Back to School

Well, I survived my talk to 80 sixth-graders today. I wasn’t really afraid of the kids. Mostly I was just freaked out about being back in the sixth grade, as if walking into a middle school would somehow get me sucked back in time and I’d have to relive the whole thing all over again. Schools have that effect on me, and that’s not to say I hated school—I was a good student. It’s just that I like being a grown-up so much more than I liked being a kid. After I’ve been in a school, I always take new and unexpected pleasure in such mundane adult privileges as being able to drive, or eating whatever I want for lunch.

(I could not resist taking a picture of the sign—it’s a little Spinal Tap, isn’t it? Remember the scene where they show up for a gig and it turns out to be a puppet show?)

Anyway, they were a surprisingly orderly group, I thought, and much more knowledgeable about worms than I’d expected. One kid knew that they had tiny bristles—setae—that help them anchor their bodies in the soil, one knew that worms are both male and female, and, because there was a little confusion about the difference between a worm and a snake, I asked them to explain the differences and it turns out they knew quite a bit about snakes, too.

It was mostly boys who spoke up at first. I guess some things never change. But once I asked why the girls didn’t know anything about worms, they all started to raise their hands and I ignored the boys and called on them. One little blonde girl said that worms were disgusting and she didn’t want anything to do with them. But when I got them out—I’d brought one nightcrawler and four red wigglers—and asked for volunteers to hold them, she actually came up to me and put her hand out. In fact, by the time the worms had made their way around the library and it was time to return them to me, they were all in the hands of girls.

One kid asked if he could have a worm. It’s so funny, the way kids think that adults will just give them stuff. I told him, “No way, get your own worm!” He offered to buy one from me and I said, “All right, how much money have you got?” He backed down from the negotiations at that point. He must have realized that I was serious about taking his lunch money in exchange for something I dug out of the dirt in my backyard.