Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Hippies vs. Bag People

While flipping through an old yearbook the other evening, I was struck by a glaring difference between the high schooler of the 1960s and the high schooler of today. No, it isn't drugs, sex, or clothing. It's not the hairstyles, make-up, or locker configurations. It's the way we carry our books.

When I was in high school (Class of 1969 - yes, it's been 40 years), we carried our books on our hips with one arm or close to our chest with both arms, sans backpack (not yet though of) or book satchel (which was really old-fashioned). Depending on the chosen carry-method, we always had one - and only one - arm free to open doors and lockers, pick up assignments or papers as we entered/left class, and smooth down our hair or skirt. Not much leeway for trouble, having only one idle hand.

Now, there was a very distinct method to stacking our books so that we could carry them comfortably with one arm to and from class, bus/car, and home. The foundation upon which our loosely carried bundle was built was a large rigid notebook filled with loose-leaf paper, dividers, and often a little plastic pouch that held pens, pencils, and protractor. Then, depending on the size of our history, English/literature, math, and science books, we stacked accordingly - narrower books could be placed side by side on the notebook, with wider tomes placed underneath or on top to stabilize the stack.

We girls also had our purses (John Romaine, natch - no shoulder bags) clasped firmly in our book-carrying hand. And sometimes there was a lunch sack (brown paper, once we outgrew our Howdy Doody lunchboxes). I don't remember it being a big deal. We managed.

But we didn't carry all of our books around all the time. That's what lockers were for - no matter how far-flung from scheduled classes. Usually, we carried the ever-present notebook with a book or two to tide us through a couple of classes. Our bundles increased as we left for home at the end of the day, but, again, we usually didn't have to carry every single book - usually two or three were all we needed.

Contrast that with today's Bag People. Poor kids. It seems reasonable to believe that this new bag-method is more efficient that the hippy-method, but I don't think it is. Enormous backpacks stuffed beyond all reason (what is in there?), hoisted upon young backs, causing them to lean forward just to get enough traction to move. Plus, backpacks leave both hands free to, well, get into all kinds of trouble that could be avoided if left to the devices of only one-handed-chaos-causing. Think about it. My career advice to today's students: chiropractor.

I don't know which book-carrying way is better. I do know that I don't envy today's school kids their beasts of burden. Oh. And I do know that our clothes were cuter. Sayin'.


Anonymous said...

Cool on the textbook thing. I never much cared for them. Hows' about doing something on the recently deceased Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary? What talent! I tried to sit near a window in school so that during test time I might catch the answers blowing in the wind. Pun intended.

jomoore said...

To my young English eyes, carrying your school books like this was the epitome of sophisticated American kids (I possibly watched Grease a few too many times...). It was always a source of slight sadness to me that no boy would ever offer to carry my books for me - after all, he'd never be seen dead carrying my (undoubtedly girly) bag!

I've been racking my brains to try to remember my school bags, but I can't (except for my first ever when I was about 6 - a Bay City Rollers bag. Enough said about that...). I do know, however, that the right bag was crucial. Though we were restricted in our efforts at individuality by our uniform (save the sneakily shortened skirt and the current tie-tying trend), we had a free choice when it came to the school bag. Undoubtedly we expressed our individuality by all having the same, in-fashion, bag!

chux said...

Hey Mary! Nice post and good observation. I think my school bag started out as just a shopping carrier bag and then I eventually upgraded to a Gola satchell in brown i think. Like these ones..

MaryB said...

Anonymous - I'm working on a dead celebrity post. Promise!

Jo - I don't remember a boy carrying my books, either, if that's any consolation. I can see where the just the right book bag would help you express individuality in a school requiring uniforms. (Never went to one of those, but then, we dressed really cute and mostly modest back in the day.)

chux - I like the flight bags. Those are kinda cool.

Liz said...

We had classrooms and desks that we kept our things in; poor youngsters today have to hawk around these huge heavy bags. Yip, I foresee backtrouble for future generations.

Unknown said...

Of course you would have no experience regarding carrying your girlfriend's books too. This required expert use of a slide rule. And after lifting my grandson's (4th grade!) back pack, I fear serious back issues by the time he's 12.