Well, folks, here we are in October. Summer is over and kids are back in school. My, oh, my, how time flies … which brings me to the topic for this column: Back-to-school in my grade school and high school days vs. back-to-school in the 21st century.

In my school days in the 1930s and ‘40s, returning to the classroom after summer vacation was no big deal. Today it’s huge. According to consumer reports, back-to-school is a multi-billion dollar industry.

In the ol’ days, we ended summer vacation one day and marched into the classroom the next. There was no two-month, pre-school advertising sales pitch in newspapers and on TV for new clothes, shoes and classroom supplies.

As I recall, Mother made sure we had clean clothes and decent shoes that fit. If clothing or shoes were outgrown, we had either new replacements or hand-me-downs from an older brother or cousin.

Our school clothes were basic. Boys: black/brown leather shoes, long pants, button-down shirt and/or sweater. Girls: leather shoes, skirt/dress, blouse and/or sweater. Now, except where uniforms are required, boys and girls look alike: sports shoes (all colors and styles) or flip-flops, jeans/shorts and T-shirts.

Arriving on the first class day, we received a list of required textbooks, which were purchased used or new. The only new “supply,” so to speak, was a shiny, 12-inch wooden ruler, compliments of Coca-Cola. Other “supplies” were acquired along the way.

Today, it’s a whole new school day. Lengthy lists of required supplies are distributed not only to parents but to stores that feature enormous back-to-school sections — everything from yellow No. 2 pencils to elaborate backpacks.

For the retailers, back-to-school is big business. Back-to-school is a big deal … and media saturation of sales of clothing, shoes and supplies urged me to do some research.

To satisfy my curiosity, I visited Walmart, Kmart, Target and Walgreens … and all lived up to the hype.

Multi-aisle sections were prominently displayed at Walmart, Kmart and Target. Walgreens provided one double-sided aisle about 50 feet long. Also, Walmart and Target provided supply lists from area public elementary and high schools. Finding no lists from Catholic schools, I presume they were included in information packets distributed to parents.

Granddaughter Shelly, a senior at Pius XI High School, said students were informed of required supplies in each class on the first day of school.

Among the most expensive items on lists at Walmart and Target were: computer-access flash drives, $15-$50; calculator for basic math and science, $12.99; a scientific calculator for algebra and geometry, $97.99; backpacks, $10-$50, depending on size, design, style, material and accessories.

Reflecting on my school days, these items were inconceivable. No calculators. We learned arithmetic (addition, subtraction, division and multiplication) the old-fashioned way – manually and mentally. No computers, thus, no flash drive required. No backpacks. We carried our books in a leather case-like school bag with a handle that locked with a flap/clasp attachment.

At the stores I visited, required supplies for MPS first-graders included: backpack, plastic box or pouch for pencils, washable white glue, glue sticks, crayons, standard No. 2 pencils, large pink eraser, washable markers, low odor dry erase markers, 12-inch ruler, pocket folders and spiral notebooks. The cost: $31.50.

In addition to MPS requirements, supplies for first-graders attending Greenfield Glenwood Elementary School included: tennis shoes for phy ed, scissors, art smock and watercolors, large box of Kleenex, a roll of paper towels, Clorox wipes, a pack of gallon Ziploc bags, and a pack of Ziploc sandwich bags. Cost: $49.

Supplies lists for middle school (sixth-eighth grade) students included most of the same items plus colored pencils, red, blue and black ballpoint pens, varied-color highlighters, protractor, basic calculator, theme paper, graph paper and flash drive. Total cost: $71.

Additional supplies for eighth-graders in some schools included: two boxes of facial tissue, transparent tape, masking tape, packs of Post-It notes, loose leaf paper, large and small notecards, and binders for English, math, science, social studies and foreign language classes. Cost: $96.

For juniors attending Oak Creek High School “suggested supplies” were listed for English/literature, family and consumer education, foreign language, health and math classes. Cost: Approximately $175.

Other suggestions were: water bottle and lunch cooler. In my day, we drank water from bubblers. To carry a lunch: a brown paper sack.

As we are well aware, the classroom of the 21st century is hi-tech. Most of the supplies required of today’s students were unknown 60-70 years ago. My classroom instruction was based on the four “R”s – readin,’ ‘ritin,’ ‘rithmetic and religion.

An obvious omission in modern education is penmanship. Attending Catholic school, I recall how, with pencil or ink pen, we were taught to write legibly … how we were expected to emulate Sister’s flowing strokes forming characteristically stylish letters of the alphabet from A to Z. It seemed that each sister had her own distincitve style and grace, as if guided by the hand of an angel. Also, spelling lessons were invaluable. We learned by repetition. Now, it’s electronically automatic. Computer spell-check programs perform a proofreading service. Are spelling lessons outdated?

To recap:

We learned to read from textbooks.

We learned to write with penmanship taught by sisters.

We wrote with pencil or ink pen.

We learned to spell and write accurately.

We learned arithmetic from addition, subtraction, division and multiplication tables.

We drank water from a bubbler.

We carried lunch in a brown paper sack.

We bought textbooks new or used.

We carried books in a hand-held school bag kept closed with a flap and clasp-type lock.

We wore conventional clothing.

We bought school supplies at Woolworth’s Five and Dime.

We learned religion from a catechism.

And, we learned discipline not only at home but with Sister’s ruler… as reminded in that age-old song:

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days, readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic,’ taught to the tune of the hickory stick. …

My, oh, my, how times have changed!

(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)