The mysterious case of the missing backpacks

Numerous times over the course of this past year, number one daughter’s first year in high school, we, her parents, have implored her to take a backpack to school.

You know, that thing that you can put your pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, lunch and an instrument in? The thing that all of us Generation Xers used daily?

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Yet bleat as we might, no success was ever made in our cause. Instead, said daughter has carried her zip-up binder and her lunch separately. Because that makes sense.

Being a middle-aged Gen Xer, this little ongoing battle of the teenage years is one of those niggling things that makes you want to scream. Part of being a parent, I guess.

Just before she started band in Grade 6, we were able to acquire not one, but two flutes at a neighbour’s garage sale for a good price. The size of the flute was important. It fit in a backpack, as opposed to a trumpet or trombone, the likes of which we saw poor band students drag hither and yon, cursing their lot in life.

Several years later, we realized that our resident flutist never actually brought her instrument home to practice, like those hithering and yonning students. That would involve actually practising at home, expelling ones life-breath through a woodwind to create something approximating notes.

So here we are at the conclusion of her first year of high school, and she has yet to toot on said flute, to my recollection. She will no longer be a band student, being more of a visual than audio artist.

Fair enough. Not everyone is cut out for tooting the flute. But this still does not explain the lack of the backpack.

The other day I was out and about, and it worked out that I was able to pick her up from school instead of taking the bus. I was able to park near the front door just before classes were out. In this position, I was able to keep track the students walking out the front door. Making hashmarks on the back of an old business card, the results were quite enlightening.

Out of the 127 students I counted leaving the school, only four walked out carrying just a backpack. On the other hand, nearly every other student carried a zip-up binder. A very small handful carried both a zip-up binder and a backpack. Quite a few carried a Lululemon shopping bag. Needless to say, those were female Lululemon bag carriers.

But tried and true backpacks? They were about as common as buffalo on the Canadian prairie. Nearly driven to extinction.

Thus, I found the reason we’ve been having this battle all year. Why would she want to be the only one carrying a practical, sensible backpack? Geez, dad.

But how can this be? How can you get along with just a binder? Where do you put your textbooks? Oh, that’s it. This is the 21st century. High school students no longer use textbooks. This semester, she was only issued a science textbook. Math? No textbook. Last semester, she only had two textbooks.

Next year, in Grade 10, she will apparently have more textbooks. When I was in those grades, there was a textbook in each and every class except gym, music and art.

This doesn’t explain why the rest of the 127 students weren’t in need of a backpack to carry home a textbook. Something doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe the entire student body learns by osmosis, absorbing the information through the door of their respective lockers into their brains. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

Back in the day, when I was a really cool teenager (a.k.a. nerd), I would occasionally take a briefcase to school (when I was working on newspaper, of course). I also used my briefcase a lot for debate and youth parliament. And do you know what I found out? Briefcases are quite limiting. They defy pretty much every ergonomic principle and make your arm sore. You have to keep switching hands. Any backpack, even a poor one, is usually a step up. A zip-up binder is essentially a briefcase.

Did you know that in the military, you are supposed to only carry stuff like briefcases and coats on your left side? That’s so your right hand is always free to salute.

The other incongruity with the zip-up binder versus a backpack is the usage of smartphone. With a backpack, you can sling it over one or both shoulders and have your hands free to text away. How do you do that carrying a binder/briefcase? Isn’t ready access to your smartphone the most important thing for the generation of hunchbacks we are raising? Can they text with one thumb really fast?

I don’t know how backpacks became verboten. This is definitely one of the stupidest fads I’ve seen. But what do I know? I survived high school as a Gen Xer.

I’m going to go listen to Vanilla Ice now on my Walkman, sorry, iPhone.


Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at

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