Sunday, March 18, 2007


This is a long blog, so have a cup of coffee ready.

My first fifth grade class wrote a book many years ago that I have shared with other subsequent classes, and they have helped add entries into it. The book is titled, "Dumb Questions." Anytime anyone asks or thinks of a dumb question, we write it in the book. So far we have quite a few classics:

"When was the War of 1812?"

"How many doughnuts are in a dozen?"

"How much do the $ .39 stamps cost?"

"What company makes "Campbell's Soup?"

"What color is the White House painted?"

"Who was President during the Eisenhower administration?"

I think you get the picture. My students love making them up and hearing them, and we have had quite a lot of fun with dumb questions.

My fifth grade class was recently visited by two of my ex-students who are now completely grown up and wise to the world. They are eighth graders at the middle school around the corner, and they came to my class to discuss what life was really like at middle school, and we aren't talking the bullshit questions kids will ask when an adult is around like, "Where are the drinking fountains?" or "How many times a week may you visit the library?" or "When is lunch period?" No. Not that crap. This was for real.

The first question was, "Are there knife fights at the school?"
"I've heard there are knife fights at the school. Is that true?"
"Of course not! That's ridiculous!"
"I've heard there are fights and kids get beat up."
"I've never seen one. I think you'd get in BIG trouble if you got into a fight."

This is the kind of questions kids want answered. They hear rumors. Scary rumors. Frankenstein scary. Death scary. Kids get hurt. Kids die. Guns, dope, sex, and mayhem. Destruction, and Evil lurk the halls and grab little sixth graders and gobble them up like caramels.

So these two girls are giving my kids a real, honest, truthful look at middle school life. The question and answer session is going quite well, except every now and then they either grossed out my more mature students or confused the more immature ones with some remark about melting to the ground whenever a dreamy boy walked by.

All is going well.

Then someone asked the very good question, "I have heard that you can't ask questions. Is it true you're not allowed to ask questions?"

One of the girls, Marissa, is quite an over-the-top amateur actress/ham, and she started getting a lot of laughs with her answer.

"That's some kinda stupid rumor you've heard. Of course you can ask questions. Now you can't ask dumb questions" (A giggle rose from my students.) "There's one teacher, Ms. Conkle, who can't STAND stupid questions!" (Louder giggling from my students) "Someone will ask her a stupid question like, 'Ms. Conkle, is Texas in Africa or a constant state of stupidity?'" (Guffaws from my students).

By now Marissa is the center of attention and loving it. She's animated. She's doing voices. She's on a roll, and the kids are starting to roar with laughter.

"If you ask Ms. Conkle a dumb question, she'll bug her eyes out at you and say, 'Now that's a stupid question. Stop that right now!' So as you can see, it's only dumb questions you can't ask."

I'm a fan of comedy, and I can play a pretty good straight man. I'm sitting in the back of the room, and I am thinking, "Why don't you ask her a dumb question? She can look at you and say, 'Mr. R.. that's a dumb question! Stop that right now!'" So I raise my hand and Marissa promptly calls on me.

"Yes. Mr. R. You have a question?"

"Yes, Marissa, I do. I was wondering who is buried in Grant's tomb?"

Now I never thought for one minute that she wouldn't know the answer to that question. All my students through the years have heard these questions, including Marissa, and roared with laughter at them. I became immediately concerned when Marissa lowered her head and started scratching her chin as if in thought. Then she promptly looks up at me and exclaims, "Billy the Kid!"

My fifth graders started screaming with laughter. They thought that was the funniest thing they ever heard. Marissa was obviously confused, and I saw her friend, Shannon, whisper to her, "The answer is Grant." I could see Marissa's face fall as she realized her error, and she immediately yelled out, "Okay everybody, stop! Stop laughing. Stop! I see now what I did. I remember the dumb questions and you caught me off guard. Ask me another one, Mr. R. Please! Please ask me another one!"

I immediately said, as a way of letting her save face, "What is the main ingredient in Cream of Wheat?"

Without hesitation, Marissa yells out, CREAM!"

The kids fell out of their chairs! I saw Shannon mouthing the words, "It's wheat, not cream!" I saw the look on poor Marissa's face. It was humiliation turning into anger. I went to the front of the room and told her, amidst all the jeers and cackling, "I'm sorry, Marissa, I didn't mean to embarrass you."

She replied, "I'm never coming back here again!"

I told her that I felt horrible, and please, PLEASE come back.

I am proud to say that she and Shannon did come back about a week later, and we celebrated their return with a short party. In the middle of the party I asked Marissa a question:

"Marissa, is your brother a boy or a girl?"

Marissa proudly and confidently yells out, "He's a boy! And stop it with the dumb questions!!"

The kids cheered.

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