Thursday January 20, 2000
There had only been three weeks of school since coming back from Winter Break, but to a fourth grader, three weeks seems like an eternity, and Allison was more than ready for the four day weekend marking the end of second quarter when teachers took time to do boring stuff like grade tests and go to meetings. But her experiences in previous years taught her that until high school, the end of the semester doesn’t mean anything in terms of homework reduction. Not that she wanted to take the final exams her older siblings said were really hard, forcing them to lock themselves in their rooms for hours studying, but the four days of total freedom they got would have been more than worth stressing over tests. Yet today, her excitement was mounting with each passing hour, hours that passed without homework being announced. Maybe this year would be different and she would get to enjoy a free weekend with her siblings!
And then she got her weekly spelling worksheet returned, with every answer marked wrong. “For homework, I would like you to check over this worksheet again and correct your answers,” the teacher said. She started to open her mouth and release a sigh of frustration, but she had gotten yelled at for that recently, so settled for a frown instead as she wrote the assignment in her planner like a good girl.
“So have you got any homework for the weekend?” her mom asked when she had gotten off the bus. It was an innocent question she knew, and one Mom always asked after the happy hug and “how was school today?” But today it made her furious, as if rubbing salt in to the wound of knowing she would be isolated at the kitchen table, sitting on a hard wooden chair, an ice cold tile floor under her feet, pounding away on her loud clunky braille typewriter while her siblings were out sledding, hanging out with friends or wrapped in warm fluffy blankets on the livingroom sofa watching television or reading for pleasure. This prospect was about as inviting as sitting in a concrete prison cell, and one she had just about put out of her mind when this question brought it rushing back. “I don’t want to talk about that right now!” she snapped “but I’ll get it done.” “Alright, that’s fine,” Mom said with a sigh, sensing her daughter had a disappointing day, “I guess you’ve got all weekend.”
Friday January 21, 2000
The whole family enjoys sleeping in, and when everyone is up, Mom cooks her signature delicious, fluffy waffles for everyone, and Dad fries sausage on the stove. The combination of the comforting fluffiness of the waffles topped with sweet, warm maple syrup, and the pleasant smoky aroma of the sausage melts away the last vestiges of Allison’s school anxiety. That is, until the family breaks up to seize the day, with her sister getting ready for a morning run, her two brothers happily heading to the livingroom ready to take on the next video game challenge and parents discussing errands they need to run. Allison hung around the kitchen a couple minutes longer, not sure yet how she was going to seize this beautiful first day of the long weekend, but absolutely sure of one thing. It wasn’t going to be spent on homework. “So what’s your plan for the day?” Dad asked. “I don’t know yet,” she said casually. “Well, here’s a novel idea,” Dad said with a hint of loving sarcasm, “why don’t you do your homework now, so it is done and you don’t have to think about it the rest of the weekend?” And that was all it took for her happy thoughts to be shattered again. “I don’t want to do it right now! It’s such a beautiful day and nobody else is doing homework,” she said, “but I’ll get it done!” “Alright, whatever you want to do,” Dad said with a sigh, “it was just a suggestion, but I guess you’ve got all weekend.” With that, the subject was dropped, and homework was once again a distant memory before long as she played the day away on her swingset.
Saturday January 22, 2000
Allison enjoys another wonderful day that does not include homework, and to her delight, Mom and Dad don’t mention it, perhaps coming to terms with the truth in that old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” They tried to lead her to the wonderful waters of relief that flowed from not procrastinating something you don’t want to do, but realized she would only truly appreciate the benefits of this water when she discovered them on her own. So they let her enjoy the day playing around the house and hanging out with her siblings, and the whole family finished the day wrapped in fluffy blankets watching a movie with bowls of popcorn in everyone’s lap.
Sunday January 23, 2000
“So, are you ever going to do your homework?” her brother asked teasingly. The whole family had enjoyed bagels for breakfast, went to church and was now watching a football game. “Leave me alone!” Allison fumed, “I’ll get it done!” “Oh ignore him. He’s just picking on you,” Mom said. “I know you will get it done.” Allison didn’t really care for football, but even football was preferable to homework. Besides, on the typical week, she would have to do her homework on Sunday, but since she had Monday off this week, she sure wasn’t going to waste this Sunday on homework. And thus, another day passed with the homework untouched.
Monday January 24, 2000
Allison didn’t know where Monday went, but in the blink of an eye, it was an hour before her bedtime, and it occurred to Mom that Allison’s homework still hadn’t been touched. “You’re going to have to just sit down and do your homework now because it’s almost bedtime,” Mom said. Allison too had to admit the time for fun, games and procrastination was over. Doing homework took her longer than it took her peers, so doing it in the morning would have begun the week on a very stressful note, something she already knew from past experience. The problem was, that darn spelling worksheet wasn’t any more appealing now than it was Thursday. The worksheet focused on antonyms. The dictionary definition of an antonym is a word with the opposite meaning to another word, but Allison defined it as a conspiracy between the teachers and school board to make children’s lives miserable. After all, what greater purpose was there to toiling over antonym worksheets? When her parents talked about their jobs, they never mentioned using antonyms. This particular worksheet involved reading random meaningless sentences and filling in the blanks of these sentences with one of the week’s spelling words that was opposite in meaning to the missing word of the sentence, a task that made her head hurt before she had even started. No way was she going to end such a happy weekend making her head hurt over antonyms! Just when she thought she had no choice, it occurred to her that it had been such a long weekend, maybe her teachers had forgotten that they had given her this homework. There were 24 other kids in the class after all. In case the teacher did remember, she put a separate sheet in her braille writer, and quickly copied her original answers over from the first worksheet. It required no brain power, she would have something new to turn in if the teacher asked for it, and if she didn’t hand in her original answers along with the new copy, it would take the teacher awhile to realize they were the same answers as before! And maybe, the teacher wouldn’t even look at the corrections, but just check off the assignment, assuming her “corrections” were correct! How perfect! “Are you done?” Mom asked when Allison came smiling in to the livingroom, holding out her planner to be signed. “Yep!” she said.
Tuesday January 25, 2000
“So do you have your spelling worksheet done?” the teacher asked as soon as Allison got to her desk. Darn. The teacher remembered. But she was covered! “Yep, here it is,” she said, pulling the recopied worksheet out of her folder. The morning went by uneventfully, and then sometime after lunch, the teacher asked to speak to Allison in the hall. “I looked at your worksheet, and the answers are exactly the same as before,” the teacher said with disappointment in her voice. In all her excitement about what she thought was such a brilliant idea, she had forgotten what the teacher had said on the first day of school, especially the part where she said she wasn’t born yesterday, and had seen it all as far as excuses and tricks for homework. Like an animal snagged by a trap, she realized that her lie, a trap of her own making, had trapped her, and there was no way to escape except to admit what she had done. This fourth grader was me. I don’t remember what the outcome was after I made this admission. I don’t even remember if my parents were called or if I ever told them what I had done. But I do remember clear as day how that night at dinner, I was still feeling sullen and ashamed, feelings which usually subsided by dinnertime on days when I simply didn’t do my homework and admitted this right away.
Since fourth grade, I have gotten much better about getting my homework done, largely because advances in technology mean that I have a portable braille computer that allows me to do my homework on the couch wrapped in fluffy blankets, so while I still hate homework, at least doing it in a comfortable setting makes it more appealing. However, the more people change, the more they stay the same, and thus there are still days when I don’t do my homework on par with my capabilities. There have been papers where the teacher wanted four sources and I only find two, but I only have to think about my experience in fourth grade to realize that a lower grade on the paper is a much better alternative to plagiarizing or falsifying information. There are days when I don’t read an assigned college textbook chapter, and often, this fact is found out through a quiz on the reading. I will try to guess on the quiz, but after the quiz, I always come right out and tell the teacher I didn’t read. It doesn’t keep me from walking in to my own trap of laziness and irresponsibility, characterized by the sweat and uncomfortable nervous heat that comes to my face when the teacher says, “Why don’t we all close our books and notes for a minute?” And there is still room for improvement in my integrity since I don’t admit guilt to the teacher on days when there is not a reading quiz. But to a large degree, my experience from fourth grade taught me that falling in to the trap of laziness may shatter your pride, make you feel like a fool. But staying away from the trap of deception and lies allows you to keep your character and sense of integrity intact, and in the greater scheme of life, that is what really matters.