Backpacks, lockers and study hall

by Bill Monson

Nothing symbolizes the difference in education between my grandson's era and mine better than the backpack.

My generation didn't need backpacks. We rarely carried home any books. When I was in grade school at Farnham, we had study periods to work arithmetic or read. At the end of the school day, our books went back into our desks, which had lids we could lift (as well as a pencil groove and inkwell hole on the top beyond the lid). It was an unusual student who carried home a book to study.

Today, elementary school students go home bent under the weight of backpacks like Sherpa porters on Mt. Everest. Doctors are concerned that some youngsters are being deformed in their growing years by the weight of all their books.

In junior high at Lombard, the situation changed somewhat. We had lockers for our books and outer clothes. We scrambled between classes to get to our lockers and grab our books for the next class. Nearly every class had a ten to 15 minute period when students did silent study while the teacher roamed around the room, helping those who needed help and admonishing those who were dawdling. If we didn't finish in class -- and most did -- then we had to take that book home to finish our ''homework.'' I guess the weight of carrying books to and fro was supposed to serve as an incentive to do the work in class. However, 15 minutes a class was usually enough to get through the few math problems or the geography reading we had to do. The only time I took a book home was when I had an essay to write and wanted to have the book as an aid. We Blaine Avenue Bulldogs preferred to play tag or leap hedges or throw snowballs as we walked down Whitesboro to Main to Blaine rather than carry books. Even after I started riding my Dad's big Schwinn bike to school and he put on a basket in front of the handlebars to hold my flute or books, I still didn't carry books. My flute and a baseball glove, maybe -- but hardly ever books.

At GHS, the situation was much the same. We had lockers and time in class to study. In addition, the big main building on South Broad Street had a vast room on its west end which was used as a study hall.

By high school, the location of your locker was something of a social status. Sophomores were in the old Central building (GHS was really two buildings combined) in the basement or tucked away on one of the upper floors. (Central was built at a time when lockers weren't so important.) Juniors were also in Central or in the main building basement. Seniors got the first floor of the main building in what was dubbed ''Senior Alley.'' Between classes, this was where the seniors socialized as they gathered up their books. The girls hung mirrors in their lockers to check their hair or lipstick. Many hung pictures cut out from movie magazines of their favorite stars.

At the west end of the main floor was the study hall with its many desks. Just outside was a water fountain where many of the students got a drink on their way in or out. This fountain is important to our family because my dad met my mom there and began a courtship which resulted in a marriage of over 60 years before he died. (It also resulted in my sister Sue and me!)

Everyone had study hall sometime during the day -- even athletes who had it last period when they weren't practicing for their sport. As a quasi-athlete in my sophomore and junior years, I was in this period, which was overseen by a gruff, sarcastic teacher of business and English, Mr. Harshbarger. He was a tough sonovagun (but something of a pussycat inside, I later found out when I studied under him). He ran the study hall with a firm hand. Since it was mostly athletes who cared little for studying and more for mischief, a firm hand was necessary. Mr. Harshbarger did not patrol the room. He sat at the desk at the front, his eyes sweeping the students with their heads down at their desks. When he got up, someone was in for trouble!

But study halls aren't popular any more. Students headed for college need every minute to cram their skulls with academic matter. More homework is assigned these days with less if any time in class for silent study. So from first grade to twelfth, our students today stuff all their books and materials into backpacks for the walk (or more likely bus or car ride) home. They also cram Gameboys, cell phones and other geegaws -- but that's another story.

I don't know if students are smarter today; but in my day we had healthier backs.


(835 words)

Thanks for the book. I'll let your Dad know how helpful it is when I get a chance to read it later this week.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 15, 2002

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