Advertisements ad

The Family Room by Michelle Martin

May 24, 2009

Research madness

The school year is coming to an end, and that means one thing: It’s time for research papers.

Trips to the library are no longer for aimless browsing, looking for books to read for pleasure. Now they are for work, looking for solid information about whatever the topic of the day is.

Caroline is getting to be an old hand at putting together a research paper, and she treats them with the confidence that comes from being told she’s a good writer over and over again: she knows that she can write her way out of many difficulties.

But the journalist reporter in me wants to remind her that the difficulties go away with good reporting — er, research.

For Frank, it’s a little more challenging. In second grade, the idea of going through several written sources for facts, taking notes, organizing them and turning it all into an original work is just a little bit daunting. But his teacher provided step-by-step instructions, including makeyour- own notecards created by writing each nugget on a new line, then cutting them out and rearranging them into groups of related facts. It worked like a charm, except his hand got tired from all the cutting.

Fortunately, he chose hockey great Bobby Orr as his topic, so it’s someone he doesn’t mind spending a lot of time with.

Caroline’s topic is world’s fairs, which has been a bit more challenging, since most of the books the Chicago Public Library has is on the two that were held in Chicago.

Of all the homework the kids have, these are the hardest projects for me to pull back on and let them do it themselves. After all, what they are doing is very similar to a reporter’s work: find out about something and write about it.

But, I have to remind myself, it’s not my homework. No one is interested in what I can glean from a book or a magazine or anything else. Never mind that my way of solving the problem would be to figure out who knows about this stuff and try to get them on the phone.

Instead, I stand ready to listen when they bounce ideas off me, make suggestions only when asked — and, I admit, do a little scissor work when Frank gets tired. I’ll even proofread if asked.

But I expect I will also be surprised by what they find out (Bobby Orr’s contract included $10 a week spending money, according to Frank), and impressed at how they put their papers together.

It’s another step in watching both of them grow up, and it’s another lesson in humility for me. I don’t have all the answers, and they might as well know that now.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].