Headmaster’s Thoughts – May 2012

Where is the “paperless society” they told us was coming? Like the Y2K bug that would ruin our computers on the first day of the 21st century, it is a fraud perpetuated on those of us who really do not understand computers by cleverer people who do.

I recently bought plane tickets online. No paper so far? Wrong! I had to print up the confirmation sheet which came with (oh, no!) boxes of advertisements about where I should eat and drink when at my destination. When I go to print my boarding passes, I will once again have several sheets of similar ads, plus the weather at the airport. If I chose to go through American Express Travel Services, I would get the confirmation in at least three sheets for each person (six for Jayme and myself) with disclaimers protecting them from any possible lawsuit and further suggestions of where to sleep, eat, and drink at my destination, plus a “special” on rental cars and a cruise, plus the weather.

At York we buy pallet loads of paper. Our teachers use the double-sided approach as much as they can and, still each year, they use more and more paper per student.

The reason for this is that magic word on all word processing or email programs: PRINT. Just hit the magic button and you will have a paper copy of the purchase number for the product you bought online. Hit the magic button to have the email from a friend that contains his or her phone number. Hit the magic button so that you can print the exam or notes that you will give the class, and then make a copy for each student with extra copies for those who will lose them. Hit the magic button (it has its own box) to print Edline. Hit the magic button to read your just written “Headmaster’s Thoughts” because it is more difficult (for me, anyway) to edit on the screen than if the paper were in front of me. Mea culpa!

Bottom line: Last year, York Prep–a school of 350 students–bought 242 reams of paper. That translates into 3,457 sheets of paper per student. Wow! I know there is more we could do to save trees. We could send our parents the report cards by computer program instead of on paper, but we do that already on Edline. We could put many computers in each class and have students take all their tests and exams on them as well as write their essays on the machine. However, it is very often in the students’ interests to see their mistakes on paper (see reference to how I edit these “Thoughts” in the previous paragraph) and keep copies of their essays and notes. We would never print anything if we were zealots, but I am not a zealot and do not encourage zealotry. The fact is that all of us old people (come on, admit it!) are more comfortable with paper information and like those hard copies. I fear that our children have cheerfully adopted our bad habits.

I would like to put in a good word for paper and pencil. You cannot “Facebook” with paper and pencil. You cannot download anything on it. But I have to acknowledge that tablets, like the iPad (which I use and enjoy), are potentially the way all information will be delivered in the future. If we all had the same small machine or there was total interactivity among all the tablets out there, I could see the attraction of that system. No doubt, battery life would need to be extended and the keyboard would need to improve (I have a real problem with the virtual keyboard with no feeling of the keys on my iPad). The day will come. But (at least for me) it is not here yet. And, judging by the amount of paper we use, it is still some way off.

If you want to, you can print out this piece. Just hit the magic button!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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