28 November 2018

Homework can change your life, really

Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the seventh article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

What would you rather do, homework or climb a tree? Homework or read a book? Homework or watch a movie? Homework….or…..well, anything other than homework?  I think I would drop homework for most other things.  Sure, we have to do it because we don’t want to get into trouble in school. We have to do it because our parents tell us we should and they sometimes sit by our sides until we finish.  Still, we’d rather do something else, right?
This is the story of a boy who was saved by homework.  

Let’s call him Kumar.  Kumar was born in Sri Lanka. His family had fled the war when he was just five years old. So he grew up in Toronto, Canada.  This is his story.

‘People think that anyone living in any other country are well off, that they are rich and rolling in money. This is not true. We were very poor. We were so poor that we had to live in one of the worst crime-infested areas in Toronto. I grew up seeing gang warfare. Fighting was like breathing. We had to fight. That’s what we knew.  

‘I would always get into fights. It was like this…if I saw something wrong, I intervened. So that’s all I knew. I was not interested in studies. My older brother dropped out of school and I figured I would do too because I didn’t see how studying could help me. 

‘I decided one day that the next day would be my last day in school. Even on that day I got into a fight. There was blood all over my shirt. I went home, convinced that the next day would be my last school-day. There was homework to do. I never did homework but that night I thought maybe I should give it a shot since it would be the last thing I did as a schoolboy.

‘I found it surprisingly easy. The teacher was surprised. It suddenly occurred to me that schoolwork wasn’t really hard. That was what changed things — doing homework that night. I became a serious student.

‘I remember how the gym teacher made me cry one day. He had told us that he would give the entire class 75 marks. I told him that I wanted to get more than 75. He checked my grades and found that they were relatively poor. I scolded me for trying to trick him. He made me cry. Then I told him to check my previous grades. They were far worse. He then realized that I was improving at a phenomenal rate. 

‘So I finished high school and entered university. Now I am a software architect. I’ve made enough money to last a lifetime.’

Homework changed Kumar’s life. All it takes, sometimes, is to find something, anything, even half-way interesting. Then you realize that studying can be fun, school can be as much about books and notes as it is about hanging out with fiends. All of a sudden you realize that there’s so much joy in learning stuff. There’s so much to learn, isn’t there? 

Sometimes we feel we know a lot, that we know enough and wonder why we need to know about the solar system, the planetary movements and the orbit of the moon. However, when we see an eclipse, we want to know how it happens. We want to know about the tides of the sea. We wonder if there are other creatures living in other worlds. 

Maybe we are not interested in such things, but then again, maybe one day we get a little bit serious about homework and immediately it’s as though a thousands windows have been opened for us to view the universe. That’s what happened to Kumar. 


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Venus-Serena tied at love-all
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There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
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Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table