Many years ago, my best friend and I got an apartment together. I wasn't a good apartment. In fact, it looked a lot like a crack house. If you went out on the street and asked passers-by to point out the crack house, they would unhesitatingly point to our building.

This isn't to say that we actually lived in a crack house - a very nice family of Bosnian refugees lived on the first floor and the second floor was barricaded due to lead contamination. We lived on the third floor. The floor of our apartment was painted brown and the kitchen looked like something out of The Honeymooners. But it was ours and we liked it pretty well.

We had been living there a week or so, when my friend's girlfriend came to visit. She was cute and bubbly and very assertive, so she took one look at our little crack house home and got to work organizing us. Within an hour or so, the place looked more or less habitable. When she was done setting things to order, she explained to us how we should keep it clean and set up a cleaning schedule for us. Part of this was an intricate and rigorous Sponge Rotation System.

Each week, she explained, we should open a brand-new sponge to use on the dishes. When we did, we were to take the old dish sponge and use it to wipe down the counters and walls. We should then take the sponge we'd been using to do that and use it to clean the bathroom sink. The old bathroom sink-sponge should then be used to clean the tub. The old tub-sponge could then be used to wipe down the outside of the toilet and the old toilet-sponge could be thrown away - preferably with tongs held in rubber-gloved-hands.

We listened - more or less politely - then immediately ignored her Sponge Rotation System and went about our lives.

When The Girlfriend visited again, a couple of weeks later, she was a little dismayed at the chaos and dubious hygiene in the crack house, but sighed, got to work and straightened things up pretty quickly.

I'm not sure that either of us noticed.

After a few weeks of this, The Girlfriend sat us down and read us the riot act. She was pretty cheesed-off. She let us know with quavering voice and tears in her eyes that she was feeling very taken advantage of. We seemed to expect, she said, that she would come in and clean up our mess. Did we think the crack house would clean itself? Did we think the SPONGES WOULD ROTATE THEMSELVES?

We tried to explain that she was looking at things the wrong way - that we didn't particularly expect anybody to rotate sponges and that we would clean the place when we got around to it, but that we'd been pretty busy. Unfortunately, as soon as we told her that she was thinking wrong, we unleashed a flood of anger and finger-pointing that made the whole sponge thing look pretty minor in comparison.

So this year, I've got a student* that I just can't seem to motivate. He won't do work. He won't study for tests. He won't work on projects outside of school or during study-assistance periods inside school.

Meetings with him can be pretty frustrating.

"What do you think?" I find myself asking.

He shrugs.

"Do you think the Homework Fairy is going to do this work for you?"


"Do you think this deadline is going to go away if you just ignore it long enough?"


"If you get any more bad grades, you're going to start losing some of your end-of-the-year privileges. Is that what you want?"


"Seriously, dude - what's going on?"


But the truth is, I do know what the problem is - Social Studies is one big Sponge Rotation System for him. 

*Actually, twenty or thirty of them. It's been a rough year.