Tag Archives: college

Homework or Flowers?


Look: I’m the last person in the world to be ragging ANYONE about homework, because I spent most of my childhood simply acting as if homework were merely an absurd suggestion from ridiculous grownups – grownups WITHOUT weaponry to enforce these hilarious suggestions.

That is, until I hit Catholic school. There, to my dismay, I found someone had equipped the nuns with a secret wooden arsenal of rulers – and slapping hands, besides, which they clearly were highly trained in the use of, particularly in the application of maximum pain and minimum trace marks that might reveal their cruelty beyond the crumbling walls.

Nasty stuff.

Still: that only made the game of homework avoidance more of a challenge.

I spent sixth grade math class playing a diabolical game with Mr. Elvins. I would prop up my book right on my desk, hiding my empty notebook. To me, it seemed so blatantly obvious that I wondered at times, even then, if I was trying to get caught.

The trick went like this: chubby Elvins was too lazy to collect and grade any homework. So all he would ever do was randomly choose students each day and have them give him the answers to the math problems from the previous night’s homework.

If he called on me, I’d simply look down at the problem, solve it in my head, and give him the answer.

Mr. Elvins was so rigidly blinkered at the idea of any student, much less a GIRL student, being able to pull off such a Las Vegas trick, that although every once in a while he’d cast a suspicious glance at my book wall and my wide-eyed innocent gaze, he was not about to rouse his low-belted, big-bellied body off the chair behind The Big Desk and actually CHECK to see if I’d done the work.

Even in college, I was able to scam a bit.

I was scholarshipped to college, but worked my way through the rest of it: there’s more than tuition, of course: there’s drinking and partying money you need.

So naturally, I was loathe to waste my money on $400 books. Actually, what used to end up happening to me at the beginning of each semester was this:

I’d enter yon bookstore with all good intentions of buying the books I was supposed to buy, but then I’d get so very intrigued with all the OTHER cool-looking books from all the OTHER classes that I’d buy THEM instead, leaving me, er, a little short when it came to MY books.

So I’d make deals with the other students. I was a phenomenal studier – a perfect test-taker. I knew JUST what professors wanted to hear in essays, on tests. So I’d find myself someone who was NOT, and pair up with them.

They had the books, and I had the savvy, so we’d both make out.

Now, I have two daughters, and I’M the one who’s supposed to be getting on THEIR case to do their homework.

What an ethical conundrum.

Considering that despite all my rackets and schemes, the whole problem with the homework thing throughout my whole life was that I didn’t believe in it to begin with – and I still don’t.

After all, unless you’re on salary, and have major responsibilities at your job, which you for some reason have to take home – most adults go to work at a certain hour – say, nine a.m. – and come home at five p.m., and then they’re DONE.

Kids, on the other hand, get up at around six a.m., get home around three p.m., and I’ve seen mine – and others – work on their homework for HOURS.

In New York, I queried one teacher: “How long do you expect a student to work on homework for your class?”

“I expect them to spend about 45 minutes,” she answered blithely.

At the time, my kid had seven periods. That would add up to five hours and fifteen minutes of homework a night if all her teachers expected the same.

In addition to a day’s worth of school? That’s just wrong.

So I face an ethical dilemma, as I try to align myself with my kids’ teachers.

Sure: boring homework has its place in life. It’s good practice for life, since we all will someday face a life of work with incredibly useless, boring tasks that we will have to perform.

But will we have to perform them for hours and hours, after work, and all weekend?

I dunno. I’m a grownup now, and I still think homework sucks. And I sometimes still write notes to get my kids out of it.

“Dear Teacher: Please excuse my child from her homework last night because we were attacked by a giant squid. Love, me.”

Okay, maybe NOT that outrageous. But I DO make sure to write it on my InklessTales.com stationary, to ensure my “authority.”

I just can’t stand the idea of watching them do 100 math problems when we could count flowers outside instead.

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I’m no valedictorian, but…


Add to Technorati Favoritesgraduate celebratingI practically fell asleep at both my high school and college graduations, not to mention the endless graduations I was forced to attend during my stint as a PR/web diva while employed at a local community college.

Why these institutions relentlessly opt for the most boring speakers, year after year, spouting the same, clichéd advice, I will never in my life figure out.

Do speakers honestly think they’ve hit on something original and fun when they approach the podium with Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go?” For the love of all that’s holy – the book itself isn’t even that good. It just has Suess’s name on it, so the speaker thinks it’s got an automatic seal of “Aren’t I fun? Won’t this be the best speech EVER?”

Do speakers at roasting-hot graduations, facing crowds of hungover, soaking-wet individuals who are impatient to get back to drinking again, diplomas in hand, think that anyone – even the proud, ignorant parents – think anyone is really listening to a word they say? Especially if they say anything past three minutes or so?

Why these institutions  relentlessly opt for the  most boring speakers, year after year, spouting  the same, clichéd advice, I will never in my life figure out.I think they do. I think there’s something about a microphone that dangerously brings out the absolute worst in all of us. Get someone behind a mike – someone who most people see a few yards ahead, casually turn on their heels, hoping to avoid a “Hey, howya doing? Have you heard the latest about ME?” – and some people go simply MAD with the attention.

Now, they think to themselves, I get to say all the things that have been gathering in my heart for years. And I have all the time, under this blistering sun, to say it to a captive audience, clad in long, dark, hot, heat-gathering robes. And hats. Don’t forget hats. Which also keep the heat in.

I was once at a graduation where one professor with an axe to grind went on for over a half an hour, listing everything he thought was wrong with the world. Administrators wandered helplessly in the background, along with security, wondering if, in fact, they were going to need an actual vaudeville hook to remove him from the dais.

Not that anyone is ever likely to invite me to give a graduation speech, but here’s the one I’d give, in the event I were asked:

Very cool, folks. You graduated. Time for the touchdown dance. Guess what? Now that you will never be attending another mixer, no one will ever ask you again what your major is. No one will ever care. They only care that you graduated. Which you did. So yay, you. A lot of people don’t.

Now that you have, though, here’s what happens next.

You will not remember any of your Spanish, French, or whatever language you took. The quadratic equation? You actually WON’T ever need it; you were right – the unit prices in ShopRite are printed right there on the shelves when you’re trying to figure out which is cheaper, the big jar of peanut butter or the two little jars. That’s daily math for you. I liked math in college, but I’ve never needed the advanced calculus I took to live my life, and I’ve had more different jobs than Stevie Nicks has costume changes at a concert.

You will barely remember, in fact, much of what you learned. I recommend at some point in the future, actually, that you pick up a book called An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson.

Not to imply that you haven’t received a perfectly good and thorough education here at this fine institution – I’m just warning you. Real life – as in work, rent, bills, someday kids – has a way of driving from your ballooning brain things like philosophy, history, literary criticism, and all the things that have seemed so very important in the past few years.

This book? It’s a fabulous, one or two paragraph reference to catch you up at cocktail party time, so you don’t end up sounding like a picket-fence polishing, lawn-mowing, brain-dead, “I-gave-up” suburbanite.

I don’t know.You will hear, over and over, people asking you: what will you do now? I hereby give you permission to say: I don’t know. If you DO know, that’s awesome. Go for it. If you are all set for the next step – like medical or law school, and you put in a few years and hate it – I give you permission to quit and try something else. One of the happiest guys I know was a successful lawyer for years, then quit in his forties to become a broke high school English teacher.

You don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life NOW. Try a bunch of things. It’s allowed. Don’t let anyone pressure you into the family business, or into one of the official professions. If you majored in finance, but your dream job is rodeo clown, go for it. The only person who actually lives your life is you.

The only opinion that really matters is yours.

You have an education now. That’s awesome. Now you’re off to the business off getting yourself some wisdom and judgment. That comes with experience. You can have a happy life if you follow your own path. Do whatever makes you happy, and the money will follow, trust me. You may have a few lean years, but if you stick it out, everything will be cool.

Believe in yourself, even if nobody else does. My aunt used to say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. And being happy is a lot better life than being miserable. Seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people are so bent on pleasing other people that they forget that – for instance, pleasing the people who just paid for their education.

Still – the people that paid for their education aren’t going to be living that life of yours, are they?

So get out there. Keep your ears open. Your mouth shut. Don’t think you’re done. This is just the beginning of your education. What you really learned in college is how to learn. So get out into the world and start really learning. And don’t ever stop; that’s when you get old.

Now? The fun part starts. Now? It’s just pass/fail. The trick? There is no fail until you give up. So just don’t ever give up, especially on yourself.

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