Monday, June 13, 2016

"Stupid Essays" as a Creative Punishment

A few examples of what I always referred to as “stupid essays” in my class will have to do. (I have more I could offer, but you can read more in my book.) Angie got in trouble one day for some minor infraction. So I told her to write 150 words on this subject: “I Collect Belly Button Lint for a Hobby.” 

Angie didn’t stop at 150 words. She was a collector in the truest sense and her essay filled five pages! She had lint from actors, from every president in the last twenty years, and dreamed of finding the Holy Grail of belly button lint—from the button of Elvis Presley (assuming Elvis was still alive). 

In most cases, the punishment topic fit the “crime.” One day, Rob came flying through my door, with best friend in hot pursuit. Before I could tell them to slow down, Rob tripped on his feet and somersaulted across the front of the room. (My desk was in the rear.)

He dusted himself off without injury, but I made both young men write about their lives as “The Human Cannonball.” 

Wendy R. (a straight-A student) had to write after laughing too often and disturbing my class. I forget the exact title but remember she pinpointed her friend Wendy M. (also a straight-A student) and all her friend’s own laughter as the fount of her difficulties in my class. “At times,” Wendy R. protested, “Wendy’s nostrils will go in and out as if they were controlled by a motor.”

So how could she not laugh?

I loved the creativity represented by that kind of line and used all kinds of stupid essays for more than thirty years.

Max was another student who talked a little bit too much to friends during class. So I had him write about having a giant tongue. In his essay he called Landen, the friend who lured him into sin, to inform him of his tragic condition. The essay followed the conventions of a popular Budweiser beer advertisement of that time.

Here’s part of the essay he turned in:

“Hello.” [Landen answers.]


“Hey, man. I would finish the lines in the commercial but I just gotta ask. What’s wrong with your voice?”

“Miy tung.”


“Miy tung iz big,” I said angrily.

“Oh, I see.

“Wat sod I du?”

“Gee, got me.”

“Tanks, yor no hep.” Then I hung up…..

One last example of how stupid essays worked probably deserves special mention.One day a young man got in trouble for talking during detention. I told him to write “My Life as a Cucumber.” 

The story he turned in the following day began: “I started out the first part of my life in a little cold plastic bag. The bag sat on a shelf in the store, for a long time before some one decided to buy the bag of seeds.”

This essay is not particularly funny, but carried the name of the author, Brian ------. 

Only Brian’s handwriting seemed surprisingly good. Normally, his writing was an atrocious scrawl. 

I still have my notes describing what transpired next: 

“Caught Brian ------ lying today because his mother wrote his punishment essay. When I asked him about it Brian said:

1) He wrote it and she corrected it.

2) No, she wrote part of it.

3) Okay; she wrote it all.”

I had to call Mrs. ------ that evening and she offered lame defense: “I don’t see anything wrong with a mother helping a child.” 

“Nor do I,” I responded. “But you weren’t helping. You did the entire essay for him and let him off his punishment.” 

I told her Brian would have to write a different essay entirely; but if it had been in my power I would have given her a topic all her own to complete: “What Happens to a Boy when Mom is an Enabler?”

That would have been fun to read.

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