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Oreos and the Folly of Sarcasm

1. Do You Remember

Kevin is always the first person into the classroom. He waits outside until every single student from the previous period has left and then comes in, announcing his arrival with a loud, “Mr. Hasan!”

One day, when he got to his desk, he said it again, this time as a question, “Mr. Hasan?”

“Yes…?”

“Mr. Hasan, do you remember yesterday you told me and Nolan that we could make a stack of Oreo cookies?”

I shook my head and squinted, as in… Wait. What?

“No,” I said. “I don’t remember.”

I had no recollection whatsoever of any discussion of Oreos.

2. Giving In

It was a slow day. I build these days into our schedule in case we run into trouble and need to go back over something that just isn’t sinking in.

The kids would be practicing whatever it was we had been doing the day before, and I figured there was no harm in letting Kevin and Nolan do whatever they planned with their Oreos. After all, I let them eat in the room normally (with some rules applied for not making a mess).

They explained their project to deconstruct Oreo cookies and reassemble them into “tall” cookies with multiple white frosting patties between two chocolate cookies on either end.

“Fine. But no mess. … And you still need to finish the practice problems.”

“No mess,” they promised.

Nolan had come in by now, and between the two of them, they had three or four packages of Oreos.

It was disgusting, what they did that day as the other kids worked on the math. The two of them assembled Oreos towers with many inches of white frosting in between two chocolate cookies. Even the other students were visibly repulsed. 

I turned the other way, since they seemed to be keeping their desks clean and I had grades to enter. 

Let’s just say it was a down day.

3. Scraps of Black Rubber

The following morning, I was walking around the room straightening the desks and picking up the random flotsam and jetsam that accumulates on the floor of even our math department classrooms (which have a reputation for being clean).

There were some scraps of black rubber on the floor near my boxes of paper and plastic recycling. They caught my attention, because I’d never seen that particular kind of jetsam on the floor before, and I was curious what device had disintegrated and been abandoned.

I picked up the scraps and realized that they were in fact fragments of chocolate Oreo wafers.

Later that day, I told the kids in that period about the black rubber scraps I had found. I looked at Kevin and Nolan, lowering my face and squinting at them.

“What?” Kevin said in sincere innocence. “We cleaned up everything.”

I faux-rolled my eyes.

“To be honest, I don’t know what I said originally that made you I approved of your project. It must have been a moment of unguarded sarcasm.”

And I told the kids a story about teacher sarcasm gone wrong — about the perils of saying “Ok, sure” sarcastically to some obviously crazy student proposal.

4. Sure. Go Ahead

I told them about a time in eighth grade when we were on a retreat at George Williams Camp and all the seventh and eighth graders somehow got the crazy notion of running around Lake Geneva.

I explained how in Wisconsin all lakes and rivers (including shorelines) belong to the public, and that somehow we students knew this (and that the walking path down by the water would therefore go all the way around the lake). I explained that we had begun running on that sunny day down to the shore joking about going all the way around. 

“Let’s run around the lake!” one of us said.

“Oh sure. Go ahead,” one of the teachers said in mock sarcasm.

And with that, I explained to my students, this mass of middle school kids dashed down the grassy hill.

We ran and we ran, dozens of us. And we ran some more, a few dropping back in ones and twos. And we ran, the mass continuing to dwindle. And we kept running, until there were only three of us left.

The kids in my room chuckled at the imagery of these dozens of students gradually dwindling down to three.

So eventually it was just the three of us, and we kept on running. And since this was Wisconsin, the path kept going. So we ran. And we ran. And we ran for a very long time. And when we stopped running, we walked fast. And then we walked not so fast.

Now, I told my students, we hadn’t had breakfast. And we had run and walked for so long, that it was now lunchtime, and we had nothing to eat. We were hungry, and by the time we realized the folly of our project, we figured we were halfway around the lake.

“We were halfway,” I said. “So we just kept going.”

“Right,” one of my kids said. “You might as well.”

Then I told my kids that perimeter of Lake Geneva… (See how I squeezed some math in, there?) …is 30 miles. Their eyes widened.

I told them how we just kept going. And the path kept going. (I didn’t tell them about how even to middle school kids, it struck us as unjust that the Wrigley mansion is somehow except from Wisconsin’s constitutional provisions of riparian access.) I explained how the day got old. And we got very hungry. I told them how dusk was settling as we finally came around on that same path from the other direction… ten hours later.

“So,” I said, looking now at Kevin and Nolan. “I’m not quite sure what I said originally about your Oreo project that made you think I approved. And no harm done. But I need to remember the folly of a teacher sarcastically saying Sure. Go ahead!

I smiled and turned to my projected notes. 

“So here’s what we’re going to do today…”