Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

Whatever side you're on in the homework wars (more vs. less, phonics vs. "whole language"), a case can be made that study habits formed in grade school establish patterns for negotiating life as an adult. The kid whose mom builds his diorama may expect a rent-check stipend later; the girl who spends Friday night finishing her science project will likely resist the temptations of happy hour with her co-workers.

When the city's public libraries announced, last month, the launch of an all-points Web site,, for K-12 students, proponents hailed it as a critical blow to the old "dog ate my homework" excuse. Dakota Scott, a freshman at Bard High School Early College, stood before a group of teachers and librarians at the Donnell Library, on West Fifty-third Street, and demonstrated some of the site's features, performing searches on "insects" and "ancient Egypt." She did not click on a link for "live homework help," but, had the demonstration occurred between 2 P.M. and 11 P.M., the link would have connected her, via, to any of twelve hundred tutors around the country sitting on their sofas, or in cafes, and, for all we know, sipping margaritas, while dispensing advice on trigonometry or mitochondria or intransitive verbs.

Or, as it happens, love. On a recent Friday night, Yasmin, a graduate student in animation, sat on a futon in her boyfriend's studio apartment, in Brooklyn. For roughly ten dollars an hour, she had signed on to counsel students looking to get a jump on the weekend's assignments. She had her laptop open and was logged in to the server.

On her screen, a window popped up: "A student has requested your help." The student was apparently in the fourth grade and was logging on from California. A chat session began:

Student: Can you help me with wrighting?Yasmin: Sure. What is your assignment?Student: Fiction. . . .Yasmin: Ok, great. Do you know what you want to write about?Student: My frind said love hurts but I want it to be about passion.Yasmin: You want to write a love story? . . . Or should we brainstorm?

A nine-year-old writing a love story on a Friday night? Suddenly, the Internet connection failed and the session was terminated.

Sometimes, Yasmin explained, it's difficult to tell whether a student is legit. But she thought the fiction-writing kid was for real. "Teachers can get pretty creative with assignments," she said. …

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