Education Weighs Heavily on Students
an education is backbreaking work these days. Or so it seems. Over 40
million children arrive at school carrying bulging backpacks. The
American Occupational Therapy Association reports that half of the
backpacks are dangerously overweight or improperly carried. The result
has been stooped shoulders, sore necks and aching backs.
chiropractic concerns rise, critics are targeting hefty textbooks as the
villains. The average hardbound textbook is approaching seven pounds —
and rising. Publishers explain that textbooks have fattened because
public education officials have expanded the curriculum requirements and
demanded more illustrations and teaching tools. In addition, state
requirements that textbooks survive at least five years of wear and tear
preclude them from having soft covers.
In the rush to address
the backpack crisis, legislators have taken center stage. Several
states, including Georgia, are considering new laws to limit the weight
of textbooks. In California, the largest textbook purchaser in the
nation, educators have until July 2004 to establish such limits.
this wise? Do we really want state governments to be choosing textbooks
by the pound? What subjects might be left out by the academic "weight
Knowledge is not fixed. Academic disciplines are
constantly changing and their boundaries growing as new research or new
perspectives broaden and deepen our understanding. History, for
instance, is a cumulative discipline. Each day adds more to the richness
of the past. To be sure, any history textbook can benefit from some
selective pruning, but cutting out pounds of pages would result in major
gaps. The Hundred Years' War, for example, might have to be compressed
to 20 years, or the Long Parliament might become the Short Parliament.
little common sense is in order. Before legislators start weighing
schoolbooks, the problems attributed to backpacks need further study and
analysis. Some leading physicians, for instance, are not sure there is
an acute problem. Dr. John Sarwark, chairman of the American Academy of
Orthopaedic Surgeons' committee on public education, stresses that
"there is no known serious, long-lasting harmful effect to the spine
(from toting a heavy backpack). It's reasonable to say they can cause
muscular fatigue, aching, mild discomfort and soreness. But that's the
extent of it."
A new study by researchers at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital reveals that young people are more likely to be hurt
tripping over backpacks or being hit with them than by carrying them.
preferred solution to aching young backs focuses on education and
innovation rather than legislation. School systems are addressing the
problem. Some are encouraging their students to use lockers more and
backpacks less. Others provide a second set of textbooks for their
children to use at home. A few school systems are switching to online
A growing number of schools are offering workshops on how
best to load and wear backpacks. In Roswell, N.M., schools host a
backpack "weigh-in" to encourage students to "Lighten Up" as part of a
nationwide awareness campaign whose slogan is "Pack It Light, Wear It
Right." Such information sessions stress that backpacks should not weigh
more than 20 percent of a pre-teen's bodyweight. Hint: If a child has
to lean forward to carry a backpack, it is overloaded. Straps should
also be wide, padded and snug.
The major source of
backpack-related problems is not obese textbooks but misuse. Many
children carry far more "stuff" than they need, not just books but all
sorts of personal items, including skateboards. Too many kids sling
their packs over one shoulder — or even their neck — rather than putting
both arms through the straps.
Manufacturers concerned about such
issues are improving the design of backpacks. The canvas carryalls now
come with slightly curved or molded backs and bottoms, inflatable air
bags, waist straps, handles and internal frames to distribute the
weight. A rapidly growing alternative is rolling book bags, like
suitcases on rollers.
By purchasing a properly designed,
well-fitting backpack and making certain your child uses it properly,
parents can greatly can reduce the risk of neck, back and shoulder
Education has always been a weighty issue, but
"slim-fast" textbooks mandated by state legislators are a foolish
response to backpack strain. If we allow public officials to shave
pounds from publications, we will lose much more than pages.