Three E’s: A Teacher’s Dilemma

In the classroom one strives to maximize excellence, efficiency, and education.

 “Today I’m going to tell you about an excellent resource that will enlighten all your writing assignments and expand your vocabulary,” she beamed holding up a three-inch-thick tome. Paging to glad students jaws dropped, amazed at the forty-three options: enraptured, transported, felicitous, gleeful, congenial, ecstatic, cloudless, painless, and on and on. Grins grew as Johnny read: blessed, blissful, content, overjoyed, entranced, delight, satisfaction.

The assignment was then to find three new adjectives to describe a cake, a shoe, and a book. Let’s just say a thesaurus is not efficient, neither is learning to use a thesaurus efficient, albeit more so than learning to use a dictionary. The second hand ticked. The minute hand tocked. Language period rushed to an end. Fascinated, fourth graders stilled pored over the thesaurus. But they had concocted delectable cakes, read medieval books, and wore antiquated shoes. The teacher glowed.

A few weeks later she described another writing project. The students had exactly twenty-five minutes to be traumatized, to dramatize, or create. The minute hand ticked and the second hand tocked. Pencils clicked and erasers scratched.  Then Johnny’s hand waved. “May I use a thesaurus?”

“Absolutely.” She swallowed her chagrin. True to pattern –three descriptive sentences an hour later Johnny’s hand waved again.

When striving for efficient education, do not whisper thesaurus.

The Crisis of One Percent

“Only thirty percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give, and only six percent of those eligible give. If only one percent more would give, there wouldn’t be a blood shortage,” Richard said taping the IV to my wrist.

“If you’ve visited or lived in Europe for a combination of more than five years, the liability of Mad Cow Disease knocks you out for the rest of your life, well, until they find a test for it.” He went on evenly, “The only way to tell if someone has it is to split their skull open and test their brain.”

“You mean an autopsy,” I tried gingerly, not sure whether to gasp or laugh.

“And now they’re believing that it’s genetic, so if it’s in your family history, you’re out of luck to be a donor. Ever. Take a deep breath. Squeeze. Don’t move.” With the deftness of a pro that giant needle hit a vein, unlike the previous two times when the nurses had poked and prodded until we all wondered if that arm thrived, dry.

As the blood ran red, I pulled out McCloskey but he was trite, weighed against heavier lines coursing through my head.  Just one percent would make a difference. Three-hundred-thousand people. Where were they?  Why did I care? Then I realized that I can’t give blood anymore without thinking of my dad. He gave gallons, one life-saving pint at a time. Today he still gives, but they dump it down the drain.T

Dad has been a dutiful donor as far back as I can remember. It was not unusual to see him come home from work sporting a round red and white sticker on his shirt pocket which said something like, ‘Be kind to me, I gave blood today.’ That’s why I thought it normal to give it a try as soon as I was old enough. In God’s sovereignty, this sole habit is why he is still with us. Traveling pastors are hard to catch at home, but Red Cross called one day and true to his appointment he showed up. When the blood slid out thick as pancake syrup, nurses’ eyebrows shot up. “You need to see a doctor. Now.”

Polycythemia Vera was the verdict. A stealthy killer that you often don’t know about until it’s too late. Thankfully we live in an age of modern medicines and ancient tonics, so that Polycythemia Vera can be a condition held in check.

The pint was filled. Six minutes and fifty seconds. “Firm pressure on the swab, arm straight up for thirty seconds.” Just a pint, a mere drop in the pool of humanity. But maybe it will be the drop that gives a second chance. A drop toward the crisis. The crisis that could be staved off by just one percent.