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"Welcome to the first day of school, class! Before we start anything of real value, I have a little activity for us!" "Oh, there's the bell. See you tomorrow."

That's a typical first day of school in many classrooms, from kindergarten all the way up to a senior year in college. No, the first day of school is never much like a regular school day. It's filled with such things as seeing friends you haven't seen since school adjourned last year, trying to find all your classrooms, and activities by teachers trying to "break-the-ice" in class in some repulsively silly way.

Here are a few examples to refresh your memory of the things you may have participated in just a few weeks ago.

* "The Obvious Game." Here's a fun one. Go around the room finding people who meet specific conditions on a sheet. Find someone who... "Has red hair." "Has a pet cat." "Owns a Dodge Plymouth." "Hates to be bothered with stupid activities." "Likes to spend time doing good, and is not afraid to admit it, even if they'll be teased for the rest of the year." "A person in the room who really doesn't want to talk to you, you don't really want to talk with them, and you're only making eye contact because you have to fill in a bunch of spaces on this sheet."

The problem with this game is that everyone will just treat this piece of paper like a yearbook. "Here, find a page to sign on, whomever you may be." Are you learning people's names? Not unless you have the guts to actually speak up to that upper classmen who looks like he's been in a few too many fights with kids your age.

* "The Nickname Game." This is where you find something about a person that will help you remember his or her name, or just some "cute" word that either rhymes with, or begins with the first letter of, that person's first name. For example, a kid named "Boris" would have the honor of being remembered by his classmates as, "Bee-bites-make-him-get-welts Boris," "Ford Taurus Boris," or "Backgammon Boris." The poor kid with the name of "Dirk" will... well... you figure that out.

* "The Fun Fun Game." A large number of activities can be classified under this heading, as all of them share one unique characteristic; they all can be performed by a trained monkey. An example of one of these exercises would be a game we played in middle school. It involved running around the room (once the desks were moved out of the way, of course) , carrying a clothespin and trying to snap the clothespin on someone else. It didn't matter where you snapped it. Skin, ear, hair, just as long as you snapped it on someplace. I believe when we were done, our teacher explained that it was meant to symbolize something. This was only two years ago, and I've already forgotten whatever it was.

A big question that comes to mind after seeing all these "cute" activities: who thinks these up? And do the people who think these up actually think they're useful? One such activity I heard of recently involved the instructor asking everyone in the class, "If you could be any vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be?" Now, if it was a kindergarten class, this "fun fun game" would have been forgivable. However, it was a class for a college credit. This must be where the money they make on $10 notebooks goes...

What baffles me is who thought this up. Some corporation (picture, oh, say, Microsoft) must be paying some person (picture, uh... Pauly Shore) to sit around and think up activities that will be "enjoyable" to all involved. However, in this Pauly Shore's warped mind, the word "enjoyable" is synonymous with the word "punishment" and "idiotic." Just take a look at his film credits.

When this Pauly Shore is thinking up these things, he must just be constantly stumped for ideas, so he must just look at things around him and put "what if you were a" before the object. "What if you were a...window? What would you find productive in that?" Now you have a question that will no doubt be on the interview question sheet of half of the employers in Bismarck.

If there was a way I could help students deal with these kinds of cute things, I would. However, I can't. I can only try to make it more obvious to the teachers that things like this are... well... silly, for lack of a better word (as I stare at my thesaurus sitting beside me) . We kids will get along somehow. I don't think we need an instructor directing us when to clothespin our best friend.

Questions? Thoughts? Concerns? Dinner and a movie? Contact us.
Karl Becker, the author of all these articles, uses New Tricks for his writings.

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