Plugging along in this ultra-technologically advanced world of ours sometimes just makes a fellow long for a newly-sharpened yellow pencil with a fresh eraser. The very first pencil I ever called my own was a big, green fat one, standard issue to all first graders.
I have no idea why I remember it so well, but I even kept it for years with all of my other school tokens of remembrance in an old shoe box. That old beat up cardboard box was marked “PRIVATE” and “KEEP OUT” as if it contained all the secrets of the universe.
In a big farm family we all worked and played constantly together, so there was very little that was individually sacred. Perhaps that is why the box, and its insignificant contents, seemed so significant.
That fat pencil, oddly enough, did not have an eraser on its tip. It required a special pencil sharpener, which was bolted on the wall in Mrs. Kittle’s first grade classroom.
I was extremely concerned and a more than just a little bit salty about the fact that there was no eraser on the dumb thing. It seemed to insinuate that every 6-year-old should be able to print and do arithmetic without a single mistake. I lived in fear of making those mistakes.
Mrs. Kittle assured me that there was good reason why no eraser was provided, explaining that she could better help us learn from our mistakes. I felt such horror at the thought.
I was no rookie at age 6, having already paid my school dues. I’d put in many hours playing school, three big sisters lording over me as the teacher of the day. Mistakes were to be avoided at all costs, and I had no intention of letting the real teacher catch me screwing up.
Up to that moment, all of my little life had been a dress rehearsal for the actual classroom, and I had every intention of walking out of there with a star on each and every paper at the end of the day. How in the world could I accomplish all of my goals with a fat pencil that had a missing eraser? I was beyond flabbergasted.
Fast forward to present day. My hubby, a mathematical whiz if ever there was one, is finding out that nearly every grade school classroom list mentions a calculator as required personal gear.
Mention it, and watch his steam start rolling. “How do we expect these kids, even the ones with master’s degrees, to know how to figure even the very simple things, like how many 50 pound bags are in 8 ton, if they start school relying on computers and calculators?”
Believe me, the adamant frustration gets much worse from there. Hand him a laptop computer and an iPhone, and just stand back. Too much technology, too little patience. Too much reliance by the younger generation on computerized cash registers telling them how to make change.
This from a man who can grasp the most complicated equation thrown his way and spit out an answer in a split second. My brain doesn’t work like that when it comes to numbers. Just give me a piece of paper — any scratch pad will do — and a good old-fashioned pencil. Leave me alone for a few seconds.
I may or may not have the mathematical answer which you were seeking, but man, can I whip up a story complete with rhyming words, each one spelled correctly. Shoot, where is that eraser again?