With news breaking this morning that kids carry an average of £160 of equipment in their schoolbags, pundits are asking the inevitable question: how does this compare to what Huckleberry Finn carried in his schoolbag?
By examining the contents of Huck's schoolbag, and noting the differences between this and the schoolbag of a modern child, we have an accurate cultural barometer against which to measure the degradation, or improvement, that mass consumer technologies have brought to the Western world. For the purposes of this comparison, we will call our modern child 'Harry'.
Huck's Bag: Tallow candles, and a tin candlestick, and a gourd, and a tin cup, and a ratty old bedquilt off the bed
Harry's Bag: Apple iBook
While Huck contented himself with the kind of scabby detritus we would today more readily associate with a tramp, Harry carries a £749 MacBook. Harry is one of 3 per cent of school children who take a laptop to school. Huck drank out of a tin cup, but Harry is more likely to sip Isotonic sports drinks while instant messaging his friends through a £1/min mobile phone datacard.
Huck's Bag: Knife
Harry's Bag: Apple iPod nano
Harry's iPod is an extremely desirable MP3 player that keeps him entertained on the drive to school in his mother's BMW 4x4. Huck predates MP3 players, and was forced to entertain himself with a knife which he used to whittle things, and cut various ropes: "I was in the boat, and Jim come tumbling after me. I out with my knife and cut the rope, and away we went!" If Harry carried a knife he would serve up to four years in a juvenile prison.
Huck's Bag: A leather dog-collar, and a horseshoe, and some vials of medicine that didn't have no label on them
Harry's Bag: Ritalin
Huck's "vials of medicine" could easily contain anything, but he's unlikely to have been prescribed them by a school counsellor because of an attention deficit disorder. If Huck were around today (and if he were not fictional), he is extremely likely to have been put on Ritalin, a drug that has been described as low-dosage, slow-acting cocaine. Harry has Ritalin in his school bag and it has improved his performance at school.
Huck's books are an unusual sight in today's schoolbags -- Harry has none. Instead, Harry's satchel is packed with games for his PSP and a copy of Heat magazine. Huck has a spyglass in his bag; Harry prefers to stare at the screen of his. Huck likes to run around the forest, or take trips down the Mississippi; for Harry, discovery is just the name of a TV channel. Huck carries three boxes of cigars; Harry doesn't smoke because he knows it causes lung cancer.
Harry's bag, and the bags of his UK contemporaries, are collectively worth £664m. The contents of Huck's bag is worth around 50p in a jumble sale. The study conducted by Explorandum on behalf of Tesco polled 1,002 parents of children aged 11-16. It found that 42 per cent of kids are taking mobile phones to school, 11 per cent have iPods in their bags and 5 per cent carry games consoles. More than 125,000 kids are also bringing their own laptops with them to class.
"With PE kits, trainers and calculators all needing bag space too, it's a wonder that nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of children still find room to pack the traditional apple for their teacher!", says Jonathan Church, a spokesperson for Tesco, who carried out the research. "Pens, notepads and textbooks are no longer for the 21st century school kids."
What do you think of the contents of modern schoolbags? Should kids be more like Huck, or more like Harry? Leave your comments below. -Chris Stevens