Putting tedious schoolwork into a larger perspective

Pim Otero

Bzzt. Another mosquito adhered to my skin, preparing to give me yet another wonderful product of its nature: a big, red, itchy bug bite. I think that might have been my 20th bite that week.

Even though I had been in Thailand for three weeks and had visited every year to see my family, the oozing heat of the summer sun around me and the bug bites managed to distract me from tutoring English to the 19-year-old in front of me. His name was Eannie, and he just started the 10th grade.

We were drawing our letters in the dirt, learning slang words such as “wanna” and the difference between noodles and pasta. I’m not sure he really understood the hodgepodge of English that was my lesson, but he seemed happy just to have me there nonetheless. Apparently it wasn’t every day he could try to talk with a kid his age in English, and for now, that was all he wanted.

At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t want to study from a textbook so he could get a head start reviewing for his next test — but the thought quickly disappeared as the next question and mosquito hit me simultaneously.

Snapping back to October, the piles of textbooks and cascading sea of worksheets begin to turn from the cause of my stress-induced gray hairs to a blessing in disguise.

Despite the repetitiveness and seeming pointlessness of these assignments, I marveled at the new perspective they, along with my “vision,” had taught me: it isn’t the prospective grade boost or the ultimate fluidity of this column that would really give me success in life, but these assignments still had a purpose. It was the process of actually learning this knowledge, rather than cramming it for a grade, of being in an environment that will allow me to make an attempt and help me if I fall. Of being provided an outlet from where I am able to voice my ideas and be critiqued with (almost) solely the intention of making these ideas better, even when my ideas are torn apart.

Although failure is never fun, it’s these moments that tell us where our curiosity and vivacity have waned, and where we may find our biggest challenges. The boundless pop quizzes and gargantuan papers are here to encourage our curiosity, to teach us to ask questions and search for answers, to think quickly with wit and logic.

The grades we get, while being sent to colleges and universities, are only a representation of what we had gained according to the curriculum. And although grades are important, the true growth of our intellect and determination, in and outside the classroom, is measured both by how well we learn and what we decide to do with our new knowledge. Our success cannot only be defined by a perfect “A” on a history test or memorizing a textbook. Success is embodied by an eagerness to investigate and to test new ideas.

This is the connector between our looming destinies in college and all those seemingly pointless worksheets scribbled on at midnight. These worksheets are trying to teach us how to inspect literary texts and how to develop our own ideas, to form opinions unique to every one of us that will one day help shape our world (when we no longer have our homework to help guide us). And despite how simple these assignments may be, we must learn to walk before we can run.

So, take time to savor the curiosity each of us has buried somewhere deep in our core, and how our school is, really, almost perfectly responding to it. Then maybe the task of starting huge papers or completing homework may not be so daunting anymore.