• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Dec. 1, 2010
When I was in middle school, my science teacher had the class write a paper on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
As a peanut butter and jelly sandwich aficionado, I was delighted with the assignment. I went through a phase in
elementary school in which peanut butter and jelly were the only two substances I would allow between any two pieces of bread that were destined for my stomach. Bologna, ham, turkey, cheese – all repulsive. I needed sugar in my sandwiches. It’s amazing my teeth didn’t rot out before age 9.
So, needless to say, I thought the assignment would be an easy A for me.
• Put peanut butter on one piece of the bread.
• Put jelly on the other piece of the bread.
• Smush them together and devour.
Done. Give me my A.
The next day in class, we all gave our papers to the teacher, who picked one out at random and attempted to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using the instructions on the piece of paper. She didn’t pick my paper, but whoever wrote the one she picked shared my general line of thinking when it came to making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The teacher had in front of her a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly and a loaf of bread in a package. She proceeded to pick up the jar of peanut butter and to place it on the loaf of bread. She then picked up the jar of jelly and placed that next to the jar of peanut butter on the loaf of bread. She then attempted to smush them together. After the audible clunk of the jars hitting each other, she declared the peanut butter and jelly sandwich complete.
We got the point.
I wasn’t the only one in the class who ended up being a dunce when it came to the art of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Almost everybody failed the assignment because we all assumed that people would know how to find peanut butter, jelly and bread in their home; how to open the respective jars involved; and how to properly spread peanut butter and jelly on the bread, among other details.
I learned an important lesson that day – one I was reminded of recently when my mother had the Internet hooked up to her house for the first time after I gave her one of my old computers.
My mother is an intelligent woman, but she simply has never bought into the whole Internet thing. When I taught her how to use e-mail with her cell phone, it was like I had cured the common cold. If it were up to her, I would have been given the Nobel Prize in Doing Things Other Than Talking With A Cell Phone.
So, once she had the Internet hooked up to her house, I had to think before explaining things to her.
For instance, she wanted to look up my newspaper on the Internet.
I couldn’t just answer, “Go to Google and look up the Kane County Chronicle.”
I had to explain how to open the browser. I had to explain how to find and use the address bar to get to http://www.google.com. I then had to explain how to use the search bar. And finally, I had to explain how to scroll through the search bar results to get to a destination.
Now, just a few days later, she’s using the Internet to find and watch videos, to e-mail back and forth with her friends and to fill out surveys from her favorite restaurants (though not until I warned her thoroughly about not giving out personal information.) Soon, I’m sure she’ll be on Facebook, a terrifying thought due to her proclivity for putting embarrassing childhood pictures of my brother and I in highly visible places throughout the house.
But she never would have gotten to this point had I told her to put peanut butter on one piece of the bread, jelly on the other piece of the bread and to smush them together. (She also would have wondered what that had to do with the Internet.)
It’s something to think about before explaining something new to someone with no experience in the matter. When I was a reporter working on complicated stories, I asked sources to answer my questions like they would with someone who had never heard of the subject material before. I found that when sources really thought about how to answer a question in the simplest and most complete way possible, it helped me to relay that information back to readers.
So the next time someone asks you to explain something to them, take a second before answering and think through your response. And if the question involves peanut butter and jelly, send them my way.
• Joe Grace is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 630-845-5368.