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Old school vs. new school supplies

It's back-to-school shopping time, which means another round of innovations in the school supply aisle. While it's fun to find new and better ways to store stuff and take notes, it makes us remember the simpler shopping days of yesteryear. So for a nostalgic tour of the school supply aisle, we present a retro vs. new-school smackdown!

THEN: Getting colds

NOW: Hand sanitizer

A modern school supply list includes about a gallon of hand sanitizer per child. They smear this stuff on their hands 27 times a day. While we could make some jokes about what wimps these little emperors have become, the thought a class riddled with pink eye sways us the other way.

WINNER: Purell.

THEN: Carrying your stuff

NOW: Backpacks

There was a day, kids, when we simply carried a few books and a notebook home in our arms instead of packing luggage for school. Our stuff stayed in lockers or our desks and we just pulled out what we needed. Around the mid to late '80s, backpacks started becoming a fashion accessory, with a sleek L.L. Bean bag embroidered with your initials announcing your arrival. Fashion found function when kids realized they could keep all their stuff with them all the time. Schools started removing lockers for space or security purposes. Chiropractors did a happy dance for the future windfall of customers.

WINNER: Backpacks, by a slight, hobbled, margin.

THEN: Chalkboard

NOW: Dry erase board

Though teachers and allergy sufferers welcomed the advent of dry erase boards, there's something missing in classrooms these days. Nobody gets "rewarded" at the end of the day with the privilege of washing the board and smacking the chalk off the erasers. Increasingly, both schools and office walls are mounted with a smooth, glossy surface and markers that have a slight chemical smell and have to be hoarded. The white boards are clean, cold and efficient, something our school days rarely were.

WINNER: Nostalgia by a nose, since we like school to be slightly different than a brainstorming session in the marketing department.

THEN: Passing notes

NOW: Texting your friends

Sure, you could lose your phone if you are caught texting under the desk, but there's a certain art to waiting for just the right moment when the teacher's back is turned to hurl a paper football at your BFF, asking her to check the box next to the New Kid she will marry. And you can be sure that the one time you are caught, it will be the most toe-curling of embarrassing mash notes that your teacher will find and read to the entire class as punishment.

WINNER: 4get txt, passing notes is livin' on the edge.

THEN: Bic 4-Color Ballpoint

NOW: Sharpie pen

Sharpie came out with a new everyday pen this year, even getting David Beckham to sign autographs with it. Back in the day, our class notes were accented with that fat pen with the four different colors just a click away. It's red! No, it's blue! Wait for it ... green! We liked how we could change the color of our thoughts depending on who our BFF was that day. But the clicking action sometimes stuck and in the end it's hard to read green, so you stuck with good ol' blue. We took the new Sharpie for a test drive, and the result was a very solid, sharp line in black, though the blue was a bit too light in color for our taste.

WINNER: Sharpie. We'd follow David Beckham around with one of those.

THEN: Trapper Keeper

NOW: Thumb drive

Sure, those portable data storage doohickeys hanging on lanyards around the necks of every kid in school can hold a huge amount of information with no power supply. But the Trapper Keeper didn't need a power supply either. In the '80s, this was the Rolls Royce of binders, replacing those scary metal snappy binder rings with smooth plastic, lots of folders and a velcro closure to contain the paper.

WINNER: Trapper Keeper — because you can't find the cast of Dawson's Creek on the cover of a thumb drive.

THEN: Hand-cranked pencil sharpener

NOW: Electric pencil sharpener

If we really wanted to go retro we could go back to the days when they whittled the tips of pencils with knives. It was about that time, in the mid 1800s, that a cylindrical series of blades finely sharpened a pencil tip when cranked by hand. An electric sharpener does the same thing, but faster and with no forearm exercise. This is one instance where the mousetrap can't be improved much. Just try to avoid being stuck with the dirty job of emptying the shavings from the casing.

WINNER: Mount a crank on the wall. Unless you spend the big bucks on a really good electric model, the good old hand crank still delivers the finest point with the least amount of fuss.

Old school vs. new school supplies 08/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 5:18pm]

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