School: A Metaphorical Checkout Counter
Checkout lines create a peculiar sort of urban ritual, seeming to exist solely as a means to an end and entrapping shoppers until they forget why they were there in the first place. Many a time have I felt the defeating, albeit overly dramatic, dread of being just as far in as I will ever be out. Many a wait have I spent, thanks to the warped synergy of groceries and impatience; unsure whether the queuing was taking minutes or hours. And as another school year begins, I cannot help but notice the parallels between checkout lines and school.
I should actually say possible parallels. The supermarket line analogy only goes so far. School is certainly much more fruitful and much less dull. The speed at which time seems to pass during school, unlike the tedious pace of lining up, is also more varied. We students never hesitate to hyperbolize how school sometimes feels as if it lasts forever, yet there always comes a time, be it graduation or the day before vacation, when we look back on our scholastic journey and marvel at how quickly it has flown by.
Nevertheless, the similarities between checkout lines and school are uncanny. Both are sites of organized chaos, where shoppers dart between carts and aisles, and students between homework and extracurricular activities. The seasoned shopper navigates through the twists and turns of shampoo shelves and meat counters in order to reach the checkout line, while the student negotiates quizzes and projects on the journey through school.
A sense of routine prevails through both. School, despite intervals of change between grade levels, is built on schedules and patterns. Monday to Friday to Monday again, one can expect few surprises to interrupt the flow of classes, activities, and work. The queuing and waiting that accompanies counter lines also remains identical no matter which day or shop one visits. Yet occasionally, a hiccup of circumstance will wreak havoc on the entire routine. For example, a student’s day may be coming along swimmingly until a teacher springs upon the class a pop quiz. What had begun as a pleasant school day with firm expectations now turns into unwanted surprise. Or, a shopper looking to buy last minute ingredients for a friend’s birthday cake may find, at the checkout counter, that the bag of flour has a pricing defect and cannot be purchased. The student and the shopper, hence, both have their building blocks of routine knocked out of place with the swipe of fate. However, the waves of sameness can be restored just as quickly as they were interrupted, and the student and shopper soldier on.
The biggest similarity between school and counter lines, though, lies in their advancement process. The checkout counter, like graduation, is the destination that all shoppers and students inch towards. At the back of the line and in the early years of school, that destination seems not much more than a myth. Shopping carts and scholastic hurdles are the only things in direct view. Gradually, however, as one’s place in line and grade in school move up, the myth is replaced with reality. The students and shoppers at the checkout pedestal move closer and closer into view, and one’s thoughts also turn more and more towards the near future.
As a rising senior, I have reached that place in line where the checkout counter is directly in front of me. Wallet clutched, grocery cart ready, I am on the home stretch. However, the progression of lines and grades follows an ongoing cycle. Just as the shopper will once again have to queue for the purchase of another week’s foodstuff, the student will start another learning cycle from the beginning in college and beyond. The passage of time within the line ought to be filled with growth and proactivity rather than idling and impatience. After all, there will always be another line.
By Lucy Wang,
Shanghai American School, Puxi