Feeling Their Pain: Addressing Heavy-Backpack Syndrome

My son’s school held an event last week where parents were invited for coffee and conversation with the school principal.  Some of the discussions were specific to the school, though many were more-universal topics: dress codes, athletics, standardized tests… for all of these there were clear next step for action.

Heavy-backpack syndrome was also brought up. There were a few soft recommendations, but no action items.

I entered parenthood a little later than most people do, but I’d been reading about backpack burden for many years.  Until my son entered 6th grade last year, this wasn’t a proximate issue.  In 7th grade now, he is a strapping young man, bigger and taller than most of the kids his age.  His backpack, replete with books for 6 classes, change of clothes for sports, a water bottle, and homework projects, causes him pain in his neck, back and arms.

Not severe pain, but daily pain. If you’ve suffered carpal-tunnel, or other repetitive-stress injuries, minor stress on a regular  basis can become a debilitating condition.

His current daily load, weighs in at 30+ lbs. To read that term (30+ lbs) that might not sound like a significant burden. So think of this it way, imagine yourself hauling around two of these all day:

Shot put

(Source ehow.com)

When the backpack burden  comes up in conversations with schools, some talk about the future:  when all the materials will be digital and the kids will just need to lug around a tablet.

Some teachers and many parents, prefer to talk about the distant past. Back when they lugged a heavy backpack. I always grit my teeth during  the “in my day”  rants, which soon  decay into tales  of a  15-mile walk to school: barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways and they “didn’t complain!” Sounds to me like they’re complaining now, about events that years, or decades in the past.

The fact is that is students’  backpack burden is a problem that has been discussed for generations with seemingly little effort to provide solutions. Because it doesn’t directly effect those in positions of power, the adults.

It’s not enough for adults to talk about, or hear about the problem.  Change will only happen if there is first-hand experience with the burden.

Thus I propose this  empathy-building exercise:

  • For one month, school staff, and parents would be asked to lug around 25+ lbs of dead weight in a backpack and walk with it for at least 5 minutes, every hour. This should be repeated 5 days each week.
  • Provide a mechanism for participants to provide feedback and solution proposals, and establish deadline by which the feedback will be published.
  • Escalate the challenge to district leadership and establish deadlines for the superintendent to evaluate and propose solution scenarios.

If solutions involve significant policy changes, or costs, then the challenge should be made to state and federal lawmakers. Change will follow.

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But I Digress….

I’m currently taking time to get back into some good writing habits, in hopes that good habits might  lead to good writing. No particular topics planned for the ensuing posts, thus I’ll likely sneak in some posts on familiar topics such as  content management, and educational technology, amidst my digressions on baseball, etc.

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Forgiveness (or Who Framed Roger Maris?)

As a child, my great love was baseball.  By the time, I entered 4th grade, I had played one year of Little League and was mildly interested in watching the Red Sox on Channel 38, as long as there was not a Godzilla movie on Channel 56.  Though that year, I stumbled across a baseball book that had been abandoned by one of my older brothers (who were 9 and 15 years my senior).

The book was gloriously full of  history and statistics, up until the 1961 season. 1961 is one of the most-hallowed seasons in baseball history. There is a lot written about that season, but if you’re curious, just  ask  Billy Crystal. (Spoiler alert: Roger Maris breaks the home run record.)

My family moved to the Orlando area when I was a teenager and I became  less interested in baseball, because I no longer played it, and there was no “home team”.  I still liked baseball, but it had lost its obsession status.

Though when I started college, it was intriguing  to see pictures of Roger Maris’ record-breaking swing in a few bars around  Gainesville:

Roger Maris Hitting 61st HR

(Source USA Today)

I later found out that Maris owned and operated a regional beer distributor.  I periodically saw his sons wheeling kegs into the restaurant where I worked.  Though I never thought that much about beer distributors until I was called on to change kegs in the middle of a busy shift. Then I blamed them for everything that was evil in the world.

Changing kegs was always an inconvenience.  Getting the key to the beer storage room, wheeling the keg to the bar cooler,  and swapping it out for an empty one, that was always ensnared in the  clutter  of aluminum barrels and clots of rubber tubing; it was a royal pain.  All the while, dishes  were piling up, milk dispensers needed to be changed,  and vomit was accumulating on the men’s room floor…

One fateful night, my boss, from Boston, shouted “Squawt, foah-get about that table, weah outta  Budwise-ah, go change that  keg!”

Budweiser. Roger Maris.

It’s well-known fact that when I suffered my second hernia, my screams F-bombing “…Roger Maris!” (in absentia,) could be heard for blocks. I’m sure that there were reports of echoes being heard in Micanopy and Archer.

I would  to address a couple of things. First I want to clarify that I was directing my shouts at Roger, Jr.,–one of the beer-delivering sons–not the home run king himself. 

Second, the tap lines that I was trying to disentangle when I sustained my injury included many brands of beer. I have no evidence that A-B was any more, or less, responsible for the tear in my abdominal wall (and dangling intestine)  than any other brewer.

I was not even lifting an A-B product when the injury occurred. Therefore, it was unfair for me to cast aspersions against the Maris, or Busch families. I hope that they will both accept my sincere apologies. You are hereby absolved.

Given my Irish-Catholic roots, it is difficult, physically  excruciating in fact, for me to let go of a grudge. I intend to begin healing by shifting my focus to the great pleasure of my life;  irony.

And knowing that I herniated myself by lifting an object that was labeled:


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There Will Be Whitespace

I use to think of myself as a pretty good writer. I was a mass communications major and my courses in journalism, advertising and writing for broadcast, instilled habits of language clarity, brief sentences and abundant whitespace.

These habits  were annoying to some of my liberals arts professors who seemed to cling to the days of yore, and actually used “whereas” “inasmuch” and “shan’t” in their own communication.

In a discussion of my progress on a term paper, a professor advised me that he understood the US Constitution very well and that there was no need to  for me to “dumb down” my explanation of appellate decisions for his benefit.

There were also professors who  resented  my  short sentences and paragraphs.

I’ve always had problem with the concept of “dumbing down” content.
The practice of crafting content that is more consumable, and available to a wider audience seems like a savvy strategy to me.  It’s  more like you are “smartening up” your content.

Likewise, if you succeed in describing a complex topic in easy-to-understand terms, don’t ruin the  moment by saying it’s a “quick and dirty” explanation.  “Succinct and elegant” is far more appropriate.

There are myriad reasons that I’ve identified that have kept me from writing in recent years. Though I think the one that looms largest is that I seem to have drifted far from my habits of clarity and brevity of earlier in my adult life.

A lot of recent my writing seems bloated and rambling.  The act of editing something such beastly drafts  dampens my enthusiasm for writing. Hell, it dampens my enthusiasm for enthusiasm.

I’m trying to be a good writer again.  There are a many areas in which I can improve, but I’ll begin with a promise that nothing that I write going forward will be dumbed down, or quick and dirty; at least not intentionally so.



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