The Back to School Blues

By Bill Henk – Be honest.  Now that it’s September and school has started up again, I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself the following question:

Where did the summer go?”

I sure have.  In fact, when people ask me about my summer, my stock response has been  “What summer?”  

In reality, my summer amounted to my regular duties as dean, plus lots of work on our Cristo Rey high school feasibility study, participating in Milwaukee Succeeds,  chauffeuring my daughter to  her YMCA summer camps, spending countless hours watering a sizeable landscaping project because of the ridiculous drought, actually getting in shape, preparing for my niece’s wedding, doing some home projects, weekly blogging, and even being a local spokesperson for Reading Is Fundamental.

And so you know, it’s that last role that inspired this post.  My duties included doing a few media stints including one on Fox 6 News (WITI).  The final question I was asked in the interview caught me by surprise.  My answer even surprised me.  As I’ve thought about it more, though, it’s the answer I’d give again.

The question was simply, “What’s your favorite children’s book?”  Under the pressure of live television, what popped into my mind and out of my mouth was “I like  Shel Silverstein books.”  

Those of you who know this multi-talented, creative artist’s work realize that his poetry for children is genuinely special.  As an elementary school reading specialist, I used it frequently, and the kids loved the rhythm, the rhyme, and most of all, the humor.  I still treasure poetry  books like “Where the Sidewalk Ends, “Light in the Attic,” and Every Thing On It,” as well as others like “The Giving Tree” and “The Missing Piece.”  I enjoy reading them to my own daughter as much as she likes hearing them.

So, in honor of the back to school theme and as a treat for you, I’m going to share with you today one of Shel’s poems, a personal favorite of mine.  It’s called “Sick.”

Clearly the reason it amuses me so much is that it’s eerily reminiscent of the way I used to interact with my mother each of the many mornings I did NOT want to go to school.  As I wrote in one of my earliest posts entitled “My Hate Affair with School,” I had mastered the fine art of pretending to be deathly ill (or at least too sick to go to school).  My approach made use of a complex algorithm I had discerned for getting myself kept home:  the level of ailing must be directly proportional to the amount of convincing my mother would appear to need on any given day.

So, if you think that summer has gone by much too quickly, and you wish you could bag your educational commitments at any level — elementary, middle, senior high, or college — have I got a poem for you?!   Whether you’re a student, a teacher, a principal, a superintendent — you name  it — this little gem just might ring your school bell.  Enjoy

Sick
By Shel Silverstein

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay,
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash, and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more—that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut, my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in, My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb,
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is—Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

1 Response to “The Back to School Blues”


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