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School days and the oddball things that teachers would mandate for their classes…

September 3, 2008, 7:43 PM

I was talking to a friend of mine over IM who’s presently a senior in high school, and he’s told me about the joys of what teachers mandate for their classes. According to my friend, one of his teachers mandated use of the Cornell note-taking system for taking class notes. The Cornell note-taking system seems to be good enough, but seems right offhand to be a bit more of a use of paper than I would like. Use half the page for non-note activity? You’re looking at someone who, in college, as a cost-saving measure, would find the narrowest-ruled paper possible in order to squeeze a few more lines onto a page and therefore save a few sheets of paper. I’m sure that over an entire college career, I probably saved maybe two sheets total (and even that’s probably a bit optimistic), but at least I felt thrifty.

But that’s really not the point of this entry. It just reminds me of the wacko things that teachers used to mandate when I was in school. I remember that so many teachers thought that they knew best, and thus used that rationale to force various methods of organization on their students. Now my method of organization was always chronological. Everything was in the order that it was done, in a big binder, usually 1½” wide. Then as now, I’m big on dates and time order, since I am really good with knowing that A came before B, which came after C, and that A, B, and C were on or around such and such a date. Thus if I’m looking for something, I would go back to that point in time. Pow. All by date, and I could find my way around. And everything went in that notebook. Yes, I was one of those people who owned a small notebook-size three-hole punch to tote around. And yes, I also had a big three-hole punch at home. In fact, I still have that big hole punch.

So that’s why it frustrated me then and amuses me now when teachers would mandate to students how they were to arrange their notebooks. After all, by high school, one would hope that one has a system that works. I know I did. These kinds of things always frustrated me. I remember some teachers would require notebooks that were so anal-retentive in their organization, requiring separate labeled sections for notes, classwork, homework, quizzes, tests, vocabulary, etc. etc. etc. And half of those sections never got used, and were a waste of space.

Then my personal favorite is when teachers would mandate the use of a spiral notebook specifically. Oh, how I loathed the spiral notebook. After all, you can’t put miscellaneous handouts and such in-line with everything else in a spiral. If something falls out of a spiral, it’s not going back in. And if the spiral itself gets damaged, you’re screwed, because that’s a quick path to notebook death right there. Oh, I could sing the praises of the three-ring binder, because that was my thing. In a binder, after all, I could put anything I wanted in-line where I needed it, with my handy-dandy hole punch. Then if a page fell out of the notebook, it could be repaired, re-punched, and reinserted. And if the binder’s rings became seriously damaged, moving the contents to a new binder was a snap. Thankfully, by the time high school rolled around, I had grown a set, and would have no problem pulling out my binder and politely and respectfully telling the spiral-mandating teachers where they could put that spiral notebook. And I think they knew that the jig was up, too, because they didn’t argue with me, because 99% of the time they didn’t have a bona fide functional reason for mandating the spiral – often just forcing their own personal preferences on their students.

You see, boys and girls, “because I said so” is not a valid argument. What you’re really saying when you say “because I said so”, or “don’t argue with me” is, “I really don’t have any argument to counter your point with, but since I have too much pride to admit when I’m beaten, rather than concede the point, I’m going to either make a naked power grab or direct the focus on the discussion itself.” By the way, teachers don’t like being told that. And in the one-sided world of the school environment, the teacher being wrong is against the rules, and will earn you a detention. Just an FYI right there.

And then lastly, one has to wonder how many useless school supplies get bought every year. I would always love getting the supply lists that mandated all these different things, and like the aforementioned notebooks, half of them never got used, or were used once over the course of the entire year. Pencils, sure. Pens, sure. But then I remember it was usually composition books and colored pencils that would end up on supply lists that were either used once the entire year or not at all. The stuff would sit the entire year collecting dust for the day that never came. In the case of some of those supplies, one has to question the wisdom of having students supply the item new every year rather than a teacher maintaining a communal stash of such items that get reused for years until they wear out, or could be substituted for something cheaper that the student already has. I can think of a lot of things that fit that bill, like compasses, protractors, colored pencils, composition books, markers, pocket folders, and so on.

And then my elementary school, for some reason or other, hated Trapper Keepers (remember those?). They were always very emphatic in their disdain for Trapper Keepers, stating on the supply list, “NO TRAPPER KEEPERS“. And later on in my elementary school career, I said the hell with that, too, and to no ill effect. I used a Trapper Keeper (several, in fact), and no one cared. Who knows.

So there you go. And I’ve been out of school for a while, too. But you know, I didn’t have this Journal when I was in school. I started this during what, my last semester in college? It’s nice to be able to vent…

Web site: About shopping for school supplies, and all the oddball things that these lists ask for. I remember in elementary school, they specically asked for PRANG branded watercolor paints. Why not the other brands? Who knows.

Song: CBS Saturday morning cartoon bumpers from 1988-89. We're talking Saturday Rocks era, boys and girls.

Quote: And yes, my mother is a teacher. We often get to have some discussions about education based on our different viewpoints - Mom as a seasoned educator with an inside-the-classroom kind of view, and me with my own views from a more anti-authoritarian perspective. I wonder how a discussion on this might play out.

Categories: School