Overheard: how not to help with homework

The thing about living in New York, right, is that we all hear each others’ secrets. It’s one of the chief pleasures of living here, isn’t it? (Admit it!)  Listening to the conversation at the next table, or between the couple walking down the street, or the more mundane joy of peeking into someone’s window as you stroll to get the newspaper.  Given that we’re all on top of each other most of the time, it’s a wonder that any of us actually has any secrets.  But of course, then there are those days where we see or hear things that make us uncomfortable, make us wonder if everything is okay in that life over there.

Scene: Hamilton Fish Library, after school, Monday.

A boy, maybe in 3rd grade, and an older man, probably his father. A worksheet in front of the boy has a few penciled markings on it, and a paperback copy of The Enormous Egg sits next to the boy’s elbow.

Man: Just write. You know the answers.

Boy, head down: I do not. I need a kleenex. Help me.

Man: I tried and you made faces and so now you just have to do it. It’s not my homework.

Boy is silent.

Man: Wipe that look off your face or I’ll smack it off you.

Boy, snuffling: I need a kleenex.

Man: You need this, you need that, what you need is to do your work. Just shut up.

Boy is silent, head down.

Man: Pick up the pencil and start.

The pencil stays on the table. The boy’s head stays down.

Man: Stop it. Just stop it. Don’t make me smack you. Answer the question. You’re supposed to say how your character changes during the story.

Boy: I don’t know.

Man: You’re the one who read it. Did you read it?

Boy: Yes. But I don’t understand.

Man: It’s easy. The answer is in the book. Don’t be stupid. Just write it down. Stop whining or I’ll smack you.

Boy puts his head back on the table, snuffles.

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2 Responses to Overheard: how not to help with homework

  1. KSB March 9, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    Oh my goodness, that is so scary and sad….if he is willing to talk about smacking his child so openly in public like that, I shudder to think what he might do in the privacy of his home.

    And, what will happen to this boy? Growing up like this, what will he learn about violence, power relationships, communication, and problem solving? So sad…..

    Lastly, what should we do? When we live in urban environments that bring us into close contact–and I think New York has long lost even E.B.White’s 18 inches of privacy–we are forced into situations where we overhear such things but have no contextual information about the people involved to inform us, so, how do we decide what to do? Do we pretend not to hear? Do we intervene–and if so, how and when? How and where do we draw the line between respecting other people’s choices and fulfilling a larger responsibility to humanity?

  2. HCW March 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    and to top it off: today mathilda and I enjoying the grassy patch outside the mall (okay, no comment here, please), “gardening.” When a mother and probably 5 year old daughter came outside, clearly from Build a Bear, shouting as she opens a bag of popcorn, “as soon as I see that sh..t in my car, I swear I will leave you on the curbside.” Then continues is Spanish a bit more. Back to English: I spent all this money on you, and you are so ungrateful, you didn’t even say thank you. Grateful for what exactly?? Public humiliation?

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