Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Observations in Fourth Grade Math

I've been volunteering in Josh's fourth grade math class for a couple of weeks.

I've noticed that the kids are no longer affectionate, the way they were in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.  (I didn't volunteer last year, so I don't know if this change occurred during third grade or over last summer.)

Even the neediest one, who has known me since kindergarten, passes by without a word or so much as a glance.

If I happen to catch a kid's eye, (because I recognize them and I generally acknowledge people I know), they look away as quickly as possible, as though recognizing me had been a potentially compromising mistake.  (I am still redolent in fourth grade unpopularity.)

There is one kid who passes me in the halls and says hello.  He's handsome and popular, and he can do whatever he wants.

When our kids are very young, they don't understand what we're talking about, so we say whatever we want.  Later, we continue to say whatever we want, and our kids do understand us, but we pretend that they don't, or that they're hearing isn't as acute as our own--an example of gross self-deception, when you're over 40 and your kid's tiny inner-ear hairs are as thick as grass and he's never accidentally punctured his eardrum with a Q-Tip, as adults of my generation do, on a regular basis.

Joshua regards Q-Tip usage as similar to smoking cigarettes.  You're not supposed to do it, it's not good for you; it's a bad example for your children, Josh is quick to point out; and, most of all, it is morally suspect.

So, it has come to this: I enjoy cleaning my ears with a Q-Tip when I am sure that I am absolutely alone--and much less frequently than I used to.  (But it just gets better!)

Given how we adults pretend that our kids are deaf and dumb, or simply not there, (so we can have an interesting conversation from time to time,) it shouldn't come as a surprise when they ape the same behavior among their own friends, with regard to us.

I don't remember from fourth grade that adults suddenly became so ridiculous that you simply couldn't afford to be seen associating with them.

What I remember from fourth grade is my teacher, Miss Teaman, telling us about growing up during the Great Depression, when she would eat an apple with a reverence unknown to fourth graders in my classroom, consuming every last bit except the seeds and stem.  She'd take on a childish voice, refer to herself as "little Molly," wrap her arms around her shapeless middle, and rock herself as she described eating the apple.

It must have been some apple.

I have always been completely oblivious to politics, except when I have run afoul of them.  I don't think anyone played with me at recess until sixth grade, when Wendy Matthews moved back to town and became exceptionally popular.  She strapped me to her star and away we zoomed, into an exciting world of birthday parties and sleep-overs.  It was great!  I've been trying to tether myself to popular people ever since.

Josh's math teacher, a paragon of virtue in stylish clothes, usually gives me the kids' math worksheet with the correct answers written in, which is not quite as condescending as it sounds.  

You have two graphs: You have to interpret them and draw a conclusion.

The teacher had written, "The answer varies."

What kid in third grade uses the word "varies"?  What kind of trick question is that?  What does that even mean?  "The answer varies."  I had no idea.

Just as I was getting really annoyed about this meaningless answer, a kid asked me about that precise question.

Oh, God!, I thought.  I don't even understand the answer!  

The answer varies, I said.

Oh!, the kid said.  So there can be different answers?

YES!, that's right!  There can be different answers!  That made perfect sense!

Tell me, young Skywalker, what conclusion would you draw?  

The kids fare better when I don't have my cheat sheet.  Then I have to read through the problem and think through the math, and that makes them see that that is what they are supposed to do.  They are emboldened by my oafish progress, and usually arrive at the correct answer before me.

If I already have the answer, then I am merely performing one of those adult magic tricks in that mystifying way in which adults perform impossibly complicated tasks, like driving five hundreds miles without getting lost, and having conversations with other grownups that are almost impossibly difficult to follow.  

Josh enjoys having me in his classroom, but he doesn't show it.  (Savvy!)  

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