Thursday, September 15, 2005
Hanging with Ants
I am in the midst of grading the summer homework of all my students, which amounts to me reading over paragraphs about what all 400 of them did this last summer. One thing that stands out is most of them live awful lives. At least half of the papers are something like:
"This summer I had practice for the (insert name of club or team) every day. Practice was very long and very hard. And at the end of the day I was very tired. I did not have time to see my friends. But we went on a training camp and that was fun. I want to train hard to get better. But I hope I can see my friends next vacation."
At first I felt a terrible sympathy for these kids, but after reading 200 of the same ones I am about tapped on empathy. Right about then though, when you just feel like you've had enough, is when you get one of the money essays. They are either:
1. Unintentionally funny due to grammar mistakes, often misuse of pronouns like "it".
2. Unintentionally funny because they are crazy and you are incapable of extracting what the hell the writer actually wanted to say.
So here is a great example of #1, an innocuous tale of training camp that gets rather racy. My mind had started to dull after grading for an hour or so when suddenly my listless eyes ran over the second paragraph. Then I just started chuckling as I imagined the scene, not just of someone loving taking cold showers with her friends but the look on her face if she realized what she was actually writing. Even worse, these are part of a show-and-tell assignment, so if I left it uncorrected, this girl would stand up in front of the whole class and declare her love for cold showers with teammates.
These, however, result mostly in just juvenile snickering. The next essay category is so baffling it is just fantastic. This is where I get to read stories like this one a kid wrote about catching a catfish at the river and then bringing it home to raise as a pet. Great lines there, like "The catfish, as you know, has a hearty appetite." He fed it whole goldfish and crayfish, and plans to bring it in for show and tell.
This one though, both amuses me and frightens me. I love how this essay begins with a normal description of day - getting up, talking about the weather, eating a meal - and then all of a sudden, he just says casually, "After, I hang out with ants." Oh, yeah, hanging out with ants, sure. So I get this picture of the kid finishing his lunch and tramping outside to stand hovering over an ant pile for hours at a time. Then, it takes a turn again and I imagine him sitting over the ants like some future serial killer, enthralled with his chance to finally exercise control over a world that has left him out, coldly dealing out death, all the while cackling wildly. And, the kicker, is the closing sentence. He can't wait for next summer because, to this kid, summer=hanging with ants.
I get at least one of these for each class of 20 kids. Now I've just got to make a list of students to watch out for.