Costa: I fear students bearing back-to-school gifts

Peter Costa

I have a great deal of sympathy for kids going back to school this year who are required to bring their own supplies. In my day, all one needed to tackle the tasks at school was a No. 2 pencil. Today, kids need to bring crayons, pencils, pens, paper, art supplies, rulers, protractors and miscellaneous supplies like glue.

One school system requires its middle school students to have their own flash memory drives so they can transport homework assignments and other information directly to their personal computers.

I can see it now: The hero is Billy, who is the son of a Local Area Network administrator.

“Hey, guys, did you hear what Billy brought in? He carried in a server with a wireless router and Mrs. Saunders let him put it in the closet in homeroom. Now we can have wireless access to the Web everywhere in the building and at recess in the playground. Billy rocks. ”

Technology certainly has changed even the small things in school. In my day, the cool thing was to pass notes to each other. We would scribble something like, “Jimmy Loves Mary,” on a scrap of paper, fold it four times and palm it over to the girl sitting in the next row. Now kids ship their favorite movie trailers via notebook computer. “Batman rules.”

And how do school administrators keep cell phones and other electronic gadgets out of school? Even point-and-shoot cameras allow the user to record minutes of video complete with sound. Now no food fight in the cafeteria goes undocumented. The assistant principals of today need to be cyber specialists as well as strict disciplinarians.

“Yes, we have tracked the ‘Miss Jones is an Idiot’ virus to the tool shed at the football field.”

One of the funniest times in my high school career was caused by something brought into school – of all things, a kind of book. In Latin class, most of us brought so-called “trots” or interlinear translations of Latin into English. Now most of these “aides” were written in the late 19th century and used very florid and formal language.

What we would do when we were called upon to translate a passage out loud to the class was to insert the small translation books into the open page of the Latin book and read from the English as if we were translating the Latin. It would go something like this:

“Black, no, dark, clouds ran, no, rolled, overhead and covered, blotted out the sun. The roman Legion moved one, no, like one man, together in unison, the phalanx moved across the field of the Goths ….”

But one student, actually our best student, who really didn’t need to use a trot at all, surprisingly would give it away by reading the exact flowery language of the English translation.

“Clouds, diaphanous and diffuse, covered the great orb of the sky like muslin, eliminating the advantage of the Romans, resplendent in bronze and fearless, who would soon triumph over the bellicose Goths.”

Our Latin teacher would usually stop him after a few lines and say: “Very nice, James, now will you translate it on your own please.”

Today, this ink-on-paper scene is replaced by student-provided video clips in history class.

“Miss Jones, I have downloaded a few video clips about the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson. First we have historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and she is followed by … .”