• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Drugs, Guns, and Trapper Keepers

The wrong thing to ban?

August 25, 2015
 

Did you know that many K-12 districts actually ban Trapper Keepers?

As a card-carrying Gen X’er, the phrase “Trapper Keeper” immediately strikes a chord. Trapper Keepers still exist, but in the early 80’s, they were the thing. Trappers are folders with vertical pockets, so the papers you store in them don’t fall out when you’re carrying them. Trapper Keepers are binders that hold Trappers. In their heyday, Trapper Keepers were everywhere, and it’s easy to see why: they combined a practical solution to a real problem with cool (for the time) pictures and the great smell of PVC.

Okay, that last one isn’t ideal. It was the 80’s.  

I hadn’t thought about them since probably the Reagan administration, but last week The Boy attended a meeting for the marching band at his new school and reported back that he had to get a shoulder strap to hold his sheet music binder while he marched. I had an immediate vision of sheet music falling out, and suggested a Trapper Keeper. No sooner had I congratulated myself on long-term memory did The Wife mention that they’re banned by name. I did a little Googling, and found that they’re banned in a lot of places.

That had never occurred to me.

Yes, schools are stricter about certain things than they used to be, but this one threw me. First peanut butter, now this. There had to be a reason.

Alertly, I forgot about it for several days. Then, on a whim, I asked folks on Twitter why they thought Trapper Keepers merited specific mention on “forbidden” lists, alongside weapons and toxins. Three theories emerged: status competition, he sound of velcro, and size.

To which I say, phooey.

The status competition part may once have been true, I guess, but in the age of iphones, fitbits, smartwatches, and Macbook Airs (Macsbook Air?  Macbooks Air?), it seems like pretty weak tea. I’m old enough now to remember all sorts of oddball stories over the years, but I don’t recall a rash of folder-related fatalities. I remember when we were supposed to be terrified of heavy metal, of sneakers with pumps, and of satanic daycare centers, but I don’t remember pitched battles over office supplies. Tressie McMillan Cottom characteristically did some actual research and pointed me to this piece on the history of Trapper Keepers from Mental Floss, which has some great nostalgic photography, but doesn’t offer a satisfying explanation of the bans..

The “velcro” theory is about the ripping sound that the cover made when it was opened. But according to the Mental Floss piece, velcro was replaced long ago by a snap. I don’t buy it.

The ‘size’ theory makes some sense, but if you see the size of backpacks that kids carry -- replete with school-approved chromebooks -- it falls apart quickly. Kids have to carry trombones, ipads, and textbooks with the weight of bowling balls; I really don’t think binders are the issue.

So I remain stumped. Yes, they’re kind of cheesy and dated, but we don’t ban Camaros. So why the ban on Trapper Keepers?

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