Jim looked at me, patted Mick approvingly on the head, and stopped complaining about winter. “Who would plant plastic flowers?”
“A lazy gardener, maybe.” I thought how much easier they were than what we did in the garden: no weeding, no aphids crawling in and out of the blossoms, no rust caused by too much water, no deadheading, and color year around. What a deal.
“Yep,” I repeated, “a lazy gardener.”
When I talked to Cali not long after that, I listened to her complain in a tone that reminded me of Jim complaining about winter. “Grandma, I have another five paragraph essay due tomorrow.”
And then that image hit me: those fake red, purple, and pink flowers, those little plastic things with fake leaves jetting up and down the stems. Those phony things parading as flowers. How different were those fake flowers from those phony things marching around in schools parading themselves as essays. Just plop in a thesis at the end of the first paragraph. It could sound like this: There are three reasons that everyone should have a garden. And then figure out a topic sentence. It could go something like this: The first reason is that everyone likes a garden. Next step: easy. Give two or three examples. No problem. Easy, peasy. Reason one, color; reason two, pretty, reason three: nice. And then do it again, two more times. Easy, measy, peasy. Just count the paragraphs, add up those sentences, and put a period at the end of each sentence.
Yep, fake flowers. No wrestling with ideas, no struggle with purpose or audience, no pulling hairs over organization. Just five simple paragraphs and call her good. There’s an essay for you.
Oh, yeah, I can hear granddaughter’s teacher say: They have to learn the basics and then they can move beyond the formula. That’s like me telling the lazy gardener that he had mastered the structure of his artificial garden and now he could forget the plastic and move on to the real thing.
What exactly what are those basics that they have to figure out? A write by numbers? A collection of sentences and words without the basics of thought? A simple recipe that requires little decision making on the writer’s part?
Oh, if it were so easy then I’d tell Rick Reilly, Annie La Mott, and even Penny Kittle to set down their pencils or close down their computers. No more thinking needed. Just fill in the blanks and send ‘er off.
Next time we walk by that garden with plastic flowers Mick may not be the only one who lifts his leg.