Why Abe Was a Geek

By Dave Barry, The Miami Herald, August 28, 1998

It's back-to-school time, parents, and you know what that means!  It's time
to get the kids off the TV-room sofa, using logging equipment if necessary,
and take them to the mall for back-to-school supplies.

Getting the right school supplies is crucial to your child's chances for
success in life.  We all remember the tragic story of young Abraham
Lincoln, whose family could not afford school supplies, so he had to write
on a shovel blade with a piece of coal.  This meant that if young Abe saw a
cute girl and wanted to pass her a note in class, he had to hand her this
big gross filthy digging implement, sometimes with worm parts stuck to it,
and she'd go, "Ewwww!" and all the other kids would laugh at Abe (it did
not help that he was the only boy in the fifth grade who had a beard).  As
a result, Abe had low self-esteem and was so desperate for popularity that
he became President.  Unless you want that kind of thing to happen to your
child, you had better get the right kind of back-to-school supplies.

What are the "right kind" of supplies?  According to the American
Association Of School Teachers Who Get The Whole Summer Off And You Don't
Ha Ha Ha, to meet federal educational standards, "every item your child
takes to school, including dental braces, must be festooned with a licensed
cartoon character such as The Little Mermaid or Leonardo DiCaprio."

Your child also needs a backpack or -- if you wish to have a truly modern,
state-of-the-art schoolchild -- an actual airline-style suitcase with a
handle and wheels.  In my neighborhood I see elementary-school students
hauling these things around, and I say to myself, "They're in SECOND grade!
What are they CARRYING in there?  Fifty-pound Twinkies?"  But that is not
the point.  The point is, American students may not have the best
educational test scores when compared to foreign students, or even certain
species of foreign plants, but by gosh our kids lead the world in cubic
feet of academic carrying capacity.

Also it goes without saying that you cannot send your child back to school
without a compass and a protractor.  A compass is a thing with a sharp
metal point and a little mutant pencil that is always falling out.  A
protractor is a thing that you always get when you get a compass.  It is a
centuries-old tradition for children to go back to school with these two
devices, even though nobody has the faintest idea what their educational
purpose is, other than using the metal point to carve bad words into desks.
A spokesperson for the American Compass and Protractor Manufacturers
Association told us, "We sell 23 million of these things every September,
and we lie awake at night asking ourselves, WHY?"

Another traditional item you should have on your back-to-school list is
some kind of notebook.  I know there are many kinds of new-fangled
"high-tech" notebooks on the market today, but for my money, the
old-fashioned three-ring binder that I used as a schoolboy remains, as an
educational tool, one of the most useless things ever invented.  I spent
basically all of my classroom time from 1955 through 1963 trying to repair
torn notebook paper with those stupid "reinforcing rings" that were always
gumming themselves together into a little defensive clot.  It cannot be
coincidence that during these same years, the Soviet Union surged way ahead
in the Space Race.  So whatever you do, do NOT get your child one of these.
Your child would be better off with a shovel.

Finally, while you're in the school-supplies department, see if they have
any of that heavy white paste that we used in first grade to make art
projects.  Kids don't need it for school any more, but you should pick up a
pound anyway, because it's delicious.

OK!  Now that you've got the educational supplies, it's time to shop for
back-to-school clothes.  What kinds of outfits do today's kids want?
That's easy!  They want outfits that you really hate.  For example, if you
have a daughter, you would prefer for her to go to school dressed,
basically, as a nun; whereas she wants to look as if she has been rejected
for employment by a house of prostitution on the grounds of looking too
slutty.  How do you, as a parent, resolve this dispute?  According to the
American Association of Child Psychologists, the secret is to, "discuss
your differences with your daughter, openly and non-judgmentally, until the
two of you are screaming at each other and she stomps away shouting at the
top of her lungs that she hates you and is going to join a motorcycle
gang."  Don't worry about attracting attention:  There will be at least 50
other sets of parents and daughters in the Junior Department doing the same
thing.  It's a back-to-school tradition!

Buying clothes for boys is much easier.  What boys want to wear is -- write
this down -- big pants.  A good rule of thumb is, if the pants do not
contain enough material to make all the sails needed to equip a full-sized
19th-Century whaling vessel, then those pants are too small for your modern
American boy.

OK!  You're all done with your back-to-school shopping!  Now it's time to
send the kids off to school.  Even if school doesn't technically start for
several more days, shove the little rascals out the door and lock it.
Because you've had a long, noisy summer, and you deserve a chance to just
lie quietly on the sofa and relax.  Maybe fix yourself a bowl of paste.

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