I don’t want to sound like an angry old guy remembering better term papers in his day, but I think that writing school reports in the days before computer research required more effort.
When I asked my mother what she knew about my grade school geography assignment — combining Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form Tanzania — I don’t remember her telling me to “Google it.”
“Look it up in the encyclopedia.”
But that was before the computer road crews started building an “information superhighway,” so researchers could travel via the World Wide Web to find websites filled with megabytes of pertinent Tanzanian-type information and images on the Internet.
Was I just writing English? Or is there another language that’s developed since I wrote school reports as a child?
I don’t want to sound like an angry old guy remembering better term papers in his day. I doubt that they were better. You wouldn’t get a “C” for a term paper today if you typed it on a Royal typewriter at a time when they can be created with word processing programs on a laptop computer.
But I think that writing school reports in the days before computer research required more effort.
For lengthy school projects, you had to convince your mom that you urgently needed her to drive you to the library, without dwelling too much on how you had the whole semester to complete the report but waited until the night before the deadline date to begin it.
Then you had to copy everything you could find on your subject longhand into a spiral notebook. When you were tempted to plagiarize something, you couldn’t just “cut-and-paste” the paragraph, you had to copy it by hand. You had time to think about what you were doing, and perhaps get lazy at the last minute. So you wrote the information up in your own words, which were shorter. You did the right thing because doing the wrong thing would take too much time. But, that’s OK. Teachers didn’t grade your motives.
Finally, you had to put the whole term paper into a package, drawing maps with colored pencil and photocopying black-and-white graphs of gross national product, then binding up the pages at least at one corner with those gold metal fasteners that most moms bought by the box, if they planned to have a large family that got decent grades.
Now, I’m sure that there is a certain amount of satisfaction that can be derived by current students who can accumulate gigabytes more information on a subject, illustrate it with intricate charts and graphs created with graphics programs, design it with interesting type fonts and text shading, and publish it by printing it out in four-color.
If you really were a modern apple-polisher, you might even get extra credit for adding a reference to where the teacher could go on the Internet to watch video of people doing whatever people do in Tanzania these days. I have no idea. I haven’t thought of them for decades.
But, back in the 1960s, a guy like me could at least earn a tremendous feeling of relief by reaching the top of the upright piano, where the set of Collier Encyclopedia volumes were line up, and discovering that — thank you, God, I won’t ever delay writing a term paper this long again — this encyclopedia, published long before Tanzania ever was created, at least had sections on Tanganyika and Zanzibar. I could just combine what they said about the two countries, write it like it was one country, and cover current events with a sentence saying that “recently they put the two together.”
I still can hear my mother’s encouragement of my early educational pursuit.
“Don’t fall off the piano stool.”
Contact Gary Brown at email@example.com.