Reports of Creativity’s demise have been premature. So have the AP wire accounts of The Average Adolescent’s Relative Apathy regarding all things quasi-school-related.
Exhibits A-Z are the projects that I received last week Friday in the annual Excuse Note Extravaganza.
Back about five years ago, in a flash of pure dumb luck, I struck upon the idea for this project. I take no credit for its birth; Epiphany rarely plays second fiddle to rational, purposeful thought. The idea merely fell out of the sky in the middle of yet another relatively non-memorable, impassioned rant in class about the need for more creative horsepower in the general compositional donnybrook.
The Excuse Note Project that grew out of that epiphany basically requires students to pay homage to the classic “My dog ate my homework” alibi in a much more turbo-charged fashion. Each student writes the Ultimate Excuse Note for why “Junior” doesn’t have his homework done. To amp the creative wattage, part of the grade is based on the novel canvas used for the excuse. In the mind of a frantic parent, would Mother or Father reach for a used pizza box or scribble an excuse in the margins of a newspaper?
Last year I had sheep, lambs and a horse as part of the festivities.
In addition, bonus extra credit points are given if a student decides to incorporate a degree of novelty into the delivery process. I simply tell them that it has to get to me sometime between 5:00 A.M. and 10:00 P.M.
A student eager to make the delivery.
For five years I’ve enjoyed getting pulled over by a police officer, having a barista pour my coffee into a Venti-sized excuse cup and watching the helicopter land in the middle of the school playground. (Yes, that student required the employ of a skyscraper to set the bar that high.) Just when I thought the project might be growing a tad stale, this year’s crew of 8th graders did not disappoint.
I walked out to my jeep in the pre-dawn darkness to discover a pick-up truck parked on my curb, complete with balloons, a flashing light in the dash and a parent’s note . . . written on the passenger side window. When I got to Starbucks to have coffee with a friend, I was met by one mom telling me her son had been drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, another dad handing me a Sharpie’d briefcase and asking if I’d seen his son and an 8th grade girl clad in a flame-engulfed, button-up shirt with an excuse written on the back.
This student was willing to give me the shirt off her back, literally.
When I got back home before heading to school, I discovered a 160-pound concrete block beckoning me to break it to find the excuse.
I decided to postpone the chisel work (and the hernia) until after school. My pulling into the parking lot at school commenced a distinctive clickety-clack in the air and shortly after departing my vehicle, a student channeling his Pony Express forefather atop a stallion handed me a note. (Though I live in an agricultural area, this does not happen often.) My arrival in the classroom did not stop the animal parade as one student attached the excuse to the neck of her cat-i-corn (a feline costumed as a cross between a unicorn and a pegasus).
Roxy didn’t stay in the classroom long, but her visit brought joy to everyone.
One excuse was tucked inside a box of puppies. I’m not sure there could be a cuter delivery . . . except for maybe the 18-month-old brother of an 8th grade girl who stumbled into my classroom wearing a written-on onesie.
Throughout the school day, I perused the collection of messages in a bottle, scribbled t-shirts, inked basketballs, inscribed Kleenex boxes, and scrawled cutting boards, while being intermittently interrupted by a crew of firefighters, a K-9 officer and a parent toting a bouquet of balloons.
At lunch I received an excuse from a student that was written on a fender from a large piece of farm machinery, which, though novel in itself, was amplified by the fact that the delivery came via the large custom chopper that the student drove through the school parking lot.
I just wish I could get kids to get excited about this project.
When I got home, the excuses grew in size and stature.A tow truck driver dropped off a car door sketched with a creative excuse, and then he pulled out a sledgehammer to help me avoid harm to my body and psyche by pummeling the concrete block.
(Perhaps there’s some sort of deeper meaning there about going to those lengths to read a student’s writing.) Another student propped a truck door on my front porch while yet another lad perched an excuse-laden pallet on the front walkway.
The bulk and heft of those items heralded the size of the stardom to follow. Sherlock Holmes delivered his complete works along with a black-light to be able to read his hidden message. Tinkerbell, in a shower of fairy dust, handed me a map of Neverland with Jane Darling’s personal apology on the back. Justin Bieber’s #1 fan shoved a bunch of balloons and Bieber gear into my hands, presumably beckoning me to also follow the pop star. My baptism as a Belieber has yet to be scheduled. Harry Potter directed one of his owls to my front porch, informing me of a student’s acceptance into Hogwarts. Lord Voldemort didn’t make an appearance, but I’ve no doubt that he was aware of the boy who lived’s involvement. Even the mayor of Visalia got into the act, ringing the doorbell to deliver a tube containing a tissue-paper excuse. I doubted his identity until he showed me his card; I might be waiting for a while for the invitation to ride in his convertible in the next 4th of July parade.
Finally, after a Sharpie-covered flashlight inside a tent on my front lawn, an FBI agent handcuffing a satchel to my wrist, a girl thrusting her own appendix in a jar and a nurse doling out a medical chart, the night came to an end with the Cake Boss dusting the flour off her hands and dropping off a chocolate cake, direct from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, at my house.
In contemplating the eclectic conglomeration of homework pieces that the day brought, I’m left with two main conclusions, both of which are as refreshing as new rain:
1. Though critics often decry the modern adolescent as a tech-ed out, unmotivated poster child for the Lethargy Society, quite the opposite is the case. The average middle schooler is capable of creative genius when given the right nudge in the general artistic direction.
2. The display of creative impulse is a worshipful experience, as each expression of ingenuity is merely a reverberation of the Creator’s divine artistry.
Seeing that is, indeed, incentive enough to prepare for Excuse Note Day, 2015.
And now, how to inspire such creative brilliance in the grammar world . . .