The more things stay the same

I’ve always felt like September is the beginning of the year. Not that I have a New Year’s Eve party on Aug. 31 or anything, it’s just that after many years in the compulsory public school system (attempting to graduate) and many subsequent years in the party school system (university) (also attempting somehow to graduate), it’s been sort of ingrained that the start of each new school year feels like the start a whole new year for me.

  • Sep. 8, 2014 8:22 p.m.

I’ve always felt like September is the beginning of the year. Not that I have a New Year’s Eve party on Aug. 31 or anything, it’s just that after many years in the compulsory public school system (attempting to graduate) and many subsequent years in the party school system (university) (also attempting somehow to graduate), it’s been sort of ingrained that the start of each new school year feels like the start a whole new year for me.

Even now. Even though I haven’t actually been personally registered in any legitimate school of any kind since the Mulroney administration.

But still I find myself thinking about digging out the compass and the protractor and the three-ring binders and loose leaf paper and those little round white sticky reinforcements that we used to stick on everything but the ripped loose leaf paper holes that they were originally designed for.

But as much as it’s always the same for kids starting September school, it’s always different isn’t it? Especially these days.

For example, news reports this week have been all over the fact that there’s a big issue about digital devices in school. In particular, schools and parents have been struggling with whether students should be able to bring their own laptops with them to high school. This is not a struggle let alone an “issue” with the actual students, of course, because, come hell or high water, there’s no way anyone is going to separate the average teenager from his or her personal social media connection.

Demand that a tween, teen or young adult (or regular adult for that matter) hand over their computer or, heaven forbid, their cellphone and you will probably wake up in an unfamiliar abandoned basement three days later with no memory of why you are chained to the wall with your thumbs broken.

Boy, it seemed to be much simpler when it all teachers, parents and students had to worry about was what’s in that pencil case, or what the heck a protractor is for. As Pulitzer Prize winning humourist (and personal acquaintance of mine from having purchased all of his books) Dave Barry said, “It’s a centuries old tradition for children to go back to school with compasses and protractors, even though nobody had the faintest idea what their education purpose is, other than using the metal point to carve bad words into desks.”

If only that’s all we had to worry about in schools these days, eh?

These days, kids in class are busy surreptitiously texting their friends in other classrooms and sending SnapChat photos of the back of the head of the girl in the desk in front of them to all their buddies, far and wide. And these are the kids in elementary school.

I mean, it’s patently unfair to expect a bright and energetic child in middle school to go, say, 30 minutes without Instagramming important pix and vital messages to their besties. How else are they going to let their totally best-friend-ever know about the hot new guy in science class? Or that earth shattering news that the cute girl in English with the hipster glasses smiled in their general direction? How else are they going to be able to sneak a selfie in dorky shorts in gym class?

And when the digital domain issue arrives in high school, along with all those Grade 9 newbies who are half excited because they are finally in high school and half terrified because the Grade 10, 11 and 12s seem to all be either glaring at them, laughing at them or ignoring them, when high school suddenly becomes positively rampant with laptops and cellphones and iPads and Tasers and laser beams and Star Trek teleporters — sorry, got a bit carried away, technology-wise, there for a minute — when hormone-ravaged, attitude-infested teenagers bring their social media mania into our educational institutions, well, it’s a whole ’nother kettle of cyber-fish.

Oh, schools have rules about these things of course; schools always have rules that students hate — which is often why the rules are there in the first place. It’s just one of the reasons why high school kids are always grumpy. But with today’s warp speed technological advances, how’s a poor teacher possibly expected to keep in control? Or more to the point, keep his or her sanity?

Picture this: a hot and stuffy classroom. Windows closed to the perfect Indian Summer day outside. 35 students crammed into desks, elbow to elbow. Cheek to jowl. The teacher up front expounding on and on about the shifting balance of power in Europe after the Crimean War in 1856. Not a single kid is paying the slightest bit of attention.

“So?” you may say. “Sounds exactly like when I was in high school,” you may say — and you’d be right. But this time it’s 2014 and every single student has a laptop computer open on his or her desk and you can bet they aren’t checking out www.crimeanwar.com.

At least in my day, we didn’t have those technological temptations, digital distractions and worldwide webs that are guaranteed to be more far interesting than any class, with the possible exception of the one where you get to dissect frogs.

No, in my day we weren’t listening to the teacher on account of we were too busy carving words into desk tops with our compasses. You know, ‘texting.’

Because ultimately, as the saying goes: “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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