School and Homework

Homework assignments are certainly the subject of a wide range of feelings, emotions, and opinions; and many questions have been asked about them. Perhaps one of the most frequently debated questions is the following: “What is the most difficult type of assignment?” The answers are as many and various as the number of people of whom you might inquire.

Some answer without hesitation that reading pages and pages of data is the most difficult. The most frustrating and time-consuming thing about the college experience,” they bluster, “is all this reading that the teachers expect us to do!” “Ok,” you reply, “but do tell: why exactly is reading so difficult?” “Well,” they continue huffily, “the books the teacher assigns for us to read are ALWAYS at least FIVE HUNDRED PAGES, and in small type, too! And in addition to the required textbooks, there are all these others listed on a horrible document called a ‘Suggested Bibliography,’ and some professors go so far as to require that you read these other books! And the subjects these books cover…they’re all dull and BORING! It’s so not fair!!!”

Others argue that working with and solving mathematical theorems and equations is by far the most exhausting of scholastic exercises. “For one thing,” they begin, “the whole problem with mathematics is that it is based largely on numbers and how they interact with each other. And then, just as you’re getting comfortable with the numbers, but still cursing the person who put them in math problems, somebody else gets the bright idea to THROW IN LETTERS.” “OK,” you interject, but they cut you off hurriedly, “Ssshhhh! I’m venting here…”

You nod silently, and they continue, “So now you’re sitting in the math classroom, struggling to control your impotent rage against the imbecile who had the audacity to insert letters into math problems just as the numerical side of it was beginning to make sense, and your teacher comes up to you and says, ‘Now, Bobby, you’re trying much too hard….just take it a bit easier and the answer will come to you.’ It’s quite obvious that this lady is a ‘Math Person,’ one of those special few who came into the world speaking in numbers, sine, cosine, tangent, hypotenuse, and Pythagorean Theorem; and who has no understanding of the struggles and fiery trials through which we mere mortals—who converse in everyday English –must go to grasp even the basics of these things.”

Still others will reply, with great vocal rumblings and much lowering of eyebrows, that writing is by far the worst and most draining of all. Perhaps your best friend is among the number who feels this way, and it comes as quite a shock when he one day expresses his vehement dislike of writing assignments. “But Paul,” you exclaim in astonishment, “You love to write! How is it that you feel writing is the most difficult part of school?” “Because,” Paul replies, “Writing can be fun, but only when you’re not forced to do it.

“Picture if you will a typical college freshman sitting at his desk in his dorm room, or hunched over a table in the library, or reclining on a sofa in the student commons. A laptop computer sits before him with a word processor document on the screen, the cursor blinking at the top left of the pristine page. ‘But what,’ you may inquire, “is his task?’ To write a one-page, double-spaced paper on the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him. Why is this so difficult? He is being forced into producing output. He can write pages and pages when there is no deadline, no rush, and no threat of an overly excitable teacher to wax eloquent in pointed, red-inked editorials on the margins of his finished work; but, when the chips are down—and there must be words on the paper—he cannot produce a single sentence. Do you have that picture in your mind? Well, that’s me. I’m that guy. I can’t write when I have to, not even to save my life, it would seem sometimes. I guess I fear the teacher and his red ink, or maybe I dislike the thought of having my work read by others. Whatever the case, writing for school assignments is my nemesis!”

In addition to all these named above, there is another group that regards all these things as normal parts of the college experience. “There will be things that you have to read in college that you will not enjoy reading,” they begin, “and you may find that books which are assigned to you are extremely boring, dry, dull, and uninteresting. There will be math classes in which you will be expected to manipulate numbers—and LETTERS—in order to arrive at the predetermined solution. And there will be many different classes—English classes in particular—in which you will be expected to be able to communicate clearly on paper. All of these things are necessary parts of receiving a good education, and you will have to become comfortable with in order to succeed in the college environment; and, more importantly, in the corporate world where you are headed.”

“So am I to understand,” you inquire, “that none of these things bother, frighten, or upset you?” “Yes,” is the confident reply, “none of those things bother me.” Incredulous, you whip out your cellphone and begin dialing the SGA President, primed to inform him that you have just discovered a super-student in your own hometown, one who has no fear, no nemesis when it comes to homework assignments, but fearlessly conquers all course requirements without hesitation or trepidation.  Excitedly, the president asks to speak to this prodigy, and arrange a time for him to share with the student body his secrets to success. You hand the phone to your new friend and watch excitedly as the president begins to inform him of the desired order of events. Suddenly, the color drains from your friend’s face, and he mumbles a few incoherent, disjointed phrases and hangs up the phone abruptly. Exasperated, you demand, “What was that all about?!” “I can’t speak in public. I…I, I’ve never been good at it, and I just lose my nerve and freeze! My knees get weak, I can’t talk without st-stuttering, and I can’t string together a decent train of thought to save my life!”

Deflated, you are forced to call the SGA President back and inform him that the “super-student” isn’t so super after all.

Then there are those who have no problem speaking in public, who coexist somewhat peacefully with math, who are good writers, and who enjoy reading. However, when it comes to collaborating on a project requiring group effort, they cannot even begin to imagine where to start. “Here’s my problem,” the confide in you, “I don’t mind working on projects that are broad in scope and require vast amounts of time to complete. The thing I don’t like is the fact that I’m expected to work in cooperation with others in order to complete this assignment. I don’t like it when my grade is affected by people who procrastinate and don’t do their share.”


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