The assignment looked straightforward, almost a give-away: Read the photocopied article – “Hooray for Weeds!” – and write a three- or four-sentence summary. The two fifth-grade boys were baffled and bored. They make no distinctions among summary, paraphrase, “creative” writing and plagiarism. The article ran about five-hundred words, the average length of these blog posts, and started like this: “Weeds are the uninvited guests of the plant world.” Clichéd, yes, and strictly speaking not quite accurate, but more interesting than the usual writing-fodder the curriculum de jour inflicts on grade-school kids. And, for once, no green or multicultural pleading, just watered-down botany. I suggested they read the article – moans – with a high-lighter in hand – more moans – and mark “the main idea and relevant details,” as the rubric instructed.
“Who cares about words?” one kid moaned. “I mean weeds.”
No, I think he spoke honestly the first time – and the second. Words are to these kids as weeds are to suburban lawn fetishists -- objects of irritation deserving to be pulled and discarded. Words are weeds – and I tend to agree. But then, I like weeds. My favorite flower is the dandelion, as it was Chesterton’s. I would pay a dollar to see a live, blooming chicory plant on my desk. A weed is a plant judged to be growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Words are weeds, and so are some writers, Thoreau among them. In his journal for Sept. 1, 1850, he writes:
“Roman wormweed, pigweed, amaranth, polygonum, and one or two other coarse kinds of grass reign now in the cultivated fields.”
“Though the potatoes have man with all his implements on their side, these rowdy and rampant weeds completely bury them, between the last hoeing and the digging. The potatoes hardly succeed with the utmost care: the weeds only ask to be let alone a little while. I judge that they have not got the rot. I sympathize with all this luxuriant growth of weeds. Such is the year. The weeds grow as if in sport and frolic.”