The Cast: The Teacher (educator), Lucas (the writer), Myself (stunned).
We all have those moments that blow our minds. Those times where we have to question all that we knew to be true. Or thought we knew—because we’re all so smart, all the time.
If you are old enough to remember weekly writing assignments in elementary school, good for you. But, if you remember the paper to which I’m about to describe, even better for you.
I don’t know if it’s still around—I’ve never had one of my children do work on it—but when I was younger we would have to write a small little story or something, every week. That small something also had to include a picture. The paper that it would be written and doodled on, was a pale grey newsprint. Landscape format. Large enough that there was room to write and draw, but just slightly too big to fit into your folder to take home, so you had to work on it in school. It had about four or five lines to do the writing in. And they were the ‘handwriting practice’ lines. The ones with a solid blue line along the bottom and top (to constrain your letter sizes), and a dotted blue line in between (so you would know how tall to make all your lower-case letters). As an adult, and a graphic designer—typographic education, I understand this height principle now, better than I think my teacher may have then. If someone had just told me about x-height and letter height back then, I think I would have been just fine, instead of, “Just keep your letters the right size. Please.”
As these assignments would be given at the beginning of each week, the class would always react in the same way: As if it was completely new. “What?!?! We have to write?!?” “Do we have to draw a picture too?” “How long does it have to be?” “THE WHOLE PAGE!!!”
Now that I’m an educator, working with children, I feel so bad for what we did to our teachers. As an adult, it’s like, “We do this every week (or day) people. Come on. You’ve been in school for six months!” It shouldn’t be called ‘Going Postal’ it should be called ‘Going Teacher’. Geeze.
Really though, I’m fine. Really.
So anyway… In second grade I got one of those lessons that destroyed what I understood to be reality and then had to absorb what was actual reality. I was devastated. My whole class was also. Well, except that one kid who always seemed to know stuff that only adults did. You know that kid. Every class had that kid. The rest of us idiots were all like, “Teacher! Wait, you are you saying we can’t use that word?” “Why can’t we use it?” “I used it in my assignment. Do I have to change it?” I thought that poor teacher was going to snap. She had accidentally opened a Pandora’s Box of questions about something that apparently we—as 2nd-Graders—all should have known about. She had to just sit there and try to answer each question and hope it would also answer several other questions. She did pretty good too. As new concerns were blurted out, she would quell our fears and as one was dealt with, a few other hands would also go back down. Eventually, she had it back under control.
It was sort of like that cartoon (I think it’s a Donald Duck), where he’s fighting a fire and as he chops at the fire with an ax (don’t ask, it’s a cartoon, stop overthinking it and just let me tell the story), well as he does so, it splits into smaller fires and more problems arise. However, there are still several fires, but they are getting smaller, and eventually, it gets extinguished. The situation was kind of like that.
What happened? Oh, yeah. Well, as I mentioned before, we had been given our weekly writing assignment, and the topic was to write about something we liked. Trying to fill four lines of words was almost agony for many of us. The picture was almost always where I would start, and then on Thursday (the day before it was due), I would try to write about what I had drawn. Whereas everyone else wrote, and then drew about what they had written. Looking back, I am sensing a life-long theme…
So, back to the weekly writing. On Fridays, the class would gather together, on the floor, sitting in a semi-circle around the teacher. We loved her, she was so nice, and we enjoyed getting out of our desks and sitting on the floor. We were so stupid. “The floor? Oh yes! What a treat!” Ask any sane adult if they want to sit on the floor instead of a chair and you’ve just made an enemy. Wait a minute… The teacher always sat in a chair… She knew! Oh what suckers we were, all that time wasted on that concrete floor covered with a thin layer of foam and cheap carpet. I could have been sitting in a non-ergonomic molded plastic chair! Why?!?! But, I digress.
Friday came, and the class gathered. Each of us would take turns standing in front of the rest of the class and reading our story. Then, we would show our pictures. It really was fun. On this particular Friday, Lucas decided that he would be the one to ruin the word ‘and’ for us all. The jerk.
Lucas had written a lovely little diddy about how he liked rainbows and birds and clouds and the sun and trees and how rainbows had red and green and blue and yellow and orange and purple and this and that and some more and then more and another thing and something about that and this again and a thing forgotten about and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more… It just kept going. Let’s put it this way, the Energizer bunny would have stopped to rest before Lucas got done ‘and’ing.
That was the day that we learned that you can use a comma and more importantly, how to use a comma instead of an ‘and’. And when the teacher had Lucas rewrite his story and use commas instead of ‘and’, his story only filled half the space. Turns out the ‘and’s were the only thing that let him fill the space—because we had to always fill all space, our stories had to use all the lines to the ends. The teacher felt bad and let him just re-rewrite it. But, after all that erasing, his paper was shredded and looked awful. Before it had a cool rainbow and birds and trees and clouds and stuff. After the re-rewrite it was just a ripped and wrinkled and smudged and messy and sad looking story about what a little boy had liked. Yeah, the teacher felt pretty bad.
Ya’ know, reflecting on it, I liked his story. I really did. Each time he said “and (whatever thing here)” I thought to myself, “Yeah, me too.” Every. Time. Seriously, who doesn’t like rainbows and birds and clouds and the sun and trees and how rainbows have red and green and blue and yellow and orange and purple and this and that and some more and then more and another thing and something about that and this again and a thing forgotten about and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more…