Taming the Paper Tiger: School Daze


29 Jan
29Jan

School takes up a chunk of our childhood and also young adulthood for those of us attended college and beyond. If your parents (or you) didn’t throw away the remnants of your young years, you may, like me, have saved copious reminders of that time of your life: papers, class notes, report cards, textbooks, notes passed in class, doodles, school newspapers, event fliers, yearbooks, lists of rules, among others. 

Before I tackled my downsizing, I know I had a couple of large cardboard boxes of school and college items, smaller boxes in one of my large trunks, and four bankers’ boxes from my graduate work. In short, an overwhelming amount of paper! In the early years of my downsizing, I culled the boxes, recycling notebooks and routine class exercises and filled a couple of file drawers with the remaining items. I left the bankers boxes for another time. Since then I have sorted through the remaining items—scanning what I wanted to remember, finding homes for selected items, keeping a few treasures as concrete reminders, and recycling the rest. 

Because those early years are so charged and the output was so great, decision-making wasn’t always easy. Here is my downsizing summary along with my reflections. 

Kindergarten: The only thing left from the Presbyterian kindergarten I attended is a vague memory of my first crush, a boy I believe was named Kenny, and a mental image of a large space where we played. 

Grade Schools: I attended three grade schools: a nearby Catholic school for first through third grades, a non-sectarian “country day” school for fourth grade, and a public school in our predominately Jewish neighborhood in our new city of Philadelphia for fifth and sixth grades. 

WHAT I’M KEEEPING: 

Scans: report cards from all years, several pages from a black and white notebook with my cursive exercises (do they even teach cursive anymore?), one page from my 5th grade spelling book, a long division exercise, selected pages from the school magazine where I was art editor and contributed articles, my 6th grade graduation program where I gave a speech and the speech itself, photos from 5th/6th grades and my class photo from 4th grade, which appeared in the yearbook. 

Objects: The report card with the stars from first grade, a small glazed turtle and miniature dish set made in art class in 4th grade (my Catholic school did not teach art) and a meticulously sewn bag from 5th grade. (It’s actually useful!) 


WHAT I’M DUMPING: The musty Catholic school history text and reader (not Dick and Jane, but something like it) and all the paper items! 

Secondary School: Once I hit seventh grade, I stayed in the same Quaker school for all six years. Now, in control of my possessions, I kept everything, and, of course, the amount of paper produced went up considerably at this stage of school. 

WHAT I’M KEEPING: 

Scans/photos: Report cards, selected papers I wrote, fancy covers I designed for junior high reports, reading lists, doodles, notes passed in class, class photos from yearbooks other than my own. 

Objects: My class yearbook for which I was co-editor (a prized possession!), the short story (11th grade) and fake Roman newspaper (group assignment, 9th grade)—my two favorite assignments, my biology class notebook with my beautiful drawings, selected school newspapers, my "Word Wealth" text with all its interested words. My diploma. 

WHAT I GAVE AWAY: My school was interested in all my curricular materials! I sent them: originals of class notes, homework, papers and reports, reading lists. 

WHAT I'M DUMPIMG: All the rest, including textbooks!


College:  As with my secondary school, I had kept the whole nine yards of my college years. Earlier, I threw out all the notebooks with my meticulous class notes. I wish I’d scanned a few pages just for the neat handwriting. 

WHAT I’M KEEPING: 

Scans/photos: my best papers, making a note of others I had written by course, along with the grades I received, notes from a class on group dynamics where class members were the subject matter, my doodles of boys and girls. Typed up a list of all my courses and grades received. 

Objects: My class yearbook. For a big reunion, I had compiled a notebook of copies of selected articles from the school newspapers and fliers of key events. I’ve added some personal items to that notebook, including notes from my roommate, my stern reminder to myself about my habits, some tickets to special events. Also I’m keeping a booklet of poems and limericks from friends as well as a few select books used in various courses in psychology, sociology, Greek mythology. My diploma. 

WHAT I GAVE AWAY: Unlike my school, my college was very interested in the extracurricular materials, including the school newspapers, fliers for events, weekly calendars, mimeographed notes sent through campus mail, as these represent a bygone era’s way of doing things. Also sent, some course syllabi and the yearbooks for classes other than my own. To More than Words, gave books that weren’t textbooks. 


WHAT I’M DUMPING: All the originals I didn’t give away! Old textbooks. 

Graduate School: One-year teacher training program, one-year masters degree program, and multi-year doctoral program. Massive amounts of curricular material—not so much from the extracurricular front. (Note: Although my final schooling took place in the digital era, I am unable to read any of those earlier files.) 

WHAT I’M KEEPING: 

Scans: my best papers, notes from my teaching practice (such lovely handwriting I once had!), selected student work, a few interesting class assignments. Typed up a list of papers written and grades received, and a list of courses taken and grades received. 

Objects: My doctoral thesis. Notes from a class I want for research purposes. Books that still interest me. My diplomas. 

WHAT I GAVE AWAY/AM GIVING AWAY: The data archive maintained by my graduate school was interested in all the original data from my thesis. Hooray! I hope to give away the originals from my teaching program and practice to a museum that specializes in things to do with childhood. To More than Words, books that aren’t textbooks. 

WHAT I’M DUMPING: All the originals I didn’t give away. All the Xeroxes of articles assigned or used for research purposes. 

What I’ve learned/tips: 

  • My nostalgia for school ends after my college years but is exceedingly high up till then. If your school years were painful, you may want to chuck to whole lot.
  • Scanning is a useful way of being able to shed originals, but one may want to preserve a few actual items that can be perused more easily in the future. With a view towards a period of my life with less space but more time, I am looking for the right balance between digital and physical preservation.
  • Scanning needs to be done with some useful filing principles that will allow you to easily find files in the future.
  • Scanning some items as jpegs (photos) allows you to shrink them in size and copy them into a word document that you can print out. This method takes up less space than originals if you’d like to have hard copy.
  • Don’t forget to back up digital files!
  • Scrapbooks are a tried and true way of preserving selected elements from one’s life. If expense is not important, one can also have these copied and printed into book form that takes up less space and is easier to handle. I haven’t explored this option yet but may do so in the future once my archives are pared down.
  • Some paper, especially newsprint, deteriorates over time. Purple Xeroxes fade.
  • There are places that may want your school items. Worth researching your schools and colleges as well as museums if it pains you to send all your hard work and souvenirs to the recycle bin. I was surprised at how much my secondary school and college were eager to receive.

Time will tell how much I care about most of what I’ve saved. Maybe a few photos and the memories will be all that matter, and many of those don’t involve formal school learning at all: the little chapel where the figure of the baby Jesus was clothed in a changing robe (my favorite was one edged in fur); the playground with its wriggly worms after a rainstorm, learning “The Wabash Cannonball” in music class; standing in the hallway and directing students as a “Girl Guide;” deriving the quadratic equation without help from my father;  getting tangled up with each other while playing “stretch” on the college lawn.

What do your school/college days mean to you, and what have you kept?

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