CHRIS SCHILLIG: Adrift in a world of dog-ate-my-homework dawdlers

Alliance Review Published:

If this week were a baseball game, we could call it Obamacare: Extra Innings.

Anybody who works with the public knew that officials would have to extend the March 31 deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. This has nothing to do with politics, mismanagement, sluggish websites or other controversies stemming from the troubled law. It has everything to do with human nature.

Put simply: We are a species of procrastinators.

Procrastination is why flash mobs descend on libraries and post offices on April 15 for income tax forms, even though they've had three and a half months to complete their returns. These aren't people who are racing to mail their taxes, perhaps holding out on a payment to Uncle Sam until the last minute. No, these are poor souls who are only now starting the process, which includes gathering W-2s, bank statements, and all other documentation ahead of a long, sleepless night of crunching numbers and downing Excedrin and Jim Beam in equal quantities.

As a teacher, I know all about procrastination. No matter how long the lead time on an assignment, a good percentage of students will wait too long to start it, with many getting under way the night before or even the morning it's due.

It doesn't matter if homework has a three-month or three-hour lead time. Regardless, the majority of students will wait until the proverbial 11th hour to begin. Then when the deadline is compounded -- as it inevitably is -- by printer and Internet glitches, illness, or an overwhelming desire to watch every televised moment of March Madness, it's time to break out the litany of lies.

Pinkeye, car troubles, golfball-sized hail, runaway pets, unexpected weddings and surprise tickets to see a Guns N' Roses concert are all excuses that have been floated by procrastinating students, often with trembling voices and the glimmer of impending tears in their eyes.

I had an adult student several years ago who I would swear lost the same great-grandmother three times during one semester. It was the most amazing thing: She always succumbed the night before a major paper was due -- once to cancer, once to a heart attack, and once to a bizarre four-wheeling accident.

OK, I made up that last demise while I was daydreaming during the student's lengthy description of yet another slobbery, bedside farewell straight out of "Brian's Song." If I taught a fiction class, I would have failed him for the preponderance of cliches alone. Since I teach a class in nonfiction composition, however, I gave him one more day and one more chance. I'm pretty sure he was still writing the paper -- which, it almost goes without saying, was horrible -- as I walked through the door and greeted him at the start of the next class, five days later.

Such is the power of procrastination.

So, yes, many Americans are going to wait as long as humanly possible to visit healthcare.gov and sign up. A click of a button gets them an extension with no excuse needed, so the Obama administration won't have to hear 6 million variations on the dog-ate-my-homework story, one of the few smart moves they've made during this troubled rollout.

For those who really procrastinate, an extension of the extension exists, but only if they phone a federally sponsored call center and select from a narrow list of excuses. On the approved list are new baby, divorce, loss of job with health insurance and technical glitches. The Washington Post says that these excuses are approved through "self-attestation," which means that the government assumes all callers are telling the truth. That's a big assumption, but why not?

After all, it's the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, and Uninsured American Procrastinators are down by three. Let's hope the guy with the continually dying and miraculously reviving great-grandmother isn't up to bat.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalist. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or @cschillig on Twitter.

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