Every American should work in food service for a few years before marrying. So many of the virtues Americans claim come from playing team sports can be acquired far more easily working the registers at Burger King. One learns tolerance and longsuffering and humility. A man cannot truly understand how rude Americans are, how ridiculous, how entitled, until he has been paid next to nothing to serve his fellow countrymen French fries and shakes. After working in food service, a man is kinder and gentler to “the least of these,” for he fears becoming the kind of moron he has had to deal with every day.
This essay is not about food service, though. It is about another sort of job every American should have to work for a few years before marrying: high school writing teacher.
For those who object, “But working food service does not require any training,” neither does being a high school writing teacher. Very few high school writing teachers are writers. Just ask them. Ask your child’s writing teacher how much he has written in the last three years. Essays? Novels? Short stories? No, but we assume that everyone with an English degree is a writer.
This essay isn’t really about what sort of qualifications a person should have to teach writing either, though. This essay is about the sort of things one hears as a writing teacher—and how hearing those things makes a man a better parent.
For instance, in the last five years, most writing teachers have had a conversation with a student’s parent that ran something like this.
Parent: My child has too much writing homework.
Teacher: How much time is your child spending on their writing homework?
Parent: My son went up to his room last night at 5:30 to start working on his writing homework and when I checked on him at 11:30, he was still going. Six hours—that’s unacceptable. No child should have six hours of homework.
Teacher: Was your son working on a laptop with internet access?
Parent: Yeah, so?
Before having children, everybody should have the opportunity to get chewed out by this parent. It’s absolutely enlightening. Similarly, it’s good for the soul to witness a fellow human being lose their mind because they asked for “no pickles” and got pickles anyway. If you know where to look, the world is full of walking, talking cautionary tales.
In recent years, I have noted that writing homework is taking students longer and longer to finish. A few years ago, I surveyed a class of sophomores who took an average of five hours to write an eight-hundred-word essay on a subject they were intimately familiar with. Their parents complained. In disbelief, I pushed the due date back.
The modern writing teacher is at a real disadvantage when it comes to assigning homework. A student who spends “two hours” at the kitchen table doing calculus homework has probably done close to two hours of actual work. However, a sophomore who does “two hours” of writing homework on a laptop while alone in their room—and only has a couple paragraphs to show for it—may have done thirty or forty minutes of real work. The rest of that time is spent dinking around on the internet. Anyone who says otherwise should go back to working food service.
My fellow parents, be wise. Do not assume the best of your children. Assume your children are normal, average, and given to the same foolishness as you and your friends at that age. Don’t send your children off to their rooms with smart phones and laptops and internet access and assume they are doing homework. That’s naïve. Before they go to do their homework, take their phones away. Cut off the internet access on their laptops. Have them work in plain sight. And when you tell the girl at the register “No pickles” and you get pickles anyway, don’t lose your mind.