Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Paper Airplane

When I was in second grade throwing paper airplanes seemed to be an issue in the older classes. I remember hearing teachers discuss this behavioral problem and their concern for the lack of discipline in this new generation of kids emerging in the 1960's. Of course, my dad, being the building principal, was concerned about school discipline, but I think he also liked paper airplanes.

I say this because it was during this paper airplane frenzy that one night at home he showed me how to turn a simple sheet of paper into a paper airplane. Now, I am not talking about one of those paper airplanes that float like a leaf falling from a tree on a windless day in October. No, I am talking about a paper airplane design that is even yet to this day called "The Arrow" on the internet (see here for the name and the proper folding technique). I was amazed by so many aspects of the paper airplane concept. Not only did I now possess the knowledge and power to create a paper airplane, but I could throw this thing and it would fly far and straight. For the next several weeks everything that could be folded was turned into a paper, or cardboard, or plastic airplane. I still can feel the rush of excitement thinking about creating and throwing these planes as a second grader.

Well, soon the day came at school when the teacher left the room for a few minutes while we students were suppose to be reading something or working on an assignment. I had been waiting for this moment. I wanted to demonstrate to my fellow second graders this marvelous thing called flight. I quickly converted a piece of paper into "The Arrow", stood up and threw the thing across the room. Even I was captivated by the height of the flight and amazed by straight line trajectory of this paper airplane. It flew quick and straight and high until it stuck into blinds of one of the windows at the top of the wall where it met the fifteen foot high ceiling. There it stuck and there it stayed.

The student's gazes of amazement turned quickly from the plane, to a brief glance at me still standing with my arm in throwing position, then they looked straight back to their assignment to gain the appearance of having seen nothing. They were completely innocent, but I was still standing with my plane stuck fifteen feet up on the back wall with a class full of witnesses. The plane was high in the window blinds of the back wall; the back of the room where the teacher is constantly facing when she addresses the class. (These windows can be seen in the picture of this blog.) I had no idea what to do. I could think of no other option but to blend in with my classmates and return to the assignment.

I knew that when the teacher returned to the room she would see the plane stuck high in the blinds the instant she entered the room. As I waited for her to return, I looked a couple of times at the plane hoping it would fall and I could quickly go destroy the evidence. But, instead, it stayed firmly in the blinds, hanging out like a big arrow pointing at me and what I had done.

A few minutes later she entered the room, resumed class, switched subjects, took us to lunch, returned from recess, had more classes and sent us home. I never looked at the plane when she was in the room. When we went home at the end of the day I took one quick look at it before I left the room and then I worried about it all night. The next morning the plane was still there. So it went day after day for a couple of weeks. It got to the point that the plane was part of the class decor, it seemed to belong there now. I worried less and less about the plane hanging fifteen feet above the class until I forgot about it. No one looked at the plane, no one thought about the plane, no one even remembered the plane. And more, the teacher had never even seen the plane. But, it was still there . . .

Then one day, like an explosion in the midst of a quiet class, busy with their assignment, the teacher shouted, "Who did that!" We all jerked our heads up and snapped to attention with no idea what she was talking about. We all looked up to see the teacher pointing at the back of the room towards the ceiling . . . oh, yeah, I remember . . . the plane. Judgment day had come. My heart started racing. I started to feel very hot. I didn't know what to do but to sit quietly and appear to be consumed with getting my assignment done. None of the kids said anything. They appeared to have forgotten the whole thing. Maybe they had. I will never know. I never talked about it again . . . well, at least until right now.
Since my Dad's paper airplane instructions in the 1960's I have shared the folding technique of "The Arrow" with my own boys and many students from the 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's (or, whatever we call 2000-2009). The reaction is still the same. They all feel empowered and they fly everything that will fold.

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