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Oregon Family Magazine

School Will Be Interesting

08/14/2013 ● By Sandy Kauten
On the brink of a new school year, my daughters are like Roman convicts, each about to be chained to a long oar.

The greatest displeasure is felt by my oldest daughter Marie, who is beginning her senior year of high school. She’s very advanced; her “senior-itis” started toward the end of sophomore year and worsened all through junior year as she made the transition from A-student to B-student. Here’s how it was accomplished:

Sunday night: “Dad, can I go over to Joe’s for a couple of hours? All my homework is done.”

 “OK,” I said frowning.

 Monday night: “Dad, I need to go over to Veronica’s to work on our Health project. It’s due tomorrow.”

“Go ahead,” I pouted.

Tuesday night: “Dad, Joe’s coming over tonight to study Calculus with me.”

“As long as you’re really going to study,” I said grudgingly

Wednesday night: No visiting, but the ache of an evening at home was eased by a four-hour phone marathon in which Marie wore out three partners.

Thursday night: “Dad, I’m going to a Punk show tonight in Green Brook; Joe’s band is playing. Mom already said it’s OK.”

“Oh,” I sighed, frowned AND pouted.

I have finally realized that a quiet evening at home doing homework is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and that when I radiate disapproval, it is not the same as saying, “No!”

Meanwhile, the younger kids are happily taking note of the way their big sister slips out of her shackles and swims to freedom night after night. So this isn’t just about Marie; it’s about the entire discontented crew.

So I’ve resolved to change my approach in order to close off the options. School nights must be spent at home with minimal communion with the outside world. If Marie claims that all schoolwork is done, she can work on her college applications (or explore the Internet for some of that scholarship money that, according to legend, floats glittering in cyber-space). I will harden my heart to her pleas.

My theory is that school is not so bad; it just suffers by comparison to the dizzying whirl of social delight that is life outside of school. This year I aim to slow down the whirl to where schoolwork will seem interesting, or at least bearable.

Maybe it won’t work on Marie, but it would have worked on me. It wasn’t that I was uninterested in my schoolwork, it was just that I was interested in so much else. Take Mr. Maruca’s 10th-grade geometry class for example. Jeanette Huber, arguably the most attractive girl in North America that year, was seated directly behind me.

Life is full of choices and every afternoon from 1:45 to 2:30, I had to decide whose lines and curves I would study – Jeanette’s or Mr. Maruca’s. But that’s like saying a flower has a choice between turning its face toward the sun or toward something else, such as a plaster garden gnome.

In the evenings, when state law did not require Jeanette Huber to be anywhere near me, it was time to do homework. Certainly there was plenty of geometry to catch up on, and there were routine writing and reading assignments in other subjects. But I was distracted.

I didn’t have the beckoning array of social possibilities that Marie has; my temptation was the undiscriminating companionship of the television set. The Shakespeares and Hemingways of that era were writing brilliant scripts that were acted out by the hottest talents of Hollywood – all for my immediate enjoyment.

The real Shakespeare had already waited 400 years, surely he could wait until morning. Or until first-period study hall. Or..., well, sometimes teachers have to understand that a busy boy has to prioritize.

In a place without distractions, the brilliant word-play of Shakespeare would have won my admiration, and the circles, planes and angles of geometry would have piqued my imagination.

This is more than just a theory. Look at Henry David Thoreau.

Hanging around the Gold Nugget Casino/Hotel in Las Vegas, he would’ve been just another mug. But he removed himself from all the flash and pizzazz of 1840s Concord, Massachusetts, quit kidding around with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and holed-up in a rustic cabin in the woods at Walden Pond – and the high-octane philosophy practically squirted out of him!

Rick Epstein can be reached at [email protected]