Category Archives: Nostalgia

Defending Pencil Boxes

            When I was a junior in high school I was accosted by my father for carrying a slide rule in my pocket on my way out the door to school. He insisted I was cheating at math. It took some serious talking to convince him that it was, in fact, a requirement of my Math class, and I was being instructed in its use by the Math teacher. (My father worked at the local General Electric plant, and was in awe of the engineers who could whip out a slide rule and do complicated calculations in what seemed like mere minutes.)
           Similarly, when I spotted my -then- teen children taking calculators to school I immediately questioned their motives and soon learned THEY had been required to bring the devices to school. Of course, I’m not the master of suspicion and intimidation my dad was, so the exchange went a lot smoother and with a lot less pain. Now, of course, kids are sitting at tablets or laptops in most of their classes, and using them with much the same skill as I once joyfully plied my slide rule. (Today’s students have no idea of what that is, and I suppose it’s just as well.)
          Likewise, cursive writing is no longer taught in schools, and spelling (thank God) is no longer even a subject. You can’t use “longhand” on a computer, and “spell check” relieves us of that obligation. It seems only dinosaurs like me and my generation have all but been absorbed into the “techie” age, and I have to say that’s not a BAD thing, just a sad one. You see, there are skills and self-reliant attitudes that are being lost these days, and I fear they’re not going to come back. That’s why, a couple of years ago, I bought each member of my family – wife, kids, grandkids – a pencil box and filled it with the following: Pencils, of course, for doing math the old fashioned way; pens, for SIGNING their names and writing notes and messages they wanted to endure; a nice, new BIG eraser for correcting errors in math and writing and whatever; and even compasses (because I couldn’t even find protractors like the ones once supplied in every pencil box in this country.)
          I wanted to remind them all that if the power ever goes out, you do, actually, know how to do common calculations. You can read and WRITE letters without texts or email services. You can even calculate angles and figure volumes and generally think your way through a challenge without the use of a “device”. We are, or should be, rational human beings with enough intelligence and skill to fend for ourselves.  And a lot of what we need to accomplish that is in an old-time pencil box that you now have to outfit and maintain on your own, because they don’t sell them any more. Put it this way: A man named Sydney J. Harris, a columnist, once made a regular item out of “Things I learned while looking up other things.” It was really a fascinating addition the  newspaper’s usual fair. But in this computerized age, it would be improbable if not impossible. Sad.

vince katarzynski