The word-of-the-day on my tear-off calendar yesterday was tabula rasa. I'm sure I first learned the significance of that phrase while reading John Locke (who else?) in Philosophy 104 at Hiram College with (I think) Dr. Gene Peters. But I'm certain, as well, that I first learned it at Hiram School in Latin I (or II) with Mr. Brunelle, who had us memorize all sorts of Latin phrases that he knew we would later find use for (in vino veritas--that sort of thing).
I liked that idea of a "blank tablet"--though, of course, science has demonstrated that instead of being born blank, many of us devote ourselves to making ourselves blank throughout our lives by ignoring hard truths, by failing to educate ourselves, by neglecting to question, by ... you know.
But tabula rasa has yet another meaning for me. At the dawn of my career (teaching seventh graders in Aurora, Ohio) I was responsible for the school newspaper. I had no journalism experience, really, other than reading the sports pages of the Plain Dealer (and the comics) with a devotion I never really could muster for, oh, the Bible. Or my homework.
I had written for the Hiram High School paper my senior year--aptly titled The Panic and ably edited by Marcia Rosser, who still has all those issues. At the end of my senior year, I wrote a piece about how Hiram High would never amount to anything in basketball (because, you see, I was graduating). The next two years they were awesome, very nearly made it to the state tournament (without me). So much for my prescience and basketball prowess.
We produced The Panic the old-fashioned way--by typing on those long blue mimeograph masters (any typos required the application of a blue fluid to the error, a re-typing). Hand-cranking the mimeograph machine. Hand-collating and -stapling. Then walking home with snow up to our armpits, all year round.
Anyway, for the 1968-1969 school year, I was the Aurora Middle School newspaper adviser. And at our first meeting, we were deciding on a name. I suggested (okay, insisted on) Tabula Rasa. I'm not sure why. I mean, "blank tablet" seems an odd name for a newspaper. Maybe I thought it sounded ... literary. I'm smiling now as I think of all the little fifth and sixth graders getting their first copies of the paper and seeing Tabula Rasa perched at the top. And wondering, What the hell ...?
For some pack-ratty reason, I kept a copy of each issue.
We did manage twelve issues that year. Some of the page-one headlines were awesome: STUDENT COUNCIL PLANS ACTIVITIES! (17 January 1969) STUDENTS PREPARE FOR SPRING BREAK (28 March 1969). 8TH GRADERS TO INVADE NATION'S CAPITAL (2 May 1969).
I see in the issue of 28 March that there's an op-ed piece by Paul Bowers, now on the staff at Hiram College. DOWN WITH LUNCH is the headline. He wasn't happy with the lunch activities. He suggested different classrooms be devoted to different activities--like chess. (I don't think it happened.)
My favorite feature was a serial written by seventh graders Jill French and Andrea Martin, "The Adventures of Oznel and Iksnituk and Their Travels of the Universe." Jill and Andrea had simply spelled backwards the names of our principal (Mike Lenzo) and the wonderful science teacher (Eileen Kutinsky). One memorable sentence about some baddies they were battling: "They stood in the doorway with their evil faces with smoke blowing out of their evil noses."
I love those evil noses! Makes far more sense than naming a publication Tabula Rasa!