but for the manufacturer’s sake I hope they cleared the name with the Disney people.
PALMONE MOBILITY KIT, also free if I just spend $150-400 on something else I could hold in my “palm,” which is incredibly more expensive than my shiny new pencil box of yore.
“Don’t miss out on cool phones for back to school,” headlined another insert. Since when did a distracting – and the last I knew, barred-from-the-classroom – personal phone become standard “gear” for the schoolhouse set? And cost? You can get a cheapie for around $40, if you don’t mind the stigma, but for the “multimedia experience,” you’re looking at up to $200, depending on how many distractions you’re willing to buy.
To soften the blow of the cost or, more likely, to increase their marketing possibilities, another retailer stretched the back-to-school theme by saying that their must-haves are just as useful for work, home and fun as they are for school. I don’t know, maybe that way they’ll sell more hefty-priced computers or CDs for unwinding after class, or dozens of accessories to rev up your life in or outside the classroom.
But, aha! Finally, a group of inserts I could relate to. Have you noticed? There’s a crayon-war out there. For a few days anyway, a big box of Crayolas costs anywhere from 88 cents at one store to three-for-a-dollar at another, and – imagine – only 19 cents at a third. See, it pays to read those inserts, even if you don’t have anyone in the house who uses crayons.
Then there were the clever marketers who capitalized on a seasonal theme with come-ons like, “Back-to-Cool Sale,” featuring furniture and accessories to make your dorm room – or home study corner – relaxing and “groovy.”
I know, times have changed, as have the purses and purchasers of back-to-school paraphernalia, and I’m not knocking all that’s available or even helpful to students today.
Still, I received a pretty good education with the contents of that little pencil box, plus a notebook or two, back there in those old, creaky-floored buildings we called schools.
But, maybe it’s not so much what’s in the box, or the palm, or the study corner at home or school that guarantees a good education. Perhaps that guarantee comes only with attentiveness in the classroom, eagerness to learn, and responsibility to complete all work assigned. Or, as one of my long-ago classmates wrote in his back-to-school report, maybe, “Happiness is an eraser to chew.”