Helping hands for the schools

Kevin Cowherd

September 17, 1990|By Kevin Cowherd

IF THE educational system in this country is indeed going to hell in a handbasket, part of the blame can be placed on digital clocks.

This occurred to me the other day when an eager but obviously dense kid of about 8 was helping me carry plants out of a nursery.

When we reached my car, he fumbled for a moment with the trunk latch.

"Turn it clockwise," I said.

The kid looked at me as if I had suddenly lapsed into Swahili.

"Clockwise," I repeated. "You know, the direction a clock moves."

Boy, I thought, this kid is going to have his hands full in school. He can't even figure out which way Mickey's hands move, never mind the atomic weight of magnesium.

Anyway, the kid was still having problems with the latch and since it was about 135 degrees out, I (politely) told him to take a hike and opened the trunk myself.

Then it came to me: No wonder the kid couldn't open the latch. He probably didn't know what clockwise meant.

All he ever sees are digital clocks and watches. So the hands of a clock are probably as foreign to him as chopsticks.

I probably had a better shot at getting the kid to name the secretary of the interior than I did at getting him to turn the latch in a clockwise direction.

Anyway, I'd like to tell you that I called the kid back, gently explained the direction in which a clock's hands travel, and pressed a buck into his hand before patting him on the head.

But all I did was gun the car out of the parking lot, spraying gravel everywhere as I fishtailed down the road.

I'm sorry, but any place that charges $20 for forsythia bushes (scrawny ones at that) deserves to have customers peeling out like Starsky and Hutch.

L Having a dumb kid as a helper is not exactly a plus, either.

The point is, if the concept of clockwise is being lost on the present generation of kids, we are all in big trouble.

For one thing, without using the term clockwise, how will newspapers identify people in those group photos of Miss America contestants, bowling teams, mobsters, etc., they're so fond of running?

The photo captions would have to read something like: "The man in the lower left corner is Anthony (Tony Nose) DeMario. To his right (that is, your left) is Sonny (the Squid) Franconi. To his left (over Franconi's left shoulder and slightly to the rear) is Michael (Meatballs) Napolitano. To his left and a little in front of him (on, say, a 30-degree angle from his left arm) is Thomas (Tommy Eggplant) Rosello.

"All were arrested on federal gambling and narcotics charges yesterday despite describing themselves as 'self-employed plumbing contractors.'"

All I can say is, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of calls from mobsters start pouring in. Those mobsters hate to be misidentified, and if readers start confusing Tommy Eggplant with Sonny the Squid after it was Tommy Eggplant who dropped that stiff in the river (conveniently weighed down with a pair of 40-gallon drums around his neck), someone on the newspaper is going to hear about it. It's bad for business.

Here is another problem I foresee if the concept of clockwise is eliminated.

When I was in high school, our drivers ed teacher, Mr. Sudyck, would tell each student who got behind the steering wheel: "Hands in the 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions, please."

God, he was a pain in the neck, old man Sudyck.

Two hands on the wheel, check your rearview mirror, don't hit that bus, watch out for that dump truck . . . that's all I heard for months with that guy. He was so picky.

Apparently, though, you couldn't be quite as succinct today in drivers ed class.

To get a kid's hands properly positioned on the wheel, you'd have to say something like: "OK, Joe, take your left hand (the one you DON'T use for the Pledge of Allegiance) and put it, uh, in the middle of the left-hand side of the wheel, only a little higher. Here, let me show you. OK, now take your other hand -- yes, the Pledge of Allegiance hand -- and put it in roughly the same position on the other side of the steering wheel.

"What's that? Sure, we can go over it again."

Anyway, you see what I'm getting at here. If today's kids can't figure out where the 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions are, teachers such as old man Sudyck would be rendered virtually incommunicado.

Which is not, I'll grant you, such a bad thing.

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