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A sticky, sweet lesson

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Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 10:57 am

The world's ills could be fixed by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Let me illustrate by telling you a story from my life, long ago in the third grade, circa 1978.

At French Camp Elementary School, there were often two teachers per grade level, and students always wanted the teacher they didn't have (it's that whole grass-is-greener argument). This particular third grade class was taught by Ms. Ficovich and Mr. Frank Sheldon.

My teacher, Sheldon, stood eight feet tall, with broad plaid-encased shoulders, a curly shock of fire-brown hair atop his head, and swung forearms like chiseled granite at his sides. His obsidian-like eyes shot flames at even the bravest among us who dared question his teaching expertise. 

He roared like a lion, conq- Who am I kidding? He was just a good, fair teacher who happened to get a little loud sometimes and scare the snot out of some kids. 

And one of his lessons sticks with me 33 years later: How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The assignment was straightforward. We had to write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

There was a bit of smugness spreading across our collective faces. Mr. Sheldon should just start handing out the As right now, 'cause we were all bound to ace this simple task. Even the kid who ate paste was smiling a sticky grin at the simplicity ahead of us.

I wasn't really any more clever than anyone else in the third grade. In fact, I was fair-to-middlin' in the grade department. But I knew a trap when I smelled one. 

I thought about it. How to build a PB&J, that is. When it came time to do my homework, I absorbed myself in writing. Thinking about how to successfully make one of America's favorite snacks.

The true test came on the day the work was due.

Mr. Sheldon collected our instructions, then had us gather around a table adorned with — you guessed it — a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a loaf of white bread and a knife. 

He sat down at the table, opposite a sea of “uh-oh” faces. He proceeded to make — or tried to make — PB&Js based on our instructions.

Sandwiched between the time Mr. Sheldon began and when he finished was an amalgam of sloppy, gloppy, oozing, slapped together messes that even Dr. Frankenstein would have been appalled by.

Only myself and one other student (Shawny Cowan, I believe) had well-constructed sandwiches, earning the only two As. If memory serves, we all had to eat the outcome of our homework.

That lesson still sticks with me to this day.

How many qualified applicants could a company hire based on this one test? Tell us how to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The candidate who gives us the right instructions gets the job.

The same thing could be done for political office. No legalese. No talking points. No jargon. You give us proper instruction, you get the office. 

Imagine the sweet satisfying result for the rest of us.