Commentary 17 Nov 2008 06:38 am

Those masticating dogs

Here is my print column from Nov. 13, 2008:

Remember the good old days when there was a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and real dogs ate kids’ homework?

For now, I’ll ignore claims of Hoover prosperity and stick with dogs, which must have lost the hunger for math and spelling words, so seldom are they blamed for lost assignments. Maybe the taste has been bred out of them.

This doesn’t mean school children across America are turning in homework. Far from it. Those rapacious real hounds have been replaced by cyber-canines.

The 21st century list of “Why My Homework Isn’t Done” excuses includes:

  • My computer has a virus;
  •  My printer is out of ink;
  • My computer is at my mom’s, but my printer is at my dad’s;
  • I e-mailed the essay to myself, but I don’t have Internet service;
  • I saved it on a disk, but it’s not compatible;
  • I saved it on my flash drive, left the drive in my pocket, and it went through the washing machine;
  • My brother was using the computer all night to do his homework; and
  • My dad accidentally erased my essay.

You may find me horribly naïve, but as a teacher I’ve heard all of these excuses — and believed them. Why not? It doesn’t cost anything more to believe, and credulity doesn’t mean I accept the excuse, just listen to it.

The truth is that technology makes it easier for all of us — students and adults alike — to procrastinate. When I was in school (as I tell my students, in the days when the principal had to lower the drawbridge across the moat each morning so we could get inside), procrastination meant I wrote the paper the Sunday night before the Monday morning it was due, and if the knuckle-busting manual typewriter I lugged out of the closet to commit my act of literature needed a new ribbon, I was screwed. There was no 24/7 Wal-Mart. Maybe a neighbor had a typewriter, but probably not.

Today, students can pound out a paper on a word processor, run it through spell-checking software to catch 99 percent of the glitches, and dress it up with a fancy font and cover sheet, all in the time it used to take me to wrestle with a dried-up Wite-Out bottle.

If I didn’t make it to the library before closing to get resource material for a history paper, I had to resort to using mom’s old McCall’s and Good Housekeeping magazines and hope the teacher didn’t question what “Great Pie Recipes of America” had to do with the causes of the Great Depression. Or make up sources and hoped nobody noticed.

Today, kids have at their fingertips infinitely more information than is available in the New York Public Library, anytime day or night, and can download and print scads of articles — all while listening to their 18-gig, sonically perfect mp3 players.

Last-minute back then meant I did math problems on the bus and hoped the driver didn’t hit so many potholes that my numbers looked like they were written by a construction worker running a jackhammer. And if I forgot the book at school, I was lost, unless a really understanding friend would read each problem over the phone.

Today, you can log onto the publisher’s Web site to download the necessary pages, Google problems and get answers, or have a friend scan the homework and post it on MySpace.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m writing this column on a laptop while sitting at a comfy barstool in my kitchen. I can click on any word and see its definition and a list of synonyms, or jump over to the Web to look up who said there was a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. When I’m finished, I’ll push send and ship it off automatically to The Review, where nobody will retype it. If the copy editor has a question, he can e-mail me and I can revise with a few keyboard clicks.

And if some strange reason it doesn’t get there, I can always blame one of the cyber-hounds, or our real mutt, who occasionally gets a hankering to chew through a computer cord, a reminder that every dog still has its homework-eating day.

One Response to “Those masticating dogs”

  1. on 19 Nov 2008 at 1.Erica said …

    What a hoot!

    I did get to drag out this old chestnut not too long ago, when I came home to discover my dog (who had a real love of shredding anything paper) had chowed down a list a friend had hand-written, itemizing some vacation costs we had incurred so I could pay my half. I got to tell her the dog ate my vacation bill (never mind I left it on the couch so Todd was sure to find it …)

    It didn’t work, but it was fun to say.

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