They Can't Keep Track Of Their Pencils!

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They’d lose their heads if they weren’t screwed on! They can’t remember to do their chores. They forget to feed and water their pets. They can’t remember to take their homework home, let alone actually complete it. They bash their friends over the head with their backpacks — then toss the backpacks to the ground for seating. They throw backpacks out of bus doorways then leap to the ground after them; sometimes on them. They can’t keep track of their pencils or their books. They lose the planners, passes and notebooks provided to them by school counselors who dream of “teaching them organizational skills.” And these are just some normal Sixth Grade behaviors.

My son was a Sixth Grader, and I know! (That was the year when hubby and I first noticed ‘silver hairs among the gold.’) I teach Sixth Graders. I’ve been there/done that/seen it all and I can attest to the level of (ir)responsibility maintained by Sixth Graders.

Yet…YET… the State of Michigan wants to provide every Sixth grader with a laptop or PDA! Yes, Michigan wants to provide small, delicate, expensive, easy-to-lose/drop/jar/destroy computers to (ir)responsible children, even as the state whines about a budget shortage.

How could a group of supposedly intelligent, elected representatives, collectively make such a foolish decision? Have they lost their minds? Have they no children or grandchildren from whom they might have learned about childish tendencies and behaviors? Did they simply buy into that cute film with the kids running around the room, holding their PDA’s ‘red eyes’ together to see if a virus would spread?

It has only been a few months since I was refused permission to take my own students on a day trip to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the only city in the United States where they would be on display. That would have been only our second field trip in eight years, and the kids had already studied about the Scrolls while patiently waiting a year for their arrival. We were told that budgets for Michigan schools were tight, and were going to get tighter, so we gracefully accepted the word from on high. How then, in light of the financial problems described just this Spring, can there be enough money to buy laptops and PDAs for every Sixth Grader in Michigan? I am just stunned. Our visiting grandson reports that at his school district in Iowa, there is talk of canceling some sports in order to buy such computers for the kids there! It seems insane.

Well, let me explain a little more about Sixth Graders. There is a secret that people, other than those working in middle schools, would never guess: if scientists should want to study places where life seems to spontaneously, and asexually, burst forth into existence, they should place their sensitive equipment in the lockers of sixth graders. Mold, Fungus, Dread-Mogus — named and unnamed, it grows among the books, lost homework, pencils, and…in the future, among the PDAs and laptops.

The forgotten and neglected stuff that doesn’t function as a medium, or grow itself, — accumulates. If you want some great things for your soon-to-be Sixth Grader, visit your schools on locker-cleanout days, then on the final day of the school year. You will rake in a heckuva haul, believe me. You might even come away with enough items for a great garage sale — if the growing mildew and mold haven’t ruined them.

One year, following a Sixth Grade band concert, I found a new, expensive, University of Michigan, winter coat thrown down in my room. I put the word out to everyone and let the coat hang in plain sight for the remainder of the school year. I notified the office of the coat’s whereabouts, in case a parent should call to enquire. The coat was never claimed (Gee…if my child arrived home mid-winter missing a new coat, Mr. Sixth Grader and I would have visited the school on the following day to search the building — room by room.)

Last year, on the final day of school, I was following a group of these little guys to the busses, and one, after two hallways of pondering, tossed his beautiful, red, lined jacket into the trash barrel as he passed. I could just imagine his inner conversation… “Carry it home? Naw! I’ll just tell Mom I lost it.” I called out, “You forgot your coat!” He looked back at me with a look of pure distain, and continued on to the bus. Each year the halls are filled with sweaters, shoes, boots, and coats — in the future with laptops and PDAs — as the kids cut and run on the last day; or on any day, actually.

I worry about what our throwaway, shop-until-you-drop society is teaching our children about valuing property. Coats thrown in the trash on the last day of school; newborns thrown in the trash at proms; pets and children tossed aside, neglected, deserted. I have this morbid thought that I should buy myself one of those ‘good luck’ plaques…you know the one…”Be Good To Your Children; They Will Choose Your Nursing Home.” I just couldn’t bear the thought of someday ending up as yet another dumpster-body episode on C.S.I.

What will we find among the Sixth Grade castoffs next year, here in the State of Michigan? Ahhh…maybe — laptops? PDAs?

I have been worrying that the fruits of my labors (i.e., taxes) will be spent for items that will be lost along the street; crushed in tossed backpacks; left to mold with old bananas; thrown out as too bothersome to carry home. Then it occurred to me that there might be a bright side to this coming nightmare — although I do empathize with the technology supervisors and repair technicians at each middle school who will have to inventory, insure, upgrade, repair, replace, monitor, coordinate, provide loaners, boot, cradle, upload, case, re-case, re-charge, referee ownership fights… Hmmm, come to think of it, I wonder if the State will provide a free technician with the free computers and software? Nah, probably the schools will have to provide for the quad-zillion repairs and replacements out of the general budget, shortchanging academic areas in order to do so. I wonder how many accident forms and police reports will need to be filed following stylus-stabbing wounds, and who will pay for the administrative hours to handle those? Is a stylus long enough to be considered a weapon?

The Positive Side of All Sixth Graders Being Provided With Laptops and PDAs

Now, the plight of the Homeless has long been a national concern, and a frequent topic for media coverage. However, Michigan’s PDA Plan could, in effect, solve the problem of Homelessness. Consider that, as Sixth Graders (ir)responsibly lose/drop/toss their new equipment, dumpster-digging should become a far more economically advantageous occupation. Once dumpster-diggers discover this much higher quality booty, most of which can be pawned for hard cash, our street people should finally be able to afford housing.

So, I have basically come to the conclusion that I should keep my mouth shut and resist my natural urge to warn Michigan legislators about the typical — the normal — (ir)responsibility of Sixth Graders. Maybe it will be best if I just let those high techie products roll into the schools, after all. Would it not be cruel of me to spoil a plan that holds so many possibilities for reducing, even eliminating, the number of street people who spend their days pushing Kroger carts around the cities of Michigan; spend their nights sleeping in cardboard boxes? If we can get the other 49 states to follow suit, a major problem in America might be brought to closure. Hey! Maybe we can count on Iowa to join Michigan in leading this movement to provide Sixth Graders with the means to end the plight of the Homeless. It’s a plan!

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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