Humor by Greg Schwem

I am seriously considering steering my 15-year-old daughter toward a career in orthopedics. How else will she treat the chronic spinal condition that she is developing as a product of our nation's public school system?

There are multiple reasons for her poor posture. She is a teenager so, by law, she is required to slouch at least 90 percent of her waking hours. Her calcium intake is poor, unless one considers Milk Duds a source of that bone-strengthening nutrient. She also would stand much straighter if she weren't constantly stooping down to search for whatever article of clothing is crumpled under her bed.

Her stance, nutrition and slovenly nature are all correctable. But her impending spinal curvature will not cease unless one of two things occurs:

She commits all her school textbooks to memory.

She stops reading altogether.

Unfortunately, neither is going to happen - even though I'm sure she would be thrilled if I suggested the latter. As a result, she continues to trudge her high school corridors each day carrying the weight of a small boulder on her back.

On a recent morning, I sipped coffee and watched her amble down the driveway to catch her ride. Her backpack was slung over her right shoulder, causing her to tilt precariously in that direction. Her best friend, Haley, waited at the end of the drive, tipping violently to the left since she chose that shoulder for her backpack. Standing together, they looked like teenage Siamese twins who had just been separated.

That afternoon she came home and dropped her backpack on the floor, causing small dishes to shudder in our pantry. I picked up the backpack and was convinced I heard my hernia popping. Once the pain subsided, I retrieved our scale from the bathroom, simply because I wanted to answer the following question: What is the weight of a good public education?

As I reached into the bag and pulled out each book, I channeled my best ringside announcer voice. "In this corner, weighing in at 4.4 pounds, the master of mathematical mayhem, ALGEBRA AND TRIG! And in this corner, tipping the scales at 5.2 pounds, the phenom of earthly phenomenon, WORLD GEOGRAPHY AND CULTURE."

"Dad, you are totally weird."

"And in this corner . . ."

"Dad, there are only two people in a boxing match."

"Quiet, I'm on a roll. Weighing in at a paltry 3.65 pounds, the syllabus of all things Spanish, EN ESPANOL!"

"I'm going to Haley's to study."

"Great. Ask her how her sciatica feels today. And in this corner . . ."

The biology and literature books weighed five pounds apiece. All told, my daughter's textbooks added an extra 25 pounds to her 115-pound frame. No wonder she chooses to buy lunch in the cafeteria rather than bring a brown bag from home. Why make things worse by lugging an apple around?

That night I lay in bed reading my Kindle, which holds 3,500 books and weighs 8.3 ounces. Not pounds, ounces.

"She's going to have shrunk 6 inches by the time she's a senior," I said to my wife, "Her prom dress is only going to need one shoulder strap because the other shoulder won't exist."

"What's your point?"

"My point is, hasn't the public school system ever heard of electronic books? If every kid owned a Kindle, a Nook or something similar, they might stand a chance to reach their full height. At the very least, the basketball team would improve."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"I dunno. Call the principal?"

"You do that, honey."

The next day I did in fact call the principal, who wholeheartedly agreed with my concerns.

"I picked up a book the other day and wasn't sure if I should defend myself or read it," said Dr. Thomas Trengrove, principal of her school since 1993.

Trengrove said the "weighty" book issue is on administrators' minds. But, like all book publishers, textbook purveyors equate electronic books with shrinking profit margins and are therefore resistant to cramming an entire physics book onto an iPad. Trengrove predicts the conversion will eventually happen but, until it does, his school orders duplicate books for kids with back problems. One set stays at school while the other remains at home.

I can only hope textbook companies come to their senses. For I have another daughter who will enter high school in five years. Based on her current growth rate, her pediatrician said she could be 6 feet tall.

Or 5-foot-7 if she studies really hard.

Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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