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A few days ago, I ended up leaving work about ten minutes later than usual, and inevitably got stuck behind a school bus.  They really should have their own roads.  Doing 35mph in a 55mph zone, with 248 intermittent stops along the way is not my idea of fun after an eight hour workday.

So there I am, blaring my Led Zeppelin, trying to ignore the buses flashing red lights that are blatantly and obnoxiously mocking my futile attempts to get home, when a girl steps off of the bus.  Probably seven years old.  I don’t envy her at all.  Her parents’ driveway is probably a mile long, uphill (most likely in both directions), and gravel.  Her backpack is one of those nifty wheelie versions that glides effortlessly along the ground, allowing second graders everywhere to pretend they’re sexy flight attendants.  I understand the concept behind the wheelie backpack.  However, like so many things in life, IN THIS CASE, the reality fell far short of the expectations.  I believe this disappointment occurred for two reasons.

ONE.

The little inline-skate-style wheels at the base of the backpack were designed for sashaying along the tiled halls of academia, or striking a pose on the moving sidewalks at the airport.  They were not designed for traversing the rutted backwoods driveways of middle Tennessee.

AND TWO.

The seven year old girl seemed to be having difficulty dragging the deadweight of the backpack up the hill with the aforementioned gravel-locked wheels holding her back.  This situation was greatly exasperated by the apparent Volvo station wagon she was carrying in her backpack.

This is when it dawns on me…  No wonder America is beginning to lag behind other nations in just about every academic, scientific and technological sector.  And no, the MAIN problem isn’t wheelie backpacks, seven year old girls who think they’re sexy flight attendants, or gravel driveways, although I readily admit all three of those are HUGE problems that we as Americans eventually need to do completely away with.  These problems are minor compared to the one I’m about to discuss.

The main problem with America, and their education system in particular, is PAPER…
I’ll let that sink in…

While that is sinking in, think about the world we live in.  It’s 2014.  EVERYTHING is paperless.  Don’t believe me?  Our bills are paid online.  Our bank statements are online and at our fingertips, at a moments notice, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  We have high schools that are REQUIRING laptops, for “research and taking notes”, but NOT REQUIRING number two pencils.  Still don’t believe me, go into work tomorrow and tell your boss to stick it!  Then put on your Sunday’s best and walk into a place where you think you would like to work (Anywhere from Wall Street to Main Street, from Dairy Queen to Burger King, it won’t matter) and ask for a paper job application…   At one point in my life I was unemployed for almost six months, give or take.  I was applying EVERYWHERE.  And I can count on one hand the number of places that even offered a paper job application as an option.  They don’t exist anymore.  The person you’re talking to will kindly explain that you have to apply online (if they’re nice).  If they’re not nice, they will laugh at you, and then kindly explain that you have to apply online.  Meanwhile, the seventeen year old running the register at Subway will stare blankly at you for a two and a half minutes, and then shake his head in disgust, as if you asked him to procure the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Remind me not to eat at that Subway anymore.  Idiots work there!

Before we go any further, I’m not entirely excited about the paperless world we’re careening towards at breakneck speed.  I like books.  I actually liked books before they had to be charged at night and had a screen with an eerie glow.  I still write checks each month to pay my bills.  Mainly because I like knowing exactly when the checks are being mailed, giving me the option to ‘postpone’ certain less important payments on months when the money is really tight.  Most of my ‘rants’, including the one you’re reading now, first took shape on some form of paper (post-it note, napkin, old receipt, coffee filter etc).  Then there is my absolute favorite ‘paper’!  Need a hint?  It’s got a green tint to it and old dead guys on the front.  And the bigger the number in the corners, the happier I am.  And yes I’m aware that money is technically closer to cloth than paper, but my point is a valid one.  Until they invent a debit card that smells like a pile of cold hard cash, I will always prefer actual MONEY to swiping a card.

My love for all things paper aside, it is high time that we as Americans, and especially as educators realize that paper is a dying breed.  Inkwell.  Quill.  Paper.  In that order.  That’s reality.  That’s the future we face.

And how are we’re preparing future generations for this reality?

By weighing them down with backpacks CHOCK FULL of PAPER.  We assign textbooks, workbooks, core books, worksheets, binders full of loose leaf notebook paper, and entire projects built out of construction paper…  I am not joking when I tell you my 5th grader’s backpack weighs at least 25 pounds each and every day!  And most of this weight is, you guessed it, PAPER!  We do all this in the name of preparing our dear children to survive in a PAPERLESS world!!

Houston we have a problem!

Upon arriving in Kindergarten children should be assigned a Speak and Spell and a Speak and Math.  Once they have mastery of the alphabet and basic numbers, they should be provided with Speak and Read. (And yes, I played with all 3 of these as a child!)

Speak and Spell

When they outgrow these they should be given a basic tablet.  Class assignments, homework assignments, project rubrics, class syllabi, educational games etc. could all be loaded onto the tablets.  Upon completion, these assignments could be instantly messaged to the teacher’s tablet, and once the assignments were graded, they could be deleted, thus making room for next week’s assignments.

And the few remaining rainforests rejoice!

My name is Jonathan Turrell, and that is my two cents!