Failure to communicate

So many Monday afternoons the elementary kids slog through their homework. You remember those workbook pages photocopied on pastel paper, full of graphite and eraser smudges. The kids struggle to copy the list of vocabulary words, and that's just the appetizer for a meal of searching the dictionary and using the words in sentences.

This is the circle of Dante's hell where compulsive alphabetizers like myself are doomed to learn patience for all of eternity. Forget Chinese water drips. Forget nails on the chalkboard. Forget sitting through the Kevin Costner "Waterworld" and "Wyatt Earp" movies. True torture is waiting for elementary students to find words in a children's dictionary.

Should a student locate a vocabulary word in the dictionary, she must copy the entry onto the cantaloupe- or mint-tinted paper in her wobbly handwriting. He must decide if the word is a noun or verb, or, gag, both. Then it's time to use the word in a sentence.

Homework sentences always remind me of "Cool Hand Luke" in the rural prison. I'm sentenced to homework life without parole. It's good to know I'm not alone!

What we've got here is usually a failure to communicate complicated by some misguided expectations. Kids who have trouble singing the alphabet song are not going to be able to locate "coil" or "crest" in the dictionary.

When I am in charge of the world, all kids will sit on tall stools filing cards in those grand old wooden card catalog drawers. They will put an orange "check" card behind each one they file so a qualified grown-up could check their work. They will begin filing cards by first letter, then by two letters, then by three:


In the background the kids will hear the metallic swirrrrr-clink-swirrrrh of the institutional ceiling fans, and the batting of moth wings against the library screen windows. Tennis shoes will squeak on the concrete floor. Chronological stacks of decaying newspapers will scent the air. Librarians will stamp the date due on index cards.

Monday's homework is due on Thursday. It just seems generations longer!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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